Last Wednesday the Entomological Society of America announced that it will stop using common names of the Lymantria dispar moth and the Aphaenogaster araneoides ant: the “Gypsy Moth” and the “Gypsy Ant”. News outlets were quick to cover this story, as the New York Times garnered reactions from academics and entomologists, exploring the history of recent name changes in the entomology, ornithology, and other academic circles. The moth is particularly devastating to the Northeastern US, where its destruction regularly makes the news in places like the Finger Lakes and North Country regions of New York.
The move to rename the moth and ant is part of a greater initiative called the Better Common Names Project, wherein the society expresses the desire to bridge the gap between entomologists and the general public. The project acknowledges that “common names of insects were formally recognized in the early 20th century to help bridge communication between those who study insects and those who don’t. However, not all common names accepted over the past 120 years align with the goal of better communication, and some hinder it.” The project aims to end the use of “problematic names perpetuate harm against people of various ethnicities and races, create an entomological and cultural environment that is unwelcoming and non-inclusive, disrupt communication and outreach, and counteract the very purpose of common names.”
Until a new name is announced, scientists will use the Latin names Lymantria dispar and Aphaenogaster araneoides to refer to these insects. If you are interested in joining the committee responsible for renaming this moth, you can fill out an application form here.