• Chelle Hartzer

What’s That Called? (AKA: Changing names)

I remember going out to Kansas for graduate school, the first time I had even been in that part of the country. It was the beginning of summer and people started talking about the locusts and wondering what I (a New Englander) thought about them. I was confused.

Here’s the thing: North America is currently the only sub-continent besides Antarctica without a native locust species. So why were all these Kansas people talking about a grasshopper species that have a swarming phase that isn’t in this country? Because they weren’t talking about a grasshopper at all. They were talking about the cicadas. While we were all speaking English, in a way, we were speaking different languages.

Classic Far Side cartoon

Recently, a fairly common insect was renamed. The old name of the Gypsy moth was eliminated (for good reason) and a new common name of the spongy moth was assigned. This apparently made some people quite mad. One comment I saw said something along the lines of: it’s a common name and no one gets to decide what its common name should be but the general public. While I just talked about the different regional names insects get in the previous paragraph, this is not totally true. The Entomological Society of America is the authoritative body for insect common names. When a new insect is described and a common name is suggested, ESA is the organization that approves (or disapproves) that name. Many insects do not have a common name, but for those that do, there is an approved common name that researchers, publications, and reputable news sources need to use.

That’s not to say that all the general public will conform to this. Common names for insects can be tricky. Depending on where you live (here in the US), you may call an American cockroach a water bug, sewer bug, ship cockroach, Bombay canary, or (incorrectly) palmetto bug. The name change to spongy moth will take time for people to become accustomed to and switch their wording. This can lead to confusion in properly identifying the pest, inaccurate inspections, and improper and often ineffective treatment.

I once had a situation where I was told it was definitely, absolutely, positively mosquitoes being caught inside a building. After running through all the solution options I could think of and being told it wasn’t working, I asked again for a picture. You can probably guess where this is going: it wasn’t mosquitoes. The technician was calling them mosquitoes but it was in fact crane flies. Totally different issue and needed different solutions.

The solution is to properly identify everything. Of course, this is much easier said than done! There are an estimated 86,000 species of insects in the US. That doesn’t include all the other arthropods like spiders and millipedes and others that people may encounter. There are things that can be done to ensure a correct identification.

  • Take pictures, or have customers take pictures. The trick here is to make sure that the picture is clear and that identifying characteristics of the insect can be seen. Hard to do when you have a tiny insect that’s moving around! My recommendation is to always take a few pictures from a few different angles if possible.

  • Get a sample. Sounds simple…. but when the customer hands you an insect stuck to a piece of tape or smushed in a tissue it becomes challenging. The more intact your sample is, the better it can be identified.

  • Use your resources. Sure, there are a couple apps that are okay and some facebook groups where you can post questions, but it’s hit or miss. Find your local extension agent, university entomology program, Board Certified Entomologist, or specialist to help.

The moral of this story: common names can make pest control tough, but scientific names aren’t commonly used in the industry. If a pest isn’t ID’ed correctly, it will cause the problem to continue, the customers to be unhappy, and treatments to be ineffective. You can have a technical entomologist on staff too, we can help you with that, contact us here to find out more.

Lagniappescientific names can be fun too!

360 PFCS – your urban pest control consultants.

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