Gypsy Moth Gets a New Name

The spongy moth's old name was considered a slur
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2021 5:01 AM CDT
Updated Mar 7, 2022 4:42 PM CST
Gypsy Moth Is Being Renamed
A female Lymantria dispar moth lays her eggs on the trunk of a tree in the Salmon River State Forest in Hebron, Conn.   (AP Photo/Bob Child, File)

Update: Scientists have settled on a new name for the gypsy moth, a damaging invasive species whose name was considered a slur by Romani people. The Entomological Society of America says a group of more than 50 scientists considered around 200 nominations and settled on "spongy moth," which refers to its sponge-like egg masses, CNN reports. Society president Jessica Ware says the new name "reinforces an important feature of the moth's biology," which could help raise public awareness and slow its spread. Our original story from July 14, 2021 follows:

The Romani people, long persecuted and discriminated against in Europe, consider the word "gypsy" a slur, and entomologists have decided it should not be in the name of an invasive insect species. The Entomological Society of America says it is dropping the name "gypsy moth" for the voracious species and it suggests people use the scientific name Lymantria dispar, or L. Dispar, until a new name is chosen, the Detroit Free Press reports. "It's an ethnic slur to begin with that’s been rejected by the Romani people a long time ago,’" said society president Michelle S. Smith, per the AP. "Second, nobody wants to be associated with a harmful invasive pest." The society hopes to have a new name by the end of this year.

The species' caterpillars are known to defoliate more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. The ESA says parts of the northeast US and eastern Canada are experiencing the worst L. Dispar outbreak in decades. The society says the name "gypsy ants" for Aphaenogaster araneoides, a species of wandering ants, is also being dropped, NPR reports. Biology professor Terry McGlynn, who gave the species its name around 20 years ago, is glad to see the change. "It's been clear for more than a short while that I made a bad decision to describe the ants using an ethnic slur, and I need to fix it," he wrote in a 2019 blog post. (More insects stories.)

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