Doctor submits application to rename murder hornets over anti-Asian xenophobia fears

A DOCTOR is poised to submit an application to change the name of the Asian giant hornet over fears the title is fuelling xenophobia.

Dr Chris Looney, an entomologist with the Washington Department of Agriculture, said he had concerns about the insect’s name when interest in the species grew just as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020.

Anti-Asian incidents and xenophobia have increased in the US and Dr Looney, as well as others, are worried the link to the creatures also known as “murder hornets” could be adding to the problem.

“We have people that either get turned off by [these names] or use them as a reason to be xenophobic,” Dr Looney told Crosscut.

He also said the name was causing confusion in his field as there were other hornets with similar names, such as the Asian hornet which is invasive in Europe.

Dr Looney said he intended to submit an application for a name change to the Entomological society of America.

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The hornet, which is the world’s largest, is an invasive species of hornet which is a threat to honeybees and native pollinators as well as plants.

While its scientific name is Vespa mandarinia, it doesn’t have one accepted common name.

Dr Looney hopes to propose the name as “giant hornet”.

The society recently agreed a name change to the racially charged “gypsy” moth which is now called the “spongy” moth.

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“It made me realize that, yes, we can make these changes,” says Dr Akito Kawahara, an associate professor at the University of Florida and curator of butterflies and moths at the Florida Museum of Natural History. 

“That’s what needs to happen, and with the spongy moth situation happening in the way it did… I think something like that is good to see.”

 “I would have hoped that this would have happened earlier, and I wish the media didn’t pick up the name ‘murder hornet’ at the very beginning of this whole thing, because I think it’s created a lot of problems, and it’s really the environment that’s taking the toll,” Kawahara said, referring to increased use of pesticides and fearful people's indiscriminate killing of bee and wasp species. “We need to take the right steps at the very beginning, when something like that happens, to use the appropriate name.”

In 2021, the society banned common names for insects referencing ethnicities, races or groups of people, and put out a call for names that need changing. 

“The use of an ethnic slur was reason enough, but the fact that Lymantriadispar is an insect pest that is the target of eradication makes it worse when considering that the people that word refers to have also been the targets of discrimination and genocide,” says Dr. Jessica Ware, the society’s president. “We heard from a number of Romani people and scholars who talked about the dehumanizing effects the old common name had on them.”

Last month it was revealed scientists had devised a “sex spray” that could be used to stop the invasive giant hornets.

Researchers have studied the sex pheromones of the queen hornet and used them to set up traps that have male hornets flocking.

Scientists found that the male hornet is intensely attracted to the scent of the queen’s pheromones, which is primarily made of three different acids.

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These acids are commercially available and used in traps that yielded thousands of captured males.

The male hornets are misled into thinking they might find a breeding opportunity but end up meeting their demise in the bottom of a trap.

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