(CNN) — The “murder hornet” is no more. In any case, the name is gone.
The Entomological Society of America and the Entomological Society of Canada have adopted a new name for the killer hornet, also known as the Asian giant hornet, saying “using ‘Asian’ in the name of a pest insect may inadvertently create anti-Asian sentiment.” especially ‘amid an increase in hate crime and discrimination against people of Asian descent’.
The ESA took the name “northern giant hornet” for the species in its Common Names of Insects database.
Because all wasps are native to Asia, the name Asian giant hornet does not provide unique information about the biology or behavior of the species, according to the ESA.
Chris Looney, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, authored the name change proposal and said the species’ previous common name, scientifically called Vespa mandarinia, “is a neutral and uninformative adjective at best.” , possibly a distraction from the organism’s more prominent characters, and at worst, a racist trope.”
“I don’t want my Asian-American or Pacific Islander colleagues, friends and family to have negative connotations with invasive species or pests that could be used negatively against them,” said ESA President Jessica Ware.
In 2021, ESA updated its guidelines for acceptable insect common names to prohibit names that refer to ethnic or racial groups or may cause fear, and discourage names that refer to geographic areas, especially for invasive species.
“Common names are an important tool for entomologists to communicate with the public about insects and insect science,” Ware said in a release Monday. “The northern giant hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, avoiding evoking fear or discrimination.”
The northern giant hornet poses a potential threat to honeybees, human health and agriculture, said Karla Salp, acting communications director for the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
In 2019, the hornet now known as the northern giant hornet was found in Washington state, and efforts have been made since then to completely eradicate the species. The public helped locate three of the four nests that have been eradicated in the state, demonstrating that public awareness is critical.
Washington State is the only US state to have confirmed sightings of northern giant hornets, but the species could find habitat elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest if not contained, according to a 2021 study in the Journal of Insect Science.
“If the northern giant hornet were allowed to establish themselves in regions in North America, it could have a significant impact on local ecosystems,” according to the ESA’s common name toolkit for the northern giant hornet.
“Northern giant hornets generally do not attack humans, but will if provoked or threatened,” the toolkit said. “Their sting is longer than bees and wasps in North America, and their venom is more venomous.”
Northern giant hornets aren’t the only thing that harms beehives, and the word murder conjures up fear, Ware said. She hopes the name change will allow people to get to know and understand the species from a broader perspective.
“While the northern giant hornet has some negatives, like all 1.5 million insect species out there, it has a complicated life,” Ware said. “Some parts of its life history and ecology are really fascinating. It’s been around for more than millions of years before humans even stepped on the scene.”
Ware encourages people to submit a request to the Better Common Names Project if there is an insect name that they believe should be changed.