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Biologists are bugged about the ant emoji

A parade of misrepresentation.
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Of the 2,666 emoji in the wild, there’s one symbol that really bugs a group of keen-eyed users. Tech companies can’t seem to draw the black ant emoji properly, as several ant enthusiasts have noted.

From Apple’s rotund ant to Facebook’s spindly blue-grey version, there’s a great disparity in how the familiar insects are represented on digital devices—and that’s just pure misinformation, entomologists lament.

Mozilla and Twitter have done ants the most disservice, according to one insect specialist who goes by CurlicueCal on Tumblr. Released in 2016, ants that pop up in Firefox OS 2.5 look like termites, she notes. Twitter, with its crude ant-blob, similarly didn’t seem to put any effort into approximating the creature’s morphology. And Samsung has shamed ants too, observes CurlicueCal in a rousing June 28 rant. “This ant has an unexplained, double-jointed thorax, and no evidence of a waist. Her four-footed pose suggests that she a centaur rather than an ant.”


Entomologists are divided when it comes to Apple’s ant. While CurlicueCal applauds its “beautiful big almond eye” and “gorgeous pearlescent sheen,” other specialists find it downright offensive.

“This makes me angry,” a Belgian environmental engineer, Stéphane De Greef, writes on Facebook. “Why fix it if it ain’t broken? The old one [the iOS 11.1 ant] was cute Lasius-kinda ant and now we have this rounding monstrosity with no petiole and widening fluffy legs?” observes De Greef, who photographs ants in the wild. “They’ve puppified it,” he said.

Debatable: Apple’s ant.

“It honestly looks more like a spider than an ant,” says Joanie King, an entomologist who studies the social behavior of ants at Texas A&M University. Comparing Apple’s iOS 11.2 ant emoji to a tarantula, she notes that except for the Pseudomyrmex species, ants typically don’t have such large, wasp-like eyes and furry legs.

“This is no ant,” she writes in a 2017 blog post. “I am all for cartoons: the previous ant emoji was a cartoon, but it did not suffer from such a horrible morphological representation.”

King is so dismayed by Apple’s ant—and the general underrepresentation of insects in emoji form—that she barely uses the emoji these days, King tells Quartz. “I honestly just wish there were more insects to choose from,” she says. “Insects are a major part of our world. It would be nice to represent that!”

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