Murder hornets are getting a new name: Here's why
The insect, species Vespa mandarinia, will now be known as the northern giant hornet.
“Amid a rise in hate crimes and discrimination against people of Asian descent, usage of ‘Asian’ in the name of a pest insect can unintentionally bolster anti-Asian sentiment,” the ESA wrote in a news release.
The name “Asian giant hornet” can also be confusing because all hornets, including the 22 species of wasps in the genus Vespa, are native or common to Asia. The name “Asian giant hornet” doesn’t convey information about the biology or behavior of the specific species Vespa mandarinia.
“Northern giant hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, and it avoids evoking fear or discrimination,” ESA president Dr. Jessica Ware said.
In 2021, the ESA established new guidelines for how it would adopt acceptable insect common names. These new guidelines forbid names from referring to ethnic or racial groups or from stoking fear. They also discourage naming from geographic references.
Washington state entomologist Dr. Chris Looney wrote the common-name proposal advocating for the northern giant hornet and submitted it to the ESA. In his proposal, he cited the need for an accessible, accurate name that could be used for public communication about the incident.
Vespa mandarinia is a hornet native to Asia that was discovered in Northern Washington and British Columbia in 2019. The invasive pest preys on other insects like honeybees. A small group of hornets can wipe out a honeybee hive in just hours.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture has been working to destroy northern giant hornets’ nests in recent years. So far, it hasn’t spread beyond Whatcom County in Washington, but the ESA believes it could find suitable habitat in much of the Pacific Northwest and beyond if it’s allowed to disperse.
The WSDA said it will follow ESA’s recommendation and will begin referring to Vespa mandarinia as northern giant hornet.
In conjunction with adopting the name “northern giant hornet,” the ESA also adopted “southern giant hornet” as the common name for the species Vespa soror and “yellow-legged hornet” for Vespa veluntina. The “northern” and “southern” wasp names refer to the species’ native geographic ranges in Asia.
Earlier this year, the ESA announced a new name for the gypsy moth, renaming it “spongy moth.” The name, which refers to the moth’s sponge-like egg masses, was recommended by a group of over 50 scientists and professionals who work in research or forest management settings.