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USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Supports the Entomological Society of America’s New Common Name for Lymantria dispar


WASHINGTON, March 2, 2022 – The Entomological Society of America (ESA) announced a new common name for the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) today replacing “gypsy moth” with “spongy moth” in their list of “Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms.”

This moth—and related Lymantrid species—are significant invasive forest pests. They can defoliate hundreds of species of trees and shrubs and harm our country’s natural resources. The name “spongy moth” refers to the insect’s distinctive spongy-textured egg masses. The egg mass part of this moth’s life cycle is the life stage people are most likely to inadvertently move on outdoor items, which can lead to infestations in new areas. It is helpful to draw attention to the spongy-egg-mass stage in this pest’s life cycle to raise public awareness and highlight the actions people can take to reduce its spread. Public outreach is critical to reducing this pest’s impact and maintaining an effective regulatory program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) supports ESA’s initiative to replace the common name for L. dispar and participated in the effort to identify a new common name for this pest. APHIS continues to support ESA’s work on the “Better Common Names Project.”

To prevent its spread, APHIS regulates the European gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) that is found in the Northeastern United States. While we support ESA’s initiative, we face a significant challenge in implementing the name change at this time because of a related pest of concern: the Asian gypsy moth. This name refers to five species or subspecies (L. dispar asiatica, L. dispar japonica, L. albescens, L. umbrosa, and L. postalba), which are regulated together as a species complex. These moths are native to Asia and not established in the United States. ESA is unable to change the name of this pest because it is outside their scope.

To prevent incursions of the Asian gypsy moth into the United States, APHIS and Canada work with China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia to inspect and certify that ships headed for the United States are free of the pest before they leave Asia. At U.S. ports, U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspects ships and cargo to ensure they contain no life stages of this moth. APHIS also surveys areas around ports of entry and high-risk areas in the United States to detect any possible introductions.

To align with ESA’s initiative and to ensure the effectiveness of our regulatory program, APHIS is exploring options for addressing the naming challenge for the Asian gypsy moth. To do this, APHIS will work with its international partners to explore options. This is critical before APHIS can implement the name change for the European gypsy moth to the newly announced common name “spongy moth.” Once a name change can be applied to the Asian gypsy moth, APHIS will begin to incorporate the new common names into our regulatory language and outreach products.

We appreciate the understanding and patience of our cooperators, the public, and the many other stakeholders who are affected by our regulations for these pests. We also appreciate ESA for recognizing our need to address both common names for our program’s effectiveness domestically and internationally. Our goal is to safeguard our nation’s forests and community landscapes against destructive pests while respecting the dignity of all people.

For more information on ESA’s “Better Common Names Project,” click here.

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