A newly-discovered ant species in Ecuador has been given the gender-neutral suffix “-they” rather than a traditional Latin scientific suffix, and has been named after a gay activist and protégé of Andy Warhol, despite the ant not being non-binary and having only the normal genders of male and female.
The ant was discovered in 2018 by Philipp Hoenle at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany. Hoenle sent a photograph of the creature to taxonomic expert Douglas Booher of Yale University, who identified it as a new species from the ant genus “Strumigenys”.
Typically when a new species is discovered, the animal’s name receives the Latin suffix “-ae” if it’s female, or “-i” if it’s male. However, Booher instead decided to give it the suffix “they” in an effort to celebrate “gender non-binary” identities, naming it “Strumigenys ayersthey” after gay artist and political activist Jeremy Ayers.
Ayers was a protégé of artist Andy Warhol who passed away in 2016.
“He identified as a gay man outside of his Warhol character, but I’m naming it after him with the suffix added to include all non-binary people for his activism,” said Booher.
Booher also asked Michael Stipe, the lead singer of the rock band R.E.M. and a mutual friend of Ayers, to help him to write the etymology section of the paper on the new species.
“It’s very different from any ant in the genus,” said Booher.
“There’s a lot of convergent evolution, so a lot of species in different countries look alike but aren’t related. So it was a special ant and I was waiting for something like this to represent gender diversity and biological diversity.
“Many cultures have recognized a spectrum of genders between and beyond the binary of male and female,” wrote Booher in a paper describing the species.
“However, by following a rule exampled in the International Code of Nomenclature for how to name species after individuals, one might conclude only binary gender assignments possible when assigning new species names derived from Latin…
“The ‘they’ recognizes 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 non-neutral gender identification.”