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Insect named for Hitler draws criticism from organizational, academic circles

“I can’t think of any defensible reason to name an insect or any other organism after a reprehensible dictator,” David Skelly, director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, told JNS.

A man-faced stink bug, or catacanthus incarnatus, also called a “Hitler bug.” Credit: Wikipedia.
A man-faced stink bug, or catacanthus incarnatus, also called a “Hitler bug.” Credit: Wikipedia.

Connections between the Nazis and Volkswagen Beetles are well known. But an insect that looks like Adolf Hitler bearing his name? That’s like letting the bed bugs bite.

An insect endemic to Southeast Asia and India, with the scientific name catacanthus incarnatus, is being called a “Hitler bug” for a feature on its back that resembles the dictator’s face, per recent reporting by New Indian Express. (Evidently, the nickname stuck to the bugs as far back as 2011, with a Daily Mail story in 2014.)

The bug was previously called the “man-faced stink bug,” due to its notorious smell. It also is widely regarded as a pest for eating fruit and crops.

The man-face has been given a name, and it’s the most notorious one imaginable.

“I can’t think of any defensible reason to name an insect or any other organism after a reprehensible dictator,” David Skelly, director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and Yale School of the Environment professor of ecology, told JNS.

“Animals—of any kind—are neither good nor bad. Loading a species with this name is not something I would ever support,” added Skelly. “It shows a lack of respect for biodiversity science and especially for the millions of people killed by Hitler.”

Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, agreed.

“Naming an insect after Hitler is not funny or clever. It’s disgraceful and appalling,” he said. “It makes light of Hitler’s efforts to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe. Hitler murdered six million Jews and millions of others. His name should not be leant to anything.”

Kathrin Meyer, secretary general of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, told JNS that naming an insect after Hitler is an example of how it has become mainstream to trivialize Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

“Excusing or minimizing the impact of the Holocaust or those who perpetrated it, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany, is deeply offensive to Holocaust victims, survivors and their families,” she said.

“The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance works tirelessly to counter Holocaust distortion, and our working definition makes clear that portraying the Holocaust and its perpetrators positively is unacceptable,” she said. “We deeply regret that we are witnessing such incidents of distortion on an alarmingly regular basis.”

“Regardless of the context, Holocaust trivialization is wrong in any form,” Todd Gutnick, senior communications director at the Anti-Defamation League, told JNS. “We hope those responsible for naming this insect will reconsider.”

The provocative renaming was intended to “create interest in research students by making the study of bugs easier for identification,” the Mirror (London) reported. The researchers Sangamesh Kadagad and Manjunath Nayak noted they also named insects “after famous politicians and cricketers based on their looks and morphology.”

‘Trivializing the enormity of his crimes’

Naming an insect after Hitler represents a reversal of a long history of antisemites demonizing Jews and portraying them as insects. “Jews Are Lice: They Cause Typhus,” one Nazi propaganda poster read. Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf” that “The Jew was only and always a parasite in the body of other peoples.” He added that “Jews are a people under whose parasitism the whole of honest humanity is suffering.”

More recently, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has compared Jews to “termites.” The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law adds, “In contemporary texts and cartoons, Jews and Israelis are often portrayed as a variety of barnyard and zoological animals and insects.”

Harriet Over, a professor of psychology at the University of York in England, researches dehumanization in mass killings.

“Comparing Hitler to a bug could be seen as trivializing the enormity of his crimes,” she told JNS.

Demonizing a beetle could also hinder conservation efforts, she said. In 2006, neo-Nazis “drove a beetle named after Hitler to the brink of extinction,” added Over. She referred to a tiny brown beetle named anophthalmus hitleri, which was discovered in 1933 by a German entomologist and Hitler admirer. The bug has since become a collector’s item among antisemites.

India, which is home to the “Hitler bug” that has been making recent headlines, had a rate of antisemitism of 20% in 2014, the last year for which the Anti-Defamation League calculated an index score for the country. That meant 150 million of 771.8 million Indians harbor antisemitic attitudes, according to the ADL.

The United States had a 9% score in 2014 and a 10% score in 2015.

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