The Entomological Society of America revised its standards for approved insect common names in 2021, barring names that may incite fear or that relate to racial or ethnic groupings.
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There is no longer a “murder hornet.” Its name has at least vanished.
The murder hornet, sometimes referred to as the Asian gigantic hornet, has a new name according to concerns that “the use of ‘Asian’ in the name of a nuisance insect might unintentionally promote anti-Asian sentiment,” particularly “during a spike in hate crimes and discrimination against individuals of Asian heritage.”
In its database of Common Names of Insects, the ESA gave the species the name “northern giant hornet.”
The ESA claims that because all wasps are native to Asia, the name “Asian giant hornet” does not specifically describe the biology or behavior of the species.
The proposal to change the species’ name was written by Chris Looney, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. He claimed that the Vespa mandarinia scientific name, which was previously used for identification purposes, “is at best a neutral and uninformative adjective, potentially a distraction from more salient characters of the organism, and at worst a racist trope.”
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ESA President Jessica Ware stated, “I don’t want my Asian American or Pacific Islander colleagues, friends, and family to have any negative connotations with invasive or pest species that may be utilized against them in a bad way.
ESA revised its standards for appropriate insect common names in 2021 to exclude names that allude to racial or ethnic groups that might incite fear and discourage names that allude to geographic regions, particularly for invasive species.
In a release on Monday, Ware stated that “common names are an important tool for entomologists to communicate with the public about insects and insect science.” “Northern giant hornet avoids instilling fear or discrimination and is both scientifically correct and simple to understand.”
According to Karla Salp, interim communications director for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the northern giant hornet might be dangerous to honeybees, people’s health, and agriculture.
After the northern giant hornet was discovered in Washington State in 2019, attempts have been made to completely eliminate the species. Three of the four nests that were destroyed in the state with the public’s assistance, proving the importance of public knowledge.
The only US state with documented observations of the northern giant hornet is Washington State, but a 2021 research in the Journal of Insect Science suggests that if the species is not controlled, it may spread to other parts of the Pacific Northwest.
According to the ESA’s common name toolbox for the northern giant hornet, “if permitted to settle in locations inside North America, the northern giant hornet might profoundly damage local ecosystems.”
The toolbox said that although northern giant hornets typically do not bite people, they will if provoked or threatened. “Their stinger is longer and more poisonous than those of bees and wasps found in North America.”
The term “murder” instills terror in people, according to Ware, and northern giant hornets are not the only insects that harm honeybee colonies. She believes that by changing the name, more people would be able to learn about and comprehend the species.
The northern giant hornet has a difficult life, despite the fact that it shares some drawbacks with the other 1.5 million insect species that exist, according to Ware. “Its life history and ecology have some pretty intriguing elements. Before humans even appeared on the scene, it has existed for many millions of years.”
If there is a common name for an insect that you think needs to be altered, Ware invites you to make a proposal to the Better Common Names Project.
This story’s contribution came from Jennifer Henderson.+