More emojis woudl address the biodiversity crisis, scientists say

There are millions of species of fungi on Earth, but the official emoji library only represents Amanita muscaria, a red-capped, white-spotted mushroom commonly seen in fairy tale picture books and Super Mario Brothers. Furthermore, there are 180,000 species of butterflies and moths, but their lone emoji avatar is a generic blue butterfly that resembles a tattoo typically seen during spring break.

A comprehensive survey conducted by a team of ecologists at Emojipedia, the global directory of pictograms recognized by the international Unicode Standard, has revealed a concerning lack of biodiversity in the emoji library. The ecologists argue that with limited emojis representing the natural world, the scope of the natural world that can be talked about, advocated for, and ultimately protected is also limited.

In the “Animals and Nature” section of Emojipedia, the study identified 112 distinct types of living organisms among 214 images, highlighting a significant gap in the representation of Earth’s diverse wildlife. The emoji library offers only four symbols for tree species and a single green blob labeled “microbe” representing the unicellular world. While the number of animal types represented in Emojipedia has doubled between 2015 and 2022, vertebrates make up 76% of the emoji biosphere, despite only accounting for 5% of known animal species in the real animal kingdom.

The process for adding new emojis is overseen by the Unicode Consortium, which evaluates proposed icons based on factors such as appearance, originality, and the likelihood of wide-scale adoption. While proposals for new emojis, including science-themed topics, face stiff competition, successful applicants are unveiled every July 17 on World Emoji Day.

Expanding the emoji library to include science-themed topics can serve as an effective way to introduce new themes to kids and spark conversations about diverse organisms. The introduction of new biodiverse emojis has the potential to inspire intellectually curious minds and serve as an effective conduit for future change makers.

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