The Entomological Society of America’s entomologists are proposing to rename “gypsy moths” because the term is considered racist against certain groups of people, especially given that gypsy is sometimes a pejorative for Romani people. Rather than calling these typical pests “gypsy moths,” the new name will be “sponge moth,” which has already gained acceptance among scientific organizations and the media at large.”
“Lymantria dispar is a damaging pest in North American forests, and public awareness is critical in slowing its spread,” stated ESA President Jessica Ware, Ph.D. “‘Spongy moth’ gives entomologists and foresters a name for this species that reinforces an important feature of the moth’s biology and moves away from the outdated term that was previously used.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 committed to adopting ‘spongy moth’ as well.”
Although the ESA and the scientific community are pleased with the moth’s new name, many people find it strange that it is being changed after so long.
One social media user was enraged, tweeting “You f***heads are really something… Gypsy Moth is offensive now, and spongy moth is its new name… please for the love of everything stooooppppp!!!!!!”
“Just read the Gypsy moth name has changed to the Spongy moth. I guess we were offending Gypsies,” one person wrote.
Another person stated that the name change would not provide an appreciable benefit to the gypsy community in the long term, writing: “Here’s your congratulatory cookie. You have now put an end to injustice and hatred by a simple name change. Smfh.”
The new name, according to WeWare, is already making progress. The moth’s creation of “sponge-like” egg sacs is referred to as the new name. The term derives from France and French-speaking Canada, where it is known as “spongieuse.” The ESA claims that the insect’s new name no longer has a racist connotation and will henceforth be used in news articles, scientific journal publications, lectures, posters, websites, social media posts and public policy documents to refer to the creature.
“‘Spongy moth’ is already beginning to appear in media stories and other online resources, which we’re excited to see. But we know this name change won’t happen overnight,” Ware stated. “Particularly in books or print products, or regulations related to L. dispar, phasing in use of the new name may take some time. ESA will continue to provide supporting resources for organizations adopting this change.”
The ESA isn’t the only scientific body to change its name in recent years. In 2017, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would be changing the term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. After advocacy organizations claimed that the phrase “mental retardation” was hurtful and out-of-date, the DSM committee made the decision.
The name change for the gypsy moth reflects society’s reconsideration of racist terminology and emblems in light of the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide demonstrations. Confederate monuments have been torn down, “Redskins” has been abandoned as the title of Washington’s NFL franchise, and “Dixie” is no longer a popular song at baseball games.