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Invasive moth species gets new name

City of Grand Rapids
An invasive species of moth that's been spreading in Michigan is getting a new name from the Entomological Society of America.

The invasive species Lymantria dispar — commonly known by a name that contains a disparaging term for the Romani people — is getting a new common name from the Entomological Society of America: the "spongy moth."

The new name is based on the French word “spongieuse,” referring to the species’ eggs having a similar appearance to sea sponges.

In 2021, an increase in the population of these moths in Michigan resulted in tree-dense areas becoming infested and experiencing widespread leaf loss. The state’s first outbreak occurred in the 1980s, after the species was introduced to Michigan in the 1950s, with peaks arising every seven to ten years. Programs developed in the 1990s and 2000s help negate the effects by introducing predators and disease targeting the species as control measures.

This move is part of an ongoing effort to avoid associating invasive species and their negative impacts with particular cultures, ethnicities, or races.

In a press release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Joanne Foreman, an invasive species communications coordinator for the department, said similar name changes will continue.

Emma Ruberg joined Michigan Radio in January as the Digital News Intern. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a double major in political science and communications and previously worked as a Senior News Editor for The Michigan Daily covering government and public safety.