The Hitler Beetle, scientifically known as Anophthalmus hitleri, is a rare, blind cave beetle that was discovered by amateur entomologist Oskar Scheibel in 1933. The name of the beetle comes from the Greek word meaning “without eyes” (anophthalmus) and the last name of Adolf Hitler, who commanded Nazi Germany at the time.
The Washington Post reports that neo-Nazis have collected the beetle to the point of near extinction, and some entomologists are proposing a name change for the hapless creature. The proposal has sparked a debate among scientists about whether to change the name of the beetle and the many other plants and animals with offensive names.
As reported in The Washington Post:
The practice of using objectionable identifications for fauna and flora has been argued over for years by taxonomists – those responsible for naming new species. Some are asking why these identifications are still in use. Others are defending the nomenclature process, saying that making retroactive changes based on personal sentiment would upset the stability of science communication.
The latest round of debate was sparked by an editorial in the January issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, a leading taxonomical journal, in which 26 scientists defended the system in use today. Lead author Luis M.P. Ceríaco of the University of Porto in Portugal argued that bowing to public pressure to change names on ethical grounds would result in serious “disruptions” to the study of biodiversity since “several hundred thousand accepted scientific names could potentially be challenged.”
Bioethicist Harriet A. Washington, an author and lecturer at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, called the ICZN stance “indefensible.”
“These names have always been unacceptable,” said Washington, who is Black and has made a career of identifying the semantics of inequality and injustice in science and other fields. “They were selected by White males who had the power to issue them without thought or regard to others. The people who found them offensive did not have a voice or were ignored.”