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. (Read more insects stories.)