Insects formerly known as ‘murder hornets’ are getting a new name – and it’s about time

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Many insects have common names that are easier to refer to than their hard-to-pronounce scientific names. Tangerine Vespa, usually referred to as the “murder hornet”, was known by the common name “Asian giant hornet”. Now, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) hopes that the inaccurate name will soon be a thing of the past.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The ESA has adopted the name “Giant Northern Hornet” for the species in its insect common names database, arguing that the use of Asian in the name has bolstered anti-Asian sentiment “amid a rise in hate crimes and discrimination” in the United States. Also, since all wasps are native to Asia, the name did not convey unique information about the biology of the species.

“Common names are an important tool for entomologists to communicate with the public about insects and insect science,” ESA President Jessica Ware, an entomologist, said in a press release earlier this week. “The Northern Giant Hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, and it avoids evoking fear or discrimination.”

Behind the name change

Entomologist Chris Looney, a member of the Washington State Department of Agriculture team researching and attempting to eradicate the hornet, is the author common name proposal submitted to ESA. He argued that it was necessary to have an accessible and accurate name to facilitate simpler and more inclusive communication about the insect.

The northern giant hornet is native to Asia but was discovered in Washington state and British Columbia in 2019, where it has made its way as an invasive species. Since then, it has been the target of eradication efforts due to its ability to kill other species of bees and hornets – hence the nickname murder hornets. They are the largest hornets in the world, with queens up to two inches (five centimeters) long.

“If allowed to become established in parts of North America, the northern giant hornet could have a significant impact on local ecosystems,” according to ESA’s common name toolkit for the hornet. northern giant. “They don’t attack people, but will if provoked or threatened. Their stinger is longer than that of bees and wasps found in North America.

The ESA has had the final say on common names since 1908, and at least some of the 2,300 names it currently manages can be considered discriminatory. Many insects and pests considered, and science and the public generally associate pest species with groups of people. And these are not old names. A previously unnamed insect In 2000 was given the name Gypsy Ant – a name that was also changed again to avoid any unwanted connotations.

The name change is in line with the new guidelines adopted by the ESA last year, which ban ethnic and racial names and discourage geographical names – especially for invasive species, such as the northern giant hornet in the United States and Canada. ESA is now asking government agencies, researchers, the media and the general public to adopt the new name as soon as possible.

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