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Invasive moth gets new name

A male spongy moth.
imarsman (CC-BY NC ND)
A male spongy moth.

The gypsy moth will now be known as spongy moth.

The Entomological Society of America made the change because the term “gypsy” is considered a derogatory slur against the Romani people. The term was dropped from its list of common names in July 2021.

The name change is part of the society’s Better Common Names Project.

“When you’re talking about an invasive species, we think about…a species that causes harm,” says Joanne Foreman, an invasive species communications coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“With spongy moth, it’s more of an environmental harm, but we might associate that harm…with the culture or the common name that it’s attributed to, so rather than have those negative cultural connections…get rid of that baggage, and go forward with a name that is much more friendly.”

The name “spongy” was chosen because the egg masses look like rough-textured, brown, sea sponges.

“The egg mass isn’t spongy like a kitchen sponge, it just has that texture and coloration of a sea sponge,” explains Foreman. “Except normally you wouldn’t find them in the ocean, you’re going to find them on tree trunks, your decks, your lawn furniture, etcetera.”

The spongy moth is widespread in Michigan. The caterpillars primarily feed on the leaves of oak trees.

According to the Michigan DNR, when populations reach a nuisance level, the caterpillars are known to cover just about everything outdoors, and round waste pellets rain down from the trees.

Max Copeland is the local weekday host of All Things Considered on Interlochen Public Radio and the producer of The Up North Lowdown, IPR’s weekly news podcast.