“Spongy moth”: the new name for invasive gypsy moths


The scientists who worked on changing the common name of an invasive moth, which included an ethnic slur, have made up their minds.

Formerly known as ‘gypsy moth’, the species Lymantria dispar is now ‘gypsy moth’, according to the Entomological Society of America, which makes the list of common names of insects and related organisms an essential database for anyone working with insects.

For the Roma – an ethnic group originally from northern India who were at one time mistakenly identified as Egyptian – the word “Gypsy” has been offensive, dangerous and dehumanizing since its first appearance in the 1500s, Margareta Matache, director of the Roma Program at Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, told CNN in July 2021.

Matache was one of many Roma scholars consulted during the name removal process.

“This process for renaming butterfly G can be a really effective practice on how to create better common names and ensure meaningful and fair participation of affected communities in the process,” Matache said via email.

Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, the gypsy moth is an invasive pest in North American forests, destroying the leaves of hundreds of species of trees and shrubs and costing hundreds each year. millions of dollars in damages and management efforts, according to the Entomological Society. from America. This butterfly spends most of its 10-month life in the egg stage, which is when it moves en masse on firewood, outdoor equipment, and vehicles.

“Public awareness is key to slowing its spread,” company president Jessica Ware said in a press release. “‘Spongy moth’ gives entomologists and foresters a name for this species that reinforces an important feature of butterfly biology and moves away from the outdated term that was previously used.”

“We are grateful to the diverse community of people and organizations who have been involved in this renaming process and have also committed to embracing the ‘squishy butterfly,’” Ware added.

The butterfly’s new name was chosen from more than 200 nominations evaluated by a panel of more than 50 scientists convened by the society. The group sought input from numerous experts and organizations and garnered over 1,000 responses out of seven names of finalists. “Spongy moth” refers to its sponge-like egg masses and comes from the common name “spongieuse,” used for the insect in France and French-speaking Canada, according to the press release.

Spongy moth egg masses cluster on tree bark.

In addition to the new name now listed on the common names list, “spongy moth” will be used in the company’s publications, presentations and social media. The company’s Better Common Names project launched a toolkit to adopt the new name as a resource for other organizations and experts.

“The ‘gypsy moth’ is already starting to show up in media articles and other online resources, which we’re excited to see,” Ware said. “But we know this name change won’t happen overnight.”

“In books or printed products, or in regulations related to L. disphar, phasing in of the new name may take some time,” she added. “ESA will continue to provide support resources to organizations embracing this change.”

The prejudice has “deeply harmed the lives of American Roma and the global Roma diaspora,” Matache said in an email. “Changing the name of this insect is highly relevant to rectify traditional white narratives about Roma. I hope the decision to drop the G-word will be followed by others who must also change the names of businesses, events, websites, fashion collections, cakes, food, drinks and college parades that include the G-word.”


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