Bug experts get rid of the name ‘gypsy moth’ because some Roma people consider it to be an ethnic slur

  • Entomological Society of America is looking for a new name for the insect
  • President said it was an ‘ethnic slur’ that had been rejected by Romani people
  • She also argued that ‘no one wanted to be associated with an invasive pest’  

Bug experts are getting rid of the name ‘gypsy moth’ because some Roma people consider it to be an ethnic slur.  

The Entomological Society of America, which oversees the common names of bugs, is getting rid of the common name of that critter and the lesser-known gypsy ant. 

The group this week announced that for the first time it changed a common name of an insect because it was offensive. In the past they’ve only reassigned names that weren’t scientifically accurate.

The Entomological Society of America, which oversees the common names of bugs, is getting rid of the name ‘gypsy moth’ (pictured is one of the insects) 

An oak leaf after being ravaged by gypsy moth caterpillars, which are considered an invasive species 

‘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. 

‘Second, nobody wants to be associated with a harmful invasive pest.’

How did gypsy moths get their name and why do some people consider it offensive?

Gypsy moths – or Lymantria dispar by their scientific name – are an invasive species that are known to swarm trees and strip them of their bark. 

The moths likely got their name because as larvae they have hair with small air pockets that act like balloons allowing them to float for miles, wandering like the group of people they were named after. 

Another theory is that male adult moths have a tan color that could be similar to Romani people. 

The term ‘gypsy’ is considered offensive by some Romani people due to its use as a term of abuse, yet others proudly embrace it. 

The Roma as a people originated from the northern Indian subcontinent before leaving for an unknown reason – possibly war – around a thousand years ago. 

The move was met with skepticism on social media, with one Twitter user writing: ‘Good luck getting people to stop calling Gypsy moths Gypsy moths.’ 

Another wrote: ‘Gypsy moths are extremely well known with a very old and strongly associated common name that I doubt is going anywhere.

‘I don’t have a problem with people choosing to change the terms they use. I have a problem with people trying to mandate that others do the same. 

‘No one means offense in using the name, and most probably don’t even realize it can be taken as offensive.’

The moths likely got their name because as larvae they have hair with small air pockets that act like balloons allowing them to float for miles, wandering like the group of people they were named after.

Another theory is that male adult moths have a tan color that could be similar to Romani people.

The term ‘gypsy’ is considered offensive by some Romani people due to its use as a term of abuse, yet others proudly embrace it. 

The Roma as a people originated from the northern Indian subcontinent before leaving for an unknown reason – possibly war – around a thousand years ago. 

The Entomological Society of America is now scrutinizing some of the more than 2,000 common insect names to remove ones that are perceived to be derogatory or geographically inaccurate. 

About 20 years ago, a committee of fish experts renamed the jewfish into the goliath grouper.

Gypsy moths are invasive and destructive insects in the caterpillar stage. 

The move was met with skepticism on social media, with one Twitter user writing: ‘Good luck getting people to stop calling Gypsy moths Gypsy moths’

They have a voracious appetite that can denude entire forests of leaves, said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, a past society president.  

The Entomological Society is now on the hunt for a new common name, a process that will take months, Smith said.

Until then, even though it´s a mouthful, Smith said the moths should be called by their scientific name, Lymantria dispar or L. dispar.

Berenbaum – who has written about weirdly named plants, animals and gene mutations – said given the moths’ destructiveness, she and other would have some ideas for a descriptive new name.

‘You´re not allowed to use obscenities,’ she said, ‘so that´s out.’

A gypsy moth caterpillar crawls along partially eaten leaves of a tree in Trenton, N.J. in July 2021

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