A newly-discovered ant is the first animal species to be given a scientific name ending with ‘they’, in a tribute to non-binary people.
The miniature trap jaw ant from the evergreen tropical forests of Ecuador has been given the unconventional Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey.
The ‘they’ suffix at the end of its name is in recognition of all non-binary people and a celebration of gender diversity.
‘Non-binary’ is a term used to describe people who do not identify as either masculine or feminine.
Non-binary people, including the British pop star Sam Smith, therefore like to be referred to as ‘they’ and ‘them’ – rather than ‘he’ and ‘him’, or ‘she’ and ‘her’.
‘Moving forward the “they” can and should be used as a suffix to new species for those that want to be identified outside of the gender binary,’ study author Dr Douglas Booher of Yale University told MailOnline.
When naming a new species, the first part of the name – in this case Strumigenys – identifies the genus to which the species belongs, while the second part – ayersthey – identifies the species within the genus.
‘Ayersthey’ also pays tribute to Athens, Georgia-based artist and activist Jeremy Ayers, who passed away in 2016.
While he wasn’t non-binary, Ayers was a gay man and an activist for human rights, including marginalised communities and non-binary individuals.
‘In the spirit of Jeremy (who would’ve shied away from himself being honoured) we provide a new suffix for new species names when using personal names,’ Dr Booher said.
New species are often named after people, such as experts in a particular field, but standard practice only differentiates between male and female personal names – the ending -ae for a woman or -i for a man.
The international team of researchers, who have detailed the species in a new scientific paper, sought to change this with the first ever ‘-they’ suffix.
‘”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,’ the team say.
Humans describe themselves as non-binary because of how they feel in regards to their gender identity – meaning technically the species itself can’t identify as non-binary.
Dr Booher said there wasn’t anything about the species’ physical characteristics that earned it the non-binary name, but it embodies the spirit of diversity all the same.
‘All ant workers are female and non-reproductive in most cases, so there wasn’t anything special about the ant’s biological sex per se,’ he told MailOnline.
‘It was just a really beautiful and different ant species that stood out in a genus of more than 850 species.
‘Because it was such a cool find, I wanted to celebrate this ant with a name that celebrates all biological diversity, which includes diversity among individuals, gender included.
The Strumigenys genus is made up of more than 850 species, including Strumigenys ananeotes, reported in 2019.
This new species has prominent mandibles – appendages near its mouth – and ‘smooth and shining cuticle surface sculpturing’.
‘Strumigenys is one of the most diverse ant genera in the world and arguably the most morphologically diverse, exhibiting an exceptional range of mandible shape and function,’ the team say.