Two weeks ago, entomologist Terry McGlynn wrote a blog post about a species of ant he named after conducting field research in the summer of 2000. These ants are common in Central America, and behaved in an unusual way, moving back and forth among different nests in their territory but only occupying one at a time. Based on this trait, nineteen years ago McGlynn proposed to the official board of insect names that the species be commonly called “gypsy ants,” using an ethnic slur for the Roma people.
The ant in question, Aphaenogaster araneoides, still has the same name, but McGlynn wrote that he is trying to change that. He put out an open call for names to send to the common names committee, and the internet did not disappoint: wanderlust ants, ranger ants, ambu-lants, and itiner-ants were all suggested. Paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill suggested that McGlynn find out what local indigenous people call the ant. The final choice hasn't been made, so stay tuned for the decision. I myself am cheering for itiner-ant!
The renaming of Aphaenogaster araneoides won’t affect much — the species isn’t often studied, and there is no sign that of the far more popular gypsy moth’s name changing anytime soon — but it’s a good reminder to scientists to think of the consequences of their research outside the lab or field site.