Morsels For The Mind – 03/01/2014

5 January 2014 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest, Science

Every day we provide you with #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast to nibble away at. Here you can fill your brain with the most intellectually stimulating “amuse bouches” from the past week – a veritable smorgasbord for the cranium. They’re all here for you to load up your plate – this week’s “Morsels for the mind”.  Enjoy!

If you do nothing else, make sure to check out the “Reads / views / listens of the week”.


Feather, fur & fin – birds, beasts, fishes, and the things they do

“After reading these papers, I wanted to be a fox. Very badly.” On foxes’ secret skills. Awesome, must read post by Robert Krulwich. Read of the week.

It sounds too awesome to be true—which means it probably is.” Quote in previous tweet by Christie Wilcox, taking a brilliant, skeptical view on purported dolphin narcotic use.

Curious critters. Last year's top bizarre animal finds, selected by Bec Crew.

Amazing animals. Great critter tales from the past year, selected by Jason Goldman & Matt Soniak.

Such great heights. Animals that were up, over & out of this world in 2013. A lovely, whimsical year-ender by Elizabeth Preston.

A wee distance. A distance measured in length between reindeer pees? Yep. Poronkusema.

No mere fluke? Whale traffic jam raises interesting questions. Kirk Siegler investigates.

Don't get fished in. That “shark” photobombing kids is actually a dolphin. Excellent debunking by David Shiffman.

The gorilla in the room. Is a gorilla. Great camera trap photo, shared by Jason Goldman.

Body of evidence. Cats, small & big alike, are really meant to eat carcasses. Jason Goldman gets into the meat of the matter.

Animal magnetism. Dogs do their business aligned with magnetic field. Yes really. Apparently, according to this paper.

See Spot. See Spot poop. See Spot poop on a North-South axis. Breanna Draxler on a canine compass.

Sit. Stay. Speak? A translating device for dogs’ thoughts? Seems far-fetched, as Marc Lallanilla reports.

Puppy perfection? Dogs with juvenile expressions have an advantage. Intriguing observation, shared by George Dvorsky.

"Grey squirrel nests are a testimony to the capacity of other creatures to create something with a lasting legacy."

Rock on! The rock hydrax is remarkable. Mary Bates explains why, perfectly.

Completely batty. Maternity caves are wall-to-wall bats.

The bottom of the cask gave way, letting loose a pickled wombat.” Interesting history, by Henry Nicholls.

Straining for discovery. How mouse strains reveal some remarkable biology, by Sci Curious.

They are smart, social, & inquisitive, just like us.” Amber Alliger’s intelligent take on lab rats, superbly shared by Krystnell Storr.

Pet hypothesis. Can classroom guinea pigs benefit school kids? Cool research, perfectly explained by Companion Animal Psychology.

Holy voley! It’s a “plague” of voles. Darren Naish brings on the animal awesomeness.

Getting a buzz from dinner. Fantastic falcon dines on wasps. Great take on Sean McCann's super research by Bug Girl.

Quantity versus quality. Testosterone makes birds sing more, not better.

Darwin was given credit for finches he did not see & insights about the finches he never made.” Quote from a cool piece by Shannon Palus on determining the origin of the notion of “Darwin’s finches”.

Best of intentions. Sometimes trying to save something propels it to extinction. Amazing story, expertly told by Ed Yong.
 Read of the week.

Life everlasting? Some species are on the brink. Which to save? Thought provoking piece by Christine Dell'Amore.

It all adds up. Quentin Wheeler makes the case that the time is right, if not necessary, to document all species.

Fine furried friends. Emma Marris describes how charismatic mammals aid conservation efforts.

Unbearable lightness of being. Keeping plight of skinny polar bears in the public eye is important, as Elizabeth Shogren explains.

Creature comforts. Alison Woollard explains how animals can help us understand human disease.

Fantastic finds (2X). Super biological discoveries, selected by Nadia Drake.
 And a collection of species discovered in the past year, selected by Andrea Thompson.

Adorable babies? The behaviours of baby crocodiles.

Shark-stravaganza! Awesome things learned about sharks in 2013.  Selected by David Shiffman.

Land ho! How a fish came to live out of water. Great story by Jennifer Frazer.

Cuckoo for coconuts. The curious coconut crab. Matt Simon continues looking at bizarre critters.

Chilling out. Sea anemones living in Antarctic ice. Amazing find, nicely described by Catherine de Lange.

In hot water? Nope. Starfish wasting syndrome *not* related to Fukushima radiation. Superb debunking by Christopher Mah.

“Where there is Smaug, there is fire.” Might a dragon be like a bombardier beetle? Awesome look at the science of fire-breathers, by Kyle Hill.
 Read of the week.

Float like an elephant seal. Sting like a bee. Or something like that. Love this post on working out by Erik Vance.


Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight

Higher resolution. Some hopes for 2014 that are better than the ordinary. And all about bugs, as to "bee" expected, coming from Chris Buddle!

In the nic of time. Caterpillars exhale nicotine to deter predatory spiders. Cool story, wonderful explained by Joseph Bennington Castro.

 Read of the week.

Airing their differences. Caterpillar uses gassy defence. Ed Yong explains how hornworms repel some predators.

Plight of the living dead. Super profile of zombie ant researcher, Charissa de Bekker, by Joseph Bennington Castro.

Nothing to sniff at? Invasive cockroach may be less allergy-inducing. Erika Engelhaupt looks at this potential silver lining to an invasion.

Quick change artists. Valerie Ross explains how temperature alters the fruit fly genome in days.

Two bees or not two bees. How honeybees got sexes.

Go with the flow? Jim Gorman explains how ants behave like solids & liquids.

The ants come marching. And protect this frog. Sarah Zielinski shows how.

Pretty in pink. Susan Milius describes the orchid mantis's deception.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like

Lives shaped by death. How extinctions influenced the evolution of dinosaurs. Excellent piece of research blogging, by Richard Butler.

“Done to death”? Not Iguanodons - they are still interesting. Mark Witton will show you why.

When words get in the way. How giving the characters dialogue ruined “Walking With Dinosaurs”. Brian Switek has a word or two on the matter himself.

All in the family. Understanding relationships between hominin lineages. Clive Finlayson on timely research.

The way of the dodo? A sensible call to rethink Neanderthal “extinction”, by Holly Dunsworth.

Fascinating finds. Most amazing human evolution discoveries from the past year, selected by Kate Wong.

Family ties. Europeans’ “love triangle” origins. Ewen Callaway on the latest genome research.

A long meal? How did folks in ancient Pompeii come to eat a giraffe? Interesting food history by Megan Garber.


Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants

The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Gets kicked out by feisty plant. Superb example of science communication by Alan Cann. View of the week.

Hunger games. Carnivorous plants use tricksy UV fluorescence to attract prey. Joseph Stromberg shows all.

War of the roses? Might plants’ chemical warfare be driving rainforest diversity? Intriguing hypothesis, shared by Carl Zimmer.

Cloudy vision. Cloud forests perceive light even in a fog. Cool story by Tia Ghose.

How flowers get the blues. It’s a basic thing. Becky Lang looks into it.

Ace of base. Stephanie Pappas explains how petunias get the blues by becoming a little alkali.

Vigour trigger. Increased hybrid tomato yield due to altered hormone sensitivity.

Ashes to ashes. Of ash trees, parasites, & healthy, green living. Interesting post by Rob Dunn.

Holiday spirit. Turn your used Christmas tree into alcohol. An oldie, but a goodie, by Rose Eveleth.

This is a slightly unusual end-of-the-year list.” Brilliant, nuanced take on GMOs by Nathanael Johnson.


Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses

Walking ecosystems. You & your microbes. Excellent feature by Susan Milius.

Deep secrets. Microbes in the Earth’s depths. Tia Ghose looks into it.

Taking the world by storm. Nathalia Holt describes how flu induces cytokines storms.

On the move. Jennifer Frazer explains how microbes get about.

Culture in the classroom. Microbial culture that is. Kids swab, grow, & learn. Brilliant science outreach, nicely explained by Rob Dunn.

Gut reaction? Might the stomach “seive” good from bad bacteria? Interesting hypothesis, beautifully explained by Rob Dunn.

On the move. Sarah Shailes explains how a plant virus gets around.


Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others) – from molecules to cells to organs to organisms (including genetics & genomics)

Jumping to conclusions. Might jumping genes contribute to schizophrenia? Fascinating research, beautifully explained by Em Underwood. Read of the week.

Wonder Y. Melissa Wilson Sayres and colleagues hypothesise that natural selection reduced Y chromosome diversity.

Deeper scents. Odour receptors in the lungs. Diana Lutz on a fantastic find.

There’s shrinkage?! New gene count “shrinks” human genome to only 19k genes. Hmm. Physics arXiv Blog looks into whether it all adds up.

It comes down to this. Gene count suggests humans have fewer genes than nematodes. Douglas Main explains how this is the case.

Cell bye date. "Patient-specific" cultured cells are being used to understand how a given patient’s disease wreaks havoc. Ed Yong elegantly describes an important breakthrough in personalised medicine.

Resistance is futile? Artemisinin resistance genes pinpointed in malaria parasite. Ewen Callaway on an important element of fighting a deadly disease.


Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate

We wipe reindeer hair from our eyes, the glaciated passages too dazzling to quite see clearly.” Quote from superb poetry about Antarctica by Jynne Dilling Martin. These two brilliant poems on her Antarctic experience are great reads. Reads of the week.

Ice not nice. Ongoing travails of trapped Antarctic expedition (here & here). Alok Jha shared his experience, expertly.

“What happens to us now is anyone's guess.” Trapped in Antarctic ice. Amazing story by Alok Jha.

With arms linked, the 30 or so people sang songs – including a festive Auld Lang Syne.” Quote from a wonderful piece by Alok Jha - trapped in Antarctic ice, but festively welcoming 2014.

No, climate change contrarians, ice-trapped MV Akademik Shokalskiy does not indicate that climate change is false.

It’s elementary. Nitrogen is an abundant element & its impact intense. Frontier Scientists takes a look.

Deep trouble. Creatures at ocean’s depths will not escape climate change impacts.

Flash of inspiration. Alex Witze on how folks are working out why freaky lights are linked to earthquakes.

The future is in plastic. And it’s in the ocean. And that’s not good. Louis Sahagun looks into it.

Seen from above. Marvellous maps. Great stuff selected by Greg Miller & Betsy Mason.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Outta this world! Last year's top astronomy pics, selected by Phil Plait. View of the week.

Spin cycle. The nature of spiral galaxies. Ian O'Neill on discoveries that are way out there.

Size matters. Why some stars are bigger than others.

Feeling gravity’s pull. A galaxy reaches out. Ethan Siegel will take you there.

The light fantastic. A cluster full of stars. Ethan Siegel shares the wonder.

Pretty on pink. Nancy Atkinson describes how Nova Centauri dons a new hue.

Night light. Amazing video of the night sky by Jack Fusco, nicely described by Nancy Atkinson.

“Not all viral memes are bad, wrong, misguided, or dumb.” But this one is just about right, says Phil Plait.

A wrinkle in time. Shows Mercury is shrinking. Marcus Woo describes an ageing planet.

Pole position. The maelstrom at Saturn’s north.

Here & gone. First asteroid discovered this year, early in the morning of the 2nd day, hits our atmosphere & disintegrates. Adam Mann describes this fleeting event.

A bright spot. That's Venus! Check it out this month. Phil Plait describes how to do it.

In-flight entertainment. Aurora from the window seat. Spectacular sight, shared by Phil Plait.

Canadians forgoing trip to Mars. Will travel to Winnipeg instead. They were the same frigid temperature this past week, as Megan Garber explains.

Look, up in the sky! A comprehensive list of Astronomical Events for 2014. David Dickinson has your evenings sorted through to 2015.


Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computation, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution

To infinity & beyond! Not one, not two, not three, but four amazing posts by Dr SkySkull, on the nature of infinity. Great reads, all of them. Reads of the week.

Going for broke. How we busted the internet. Amazing, important read by Luke O'Neil. Read of the week.

Netflix may have solved the mystery of what to watch next, but that generated its own smaller mysteries.” Quote from a genius piece by Alexis Madrigal on Netflix, film genres, & mysteries. Alexis Madrigal’s Netflx piece is worth reading for the Raymond Burr surprise at the end alone. Spectacular. Read of the week.

A matter of charm. This charming quark. Cool science, perfectly explained by Jesse Emspak.

Incredibly uplifting. Objects levitated using sound waves. This is so cool.

Eye spy. You have images of who you are watching in your cornea. They can be extracted from photos. Yow! GeorgeDvorsky describes a truly remarkable technological innovation.

Long & short of it. Evolutionary tradeoff between short-term fitness & long-term evolvability. Awesome look at Long Term Evolution Experiments, by Richard Lenski.

Wise mend with the baby cheeses. Cheese-making brine used to clear icy roads. Food science, by Breanna Draxler.


Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it

Some nerve! Last year's best neuroscience images. Amazing selection by Olly Freeman.

The inevitable decline of ageing has long pushed people away from science & into the consoling hug of religion.” Quote by Virginia Hughes from a wonderful piece on science, ageing, & the science of ageing. Read of the week.

He had looked into what role genes might have in aggression... Genetics did not tell the whole story.” Quote by Stephen Hall from a brilliant feature about psychologist-cum-epigeneticist Richard Tremblay. Read of the week.

The clitoris remains a woman’s hidden jewel of excitement—out of the collective scientific mind.” Quote from an exceptional, must read piece by Mrs Smith on an incredibly overlooked piece of anatomy.

Cassandra Willyard asks, “Could we please find a new, less-graphic name for saxophone penis?” No kidding.

Ritual reality. How rituals can heighten experience. Fascinating insights, as always, by Tom Stafford.

Out for dinner. Humans use Lévy walks to find food. Fascinating find, nicely reported by Meeri Kim.

The look of love. Sensation map shows where our bodies feel, as Gemma Tarlach explains.

Heat of the moment. Michaeleen Doucleff explains how mapping sensations shows how emotions make us “feel”.

A matter of time. How body size & metabolism influence perception of passing time. Amazing biology, nicely described by Sarah Jane Alger

“Sometimes, pothead questions need pothead answers.” On marijuana withdrawal. Interesting, personal perspective by Malcolm Harris.

What’s in a word? Might language alter the way you see the world? Hmm. Alan Yu explores.

Head games. How one critter loses its head, but retains its memories. Lovely post by Robert Krulwich.

Acting on the brain. Some surprising links between Hollywood & neuroscience, shared by Christian Jarrett.

Own goal. When we set resolutions, we set ourselves up for failure. Fascinating stuff as always, from Maria Konnikova.


Behind the scenes – the workings of the museum – discovery and communication

The year that was. Spectacularly rendered by National Geographic. Must view. View / read of the week.

Better read. Stephen Curry decided to read more books in 2013. His reviews of those are wonderfully illuminating.

Gone but not forgotten. Phenomenal female scientists who passed away in 2013. Amazing legacies. Wonderful tribute, by Maia Weinstock.

Figuring it out. Astounding scientific figures from the past year. Stunning selections by Brandon Keim.

Moving experience. Last year's best science gifs, selected by Joseph Stromberg.

Picture this. Last year's most stunning science photos, selected by Kelly Oakes.

2014’s big science stories? Predictions from BBC Science & Technology (here); io9 (here); and Popular Science (here).

The shape of things to come? Richard van Noorden looks into the crystal ball.

Picture this. Awesome collection of the best galleries of science pics of 2013, curated by Betsy Mason.

Right said TED. A thoughtful, thought-provoking dissection of TED talks, by Benjamin Bratton.

First discover, then inform. I’m afraid I’ve done it backwards far too often.” Quote by Andrea Friederici Ross from a wonderful piece via Urbanimalia on the joys of discovery.

Our love of Holmes, like science, is tinged with apprehension… never sure how far he might go in pursuit of truth.” Quote in previous tweet by Sarah Day in a thoughtful piece on Sherlock Holmes, an archetypal scientist.

Keep talking to people & asking questions – ask yourself the tough questions, too.” Quote by Sarah Boon from an excellent post providing advice to a young science writer.

Be prepared? Did your PhD supervisor prep you for non-academic careers? Super, important Storify by Katie Mack.

The error of our ways. NeuroSkeptic makes a compelling case that proper vigilance is needed in review of scientific publications.

Dealing with acceptance. Sci Curious describes the tedious business of manuscripts “accepted with minor revisions”.

To blog or not to blog? Dorothy Bishop makes the case in favour. Great analysis.

The art of survival? How to make a fantastic SciArt blog sustainable? Matt Shipman looks to you for ideas to keep Buzz Hoot Roar going. Great cause.

Love this. Humorous short descriptions of grad thesis research, via LOL My Thesis.

Nice & toasty! An ode to the universe, wine, & Feynman. A wonderful note to end tone year and start another, by Joe Hanson. View of the week.


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