Bugs With Offensive Names Are Getting New Ones

The Entomological Society of America will exact new effort toward rectifying a longtime wrong in the world of bug study. Two well-regarded species of insect—one moth and one ant—will undertake a change in their common names. These species are known in the sciences by the benign terms Lymantria dispar and Aphaenogaster araneoides; however, their longstanding colloquial designations are named for an ethnic slur offensive to the Romani people. Thus, the ESA has launched a movement to rename these insects. And it’s taking suggestions from the public.

As part of the ESA’s Better Common Names Project, you can apply to the working group charged with renaming the Lymantria dispar and Aphaenogaster araneoides. Scientists involved have asked that participants only refer to them by the aforementioned Latin names, rather than their standing common names, for now.

A brown Lymantria dispar moth.


This particular pair is only the beginning of a larger endeavor toward more conscious nomenclature. The Better Common Names Project will in fact readdress the nigh endless catalogue of insect names. The purpose is to highlight any additional names that may read as offensive. (Given how many bugs there are, there are surely at least a few more with names that need to go.)

Granted, this sounds like a colossal undertaking…which is why the ESA has opted to outsource the work to the bug-loving good Samaritans among us. Anyone may comb over the library of insect names, and may then submit a form regarding any potentially offensive names. And thus would begins yet another process to rename.

We first saw this story over at  Mashable, which shares a statement from ESA President Michelle S. Smith, BCE:

“The purpose of common names is to make communication easier between scientists and the public audiences they serve. By and large, ESA’s list of recognized insect common names succeeds in this regard, but names that are unwelcoming to marginalized communities run directly counter to that goal.”

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