You may have missed… female characters in video games; bristly dinosaurs; robot bee; and Morpho butterflies

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Female characters need more of a voice in video games

Gender biases in fictional dialogue are well documented in film, television, and books. Compared to male characters, female characters tend to talk less, talk to each other less, and talk about a more limited range of things.

Now, according to a new study in Royal Society Open Science, scientists have undertaken the first large-scale study measuring gender representation in another the dialogue of another popular form of mass media: video games.

Analysing dialogue from more than 13,000 characters in 50 role playing games – including Final Fantasy, Skyrim, and Mass Effect – they found that male characters speak almost twice as much as their female counterparts.

Most (94%) games had more male than female speech and only 35% of words were spoken by female characters. The majority of video game characters are male – only 29% are female, and only 0.25% belonged to gender categories other than male or female.

The authors suggest that “some of this is due to a lack of female characters, but there are also biases in who female characters speak to, and what they say.”

For example, female characters also apologised more, displayed more gratitude, and swore less. 

Dome-headed dinosaurs might’ve had bristly headgear

Many of the most iconic dinosaurs had bony ornaments on their skulls: from the horns of Triceratops to the mohawk-like crests of hadrosaurs, and the bumps and knobs covering the head of Tyrannosaurus rex.

But palaeontologists are increasingly finding evidence that dinosaurs had even more elaborate head ornaments made of keratin – the stuff that makes up fingernails – that were not preserved in the fossil record.

Illustration of a dinosaur
An artist’s depiction of a newly described species of pachycephalosaur that was named Platytholus clemensi, after the late UC Berkeley paleontologist William Clemens. The skull is dome-shaped, but UC Berkeley and Chapman University paleontologists believe it was covered with bristles of keratin (purple) that may have been even more elaborate than depicted here. The bony knobs and spikes (yellow) are characteristic of pachycephalosaurs and many other dinosaurs. Credit: Jack Horner

The most recent example of this is a newly described species of dome-headed dinosaur named Platytholus clemensi – a pachycephalosaur dating from about 68 million years ago. Its partial skull, including a bowling ball-shaped dome, was unearthed in in 2011 in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana in the US.

According to a new study in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the skull likely displayed bristles of keratin, reminiscent of a brush cut hairstyle.

“We don’t know the exact shape of what was covering the dome, but it had this vertical component that we interpret as covered with keratin,” says Mark Goodwin, Assistant Director at the University of California Berkeley Museum of Palaeontology, and co-author on the paper.

“Animals change or use certain features, particularly on the skull, for multiple functions – it could be for display or for social and biological interactions involving visual communication.”

Fig4 1 crop 850
A CT scan of the dome reveals the well-organized vertical arrangement of the neurovascular network in the skull and dome of Platytholus clemensi, suggesting that the network fed verticle structures on top of the dome. (Scale bar is 2 centimeters). Credit: Jack Horner and Mark Goodwin

This robot bee can fly in a tricky twisting motion

Researchers have developed a robotic bee that is able to fly stably in all directions, like a flying insect. The robot weighs only 95 milligrams, has a 33 millimetre wingspan, and can fly autonomously for about five minutes.

Described in the journal IEEE Transactions on Robotics, the Bee++ prototype is able to control the complex yaw motion – twisting about its vertical axis.

“If you can’t control yaw, you’re super limited,” says Néstor O Pérez-Arancibia, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University in the US, who co-authored the paper.

“If you’re a bee, here is the flower, but if you can’t control the yaw, you are spinning all the time as you try to get there.”

To allow their robot to twist in a controlled manner, the researchers adjusted its wings so that they flap in an angled plane and increased the rate at which they flapped from 100 to 160 times per second.

The researchers say that one day artificial flying insects could be used for applications including artificial pollination, search and rescue, and environmental monitoring.

Sequencing the genomes of Amazonian Morpho butterflies

Dazzling Morpho butterflies, with wings in shades of metallic blue and green, flutter through the air of the Amazonian rainforest.

But despite living in the same region, and the fact that previous studies have shown that males are attracted to the wing patterns of other similar species, the species remain distinct from each other.

Now, the first full-length genome sequences for three species of Morpho butterflies – the common blue morpho (M. helenor), the Achilles morpho (M. achilles), and the Deidamia morpho (M. deidamia) – have been presented in the journal Gigascience to help address the question: what prevents the separate species from blending back into one?

Researchers found that while their genetic makeup is very similar overall, certain genetic incompatibilities keep the species reproductively isolated. Differences in chromosome numbers, long inversions (when a segment breaks off and reattaches in reverse orientation within the same chromosome) in one of the sex chromosomes, and genetic divergence among copies of genes may play a significant role.

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