Too many cats. Not enough crustaceans. The current emoji catalog does not accurately represent the breadth of biodiversity seen in nature, and this, according to scientists, hinders conservation efforts.

An analysis published on Monday in the iScience journal argues that while animals are well represented among available emojis, plants, fungi, and microorganisms receive little attention. “Even though the biodiversity crisis may seem distant from the online world, in our increasingly digitized society, we should not underestimate the potential of emojis to increase awareness and promote appreciation for the diversity of life on Earth,” wrote the authors Stefano Mammola, Mattia Falaschi, and Gentile Francesco Ficetola, environmental biologists at the University of Milan.

“The development and maintenance of diverse and inclusive emoji sets are crucial to ensuring a fair representation of the tree of life in digital communication tools,” they emphasized. The team assessed nature and animal-related emojis available on Emojipedia, an online emoji catalog, and monitored how these emojis changed between 2015 and 2022. Among animals, vertebrates – including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and bony fish – were overrepresented, constituting 76% of animal emojis.

Arthropods, including insects, arachnids, and crustaceans, were proportionally underrepresented, despite there being 1.3 million described species of arthropods compared to 85,000 known species of vertebrates. The researchers also noted the absence of emojis representing flatworms (including tapeworms) and nematodes, even though there are more than 20,000 species of flatworms and almost 20,000 species of nematodes. On the other hand, they found that emoji biodiversity was increasing. “Annelids gained representation in 2020 with the addition of the ‘worm’ emoji, likely representing an earthworm, and cnidarians gained representation in 2021 with the addition of a red coral emoji,” they discovered.

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