A newly discovered species of ant from Ecuador has been named with the suffix “-they”, rather than a traditional gendered Latin suffix, to celebrate gender diversity.

The ant was discovered by Philipp Hoenle at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, in 2018. He sent a photograph to taxonomic expert Douglas Booher at Yale University, who recognised it as a new species in the genus Strumigenys.

In contrast to traditional species-naming practices, which only recognise one of two distinct genders with the suffixes “-ae” for women and “-i” for men, Booher suggested using the gender non-binary identifier “they” instead, naming the ant Strumigenys ayersthey after artist and human rights activist Jeremy Ayers.

Ayers was a protégé of Andy Warhol in the 1970s under the pseudonym of Silva Thinn. He died 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,” says Booher.

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Booher also asked Michael Stipe, the lead singer of the band R.E.M. and a mutual friend with Ayers, to join him in writing the etymology section of the paper outlining the new species.

According to Booher, there are 853 species in the Strumigenys genus, but the new ant was immediately identifiable as unique. “It’s very different from any ant in the genus,” he says. “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.”

Asked whether he will use the -they suffix to name future new species, Booher says he will use a female, male or non-binary suffix depending on the wishes of the person the species is named after.

Journal reference: ZooKeys, DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1036.62034