Red ants: step on them before they get out of control.
The College Fix:
Slavemaker ant. Gypsy moth. Rape bug.
These are just three common English names listed in a spreadsheet of 60 plants and animals that have been recently deemed by some academics to have â€œproblematicâ€ monikers.
Herpetologist and University of Arizona Ph.D. candidate Earyn McGee, a science communicator and lizard enthusiast who runs a popular Twitter profile on her reptile expeditions, told The College Fix when asked about the spreadsheet that â€œThere is no room for racism in science.â€
There needs to be honesty about the history of natural resources management and environmentalism in the country, she said, adding there â€œis no reason to honor racist people or racial slurs by naming animals after them.â€
As the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports, the list was inspired â€œamid protests against racism,â€ and notes graduate students from around the world contributed to the spreadsheet. It currently lists 60 organisms. (See here and here).
Contributors to the spreadsheet list the organismâ€™s scientific and common names, as well as its kingdom, phylum, class, and order, along with comments in some cases meant to explain why either the common name, or in some cases the scientific name, is offensive or problematic.
Three species in the spreadsheet have the word â€œHottentotâ€ in their common names and the Latinized form hottentatus in their scientific names. According to one contributor, â€œHottentot is a racial slur used by white people, directed towards indigenous Africans, during apartheid.â€
Setophaga townsendi, a species of bird commonly known as Townsendâ€™s Warbler, also appears on the list. The commenter notes only, â€œJohn Townsend was terrible.â€
John Kirk Townsend was an ornithologist who studied bird species in Oregon. He would often rely on Native Americans to capture his specimens. During his studies, he would describe cultural differences and steal skulls from Indian graves.
The Immigrant Acacia Weevil is also on the list. The note reads, â€œRelated to pest species; can occasionally be a pest. Not really comfortable exterminating something with the word â€˜immigrantâ€™ in the name.â€
Other offensive animal names include the Large Faggotworm, although the f-word in this case refers to its definition as a bundle of sticks or twigs bound together as fuel.
Also on the list is a type of shield bug called the Rape Bug, as well as the Oriental Rat Flea, a vector for the bubonic plague, which infects rodents. None of these contributors offer additional notes.
While some could arguably be the result of over-thinking or over-sensitivity, others contain serious racial slurs. For example, Maihueniopsis clavarioides is also called the â€œN***** Finger.â€ Another, Orsotriaena medus, a dark-colored butterfly, is commonly known as just â€œthe N*****,â€ according to one student. …
McGee told The College Fix that she hopes to see a change to the name of Yarrowâ€™s Spiny Lizard, which she studies in her field. H. C. Yarrow was a herpetologist who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. But McGee said he was also a eugenicist.
â€œThere is no amount of scientific contributions that can make unabashed racism and bigotry ok,â€ she said. …
Another graduate student who has undertaken a similar campaign is Taylor Tai of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tai successfully petitioned the Entomological Society of America to change the name of its annual Linnaean Games, a quiz-bowl-style trivia competition named after Carl Linnaeus.
Known as the Father of Taxonomy, Linnaeus paved the way for the current system of scientific classification. At the same time, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports he also classified humans (Homo sapiens) based on race, assigning â€œnegative aspectsâ€ to people of color.
Tai refused to make a direct comment â€œ[b]ecause The College Fixâ€™s conservative perspective is incompatible with racial justice at its foundation.â€
She did, however, refer to a letter which she and other UW students sent to Entomological Society of America. The letter catalogs Linnaeusâ€™ system of racial classification.
â€œLinnaeus characterized the white Homo sapiens europaeus as wise, lawful, and gentle, while dehumanizing Indigenous (red Homo sapiens americanus), African (black Homo sapiens afer), and Asian (yellow Homo sapiens asiaticus) people with degrading descriptors like â€˜obstinate,â€™ â€˜haughty,â€™ â€˜covetous,â€™ â€˜crafty,â€™ â€˜indolent,â€™ â€˜lazy,â€™ â€˜lusty,â€™ and â€˜careless,â€™â€ Tai writes.
Tai also mentions that Linnaeus described disabled people as â€œHomo sapiens monstrosus.â€