Ant named ‘they’ to recognise gender diversity

‘Small changes in language have had a large impact on culture,’ says expert

Jane Dalton
Thursday 06 May 2021 09:33
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The miniature trap-jaw ant called Strumigenys ayersthey
The miniature trap-jaw ant called Strumigenys ayersthey

A newly discovered species of ant from Ecuador has been given a scientific name ending “they” in recognition of gender diversity.

The miniature trap-jaw ant, termed Strumigenys ayersthey, is thought to be the only creature in the world to have the non-binary suffix.

There are hundreds of other ants named in honour of people, but they end with -ae when named after females and -i after males.

American singer-songwriter Michael Stipe, of rock band REM, and Douglas Booher of Yale University in America, who chose the name, said it was in honour of their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers, who died in 2016.

Ayers, said to have “blurred gender boundaries in New York’s avant-garde scene”, wrote songs for REM among his other work.

“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinised portmanteau honouring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments – Strumigenys ayersthey,” Stipe and Dr Booher said.

“The ‘they’ recognises non-binary gender identifiers in order to reflect recent evolution in English pronoun use – ‘they, them, their’ – and address a more inclusive and expansive understanding of gender identification.”

Dr Booher said: “Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity.

“Small changes in language have had a large impact on culture. Language is dynamic and so should be the change in naming species – a basic language of science.”

The insect was first found in 2018 in a reserve that is part of highly threatened biodiversity hot spots called the Choco.

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