Society Renames Gypsy Moth To Spongy Moth
By Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff
Last summer, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) with a recommendation from its Better Common Names Committee dropped using the common name “gypsy moth” for the invasive insect accidentally introduced to the Boston area in 1869 by a French researcher.
The ESA approved “spongy moth” as the new common name for the moth species Lymantria dispar. Entomologists and forestry professionals convened by ESA proposed the name after evaluating a wide variety of name options through professional and community input processes. Formally approved and announced in March, “spongy moth” is derived from “spongieuse,” the common name used in France and French-speaking Canada and refers to the moth’s sponge-like egg mass, which is just left of the female moth in the photo.
The DNR is transitioning to the new “spongy moth” name on websites and new documents and other state agencies are expected to follow.
“It is important for government agencies to recognize that things need to change,” said Val Cervenka, a forest entomologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The term has been an ethnic slur for a long time and some people may still not know that.” She added that the ESA recognized the word gypsy as a slur and changed the common name because it disparaged a group. “These old names need to change,” Cervenka said.
According to the age-old story, the moth was brought to the U.S. to build a silk industry here. When that experiment failed, the moths were simply released. The name “gypsy” was chosen because to someone, the brown color of the male moth resembled the skin color of the Roma/Romani people.
The name was widely in use in England at the time the insect was introduced in the U.S. However, most people acknowledge that the common name is an ethnic slur. Throughout history, Romani people have been the targets of enslavement, genocide, and forced migration, and the word “gypsy” has been associated with traveling or roving. While using an ethnic slur is enough reason to stop using a common name, the former common name was doubly inappropriate because it linked a group of people as “pests” with an invasive pest insect that remains targeted for population control and eradication.
Most likely indifferent to any name are the moths. At least now when or if you see one, you’ll know how to properly call it by name.