Giant ‘murder hornet’ gets a new name

The Entomological Society of America and the Entomological Society of Canada have adopted a new name for the murder hornet, also known as the Asian giant hornet, saying “the usage of ‘Asian’ in the name of a pest insect can unintentionally bolster anti-Asian sentiment” especially “amid a rise in hate crimes and discrimination against people of Asian descent.”

The ESA adopted the name “northern giant hornet” for the species in its Common Names of Insects database.

Since all wasps are native to Asia, the name Asian giant hornet does not convey unique information about the biology or behavior of the species, according to the ESA.

Chris Looney, entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, authored the name change proposal, saying that the previous common name of the species, scientifically called Vespa mandarinia, “is at best a neutral and uninformative adjective, potentially a distraction from more salient characters of the organism, and at worst a racist trope.”

“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 might be used against them in a negative way,” ESA President Jessica Ware said.

In 2021, ESA updated its guidelines for acceptable insect common names to ban names that refer to ethnic or racial groups or may cause fear, and discourage names that reference geographical 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. “Northern giant hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, and it avoids evoking fear or discrimination.”

The northern giant hornet poses a potential threat to honeybees, human health and agriculture, said Karla Salp, acting communications director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

In 2019, the hornet now known as the northern giant hornet was found in Washington State, and there have been efforts to eradicate the species entirely since then. The public helped find three out of the four nests that have been eradicated in the state, demonstrating that public awareness is critical.