The Entomological Society of America (ESA) has renamed the Asian giant hornet — known to most as the murder hornet — amid concerns of stoking anti-Asian sentiment and discrimination.
The invasive species will now be known as the northern giant hornet, with the ESA saying that the current political climate was a factor in its decision to move forward with the rebrand.
“Although the descriptor ‘Asian’ in this context is not at all pejorative, and is geographically accurate, its association with a large insect that inspires fear and is under eradication may bolster anti-Asian sentiment among some people,” the name change proposal, which was written by Entomologist Chris Looney, read.
“Even if people do not explicitly ascribe negative feelings towards the insect, or their neighbors and colleagues of Asian descent, the prominence of the descriptor ‘Asian’ in the common name will, for some people, implicitly take precedence over other, more important, biological characteristics,” Looney continued. “It is at best a neutral and uninformative adjective, potentially a distraction from more salient characters of the organism, and at worst a racist trope.”
The new name will help provide clarity about the species in news reports and does not foster discrimination ESA President Jessica Ware said in a statement.
“Common names are an important tool for entomologists to communicate with the public about insects and insect science,” Ware said. “Northern giant hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, and it avoids evoking fear or discrimination.”
Ware also said that she is grateful to Looney for proposing the name change.
“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,” Ware told CNN.
In 2021, the ESA adopted new guidelines for appropriate common names for insects, which ban ethnic or racial names or names that might cause fear.
First discovered in the United States in 2019, northern giant hornets can range from 1.5 to 2 inches long, are “equipped with relatively massive mandibles (teeth) and can easily tear honeybees in half,” according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report from 2020.
According to the USDA, up to 50 hornets attack honeybee colonies at once and they can destroy an entire honeybee colony in less than two hours.
Thus far, northern giant hornets have not been identified in the U.S. outside of Washington state.