Morsels For The Mind – 04/04/2014
Every day we provide you with Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast 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
Call of the wild. Excellent start to blog series on field research on orang-utan calls, by James Askew.
A breed apart? Should the dingo be considered a separate species? Cool science, nicely explained by Leigh Dayton.
Gimme shelter? “Adoption Ambassadors” moves dogs beyond shelters, enhances adoptions. Cool new approach to improving dog adoptions, nicely explained by Zazie Smith.
No flies on us? Are zebras’ stripes all about avoiding blood-sucking insects? Intriguing hypothesis. Akshat Rathi looks into the evidence supporting it.
Cold hard cache. Tara Garnett looks at how squirrels decide to hide nuts.
Northern exposure. Why so many snowy owls headed south this past winter. Superb look at one of the most amazing occurrences over the past years, by Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists. Read of the week.
Sex in the city? Even when they move to urban settings, urban owls stay monogamous. Really amazing finding, explained by Colin Barras.
Island of n̶o̶ return? Actually, endangered isle-dwelling lizard makes a comeback, as John Platt explains.
There’s shrinkage?! Yep, when salamanders & a warming climate are concerned. Sarah Zielinski looks at the evidence.
You only live once. Lovely, poetic consideration of the lives of salmon (and Drake!), by Natalie Sopinka.
“Zoos are portals to nature; bridges between urbanizing society & natural habitats degraded by human activities.” Quote by Massimo Bergamini on why zoos are needed: “last link to a vanishing natural world”. Thought provoking.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight – the arthropods
The bearable lightness of being. Phenomenal fireflies, filmed on the move by Vincent Brady. View of the week.
Flights of fancy. Butterfly & moth wings up close, photographed by Linden Gledhill.
“Most painful sites were penis (7.3), upper lip (8.7) & nostril (9.0).” Bee sting index. Must read examination of the science, by Ed Yong. Read of the week.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Almost like a whale? 500 MYA, a different kind of filter feeder roamed the oceans. Brian Switek looks into it.
Heavy metal rules. Plant fossils reveal long-term metal distribution.
Lasting impression. Fossils of dinosaur skin imprints.
A bone to print. Reproducing dinosaur skeletons using CT scanning & 3D printing. Awesome development in sharing paleontological finds, beautifully described by Katie Jennings.
“Piltdown demonstrates the ways in which racism & nationalism shaped science at different points in our history.” Quote by Krystal D'Costa from an interesting post on Piltdown Man, science communication & bad science.
“There’s no way he was clever enough to make this sh*t up.” Report of the biggest bird. Ever. Darren Naish shares a great story. With a nod and a wink.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
Looking for the first signs of spring? They're not when they used to be. And that's important. I wrote this.
Divisive behaviour. How plant cells divide asymmetrically.
Makes good scents. Plants “decide” which beneficial insects to attract.
Friendly giant. Spectacular 3200-yr-old sequoia.
If you go down to the woods today…You may find altered-lignin trees for better biofuel production, as Richard Van Noorden explains.
How things crop up. We need new food crops. Which plants should we use? Excellent look at this important topic, by Virginia Gewin.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
“To understand the ocean’s true ecological structure is to appreciate that we inhabit a microbial world.” Quote by Tony Palumbi from an astoundingly great read on the diversity & impact of ocean microbes. Read of the week.
No scents. Makes sense. How microbes keep kangaroo flatulence from smelling bad. John Platt's writing is, as always, excellent, even with a topic that might stink.
“Our ability to treat & cure HIV in future is threatened by continued stigma, apathy & ignorance surrounding HIV.” Quote by Nathalia Holt from a brilliant interview with Virginia Hughes on HIV, science, & storytelling. Read of the week.
Home alone? Nope. There are always loads of microbes with you. Great feature, by Joel Warner.
Word of mouth. S.E. Gould on how community communication & oral vaccines combat cholera.
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)
Fat chance? Did genes from Neanderthals involved in fat metabolism confer an advantage on Europeans? Emily Willingham takes a great look at the recent results.
Fighting the good fight. Heidi Ledford on how our immune system could be used against cancer.
Keepin’ it real. Best stuff to eat? Science says “real” food, mostly plants, as James Hamblin explains.
Everything’s groovy? Psychedelics can be good medicine. Helping cancer patients. Fascinating development, nicely explained by Linda Marsa.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology, evolution & extinction
When Spring gets cold as ice, some organisms embrace it. A reflection on convergent evolution. I wrote this.
“Incredibly tiny but relatively long-term evolution experiment.” The scale of life. Awesome post by Richard Lenski on scale of 26-y.o. evolution experiment relative to life on Earth.
Family matters. On Bill Hamilton, kin selection, & ongoing scientific debate. Excellent weaving of a personal story with the emergence of a hypothesis, by Eric Johnson. Read of the week.
Human kindness? Fernanda Castano takes a look at anthropogenic effects on extinctions.
The mind of the beholder. Why did we evolve to appreciate beauty? Thought-provoking essay, by Mohan Matthen.
A misstep? Should ecological impact be measured as a “footprint”? Thought-provoking look at word use, by Laura Martin.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Terra incognito? We’re still getting maps of Africa wrong. And that’s just wrong. Superb dissection of a long-standing problem that is still being perpetuated. Great read by James Wan. Read of the week.
Brushing up on history. Jason Goldman on how historical paintings help us understand changing climate.
The time of the season. Is getting shorter. In northern forests, autumn & spring edge closer.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
It’s full of stars. Stunning panorama of our galaxy.
Stars in our eyes. Ken Croswell peers into a cosmic birth at the galaxy’s edge.
Star struck. Amazing nighttime trails, captured by Evgeniy Zaytsev.
Seas the opportunity! Ian Sample finds that the best place to look for life might be in Enceladus’s ocean.
Land ho! ExoMars mission choosing where to land to search for Martian life. Lizzie Gibney examines how the decision is being made.
Water, water everywhere? Marcus Woo on how water in meteorites on Earth show extent of water in Martian past.
Smashing discovery! Collisions used to calculate dates of Earth & Moon formation. Excellent researcher, beautifully explained by John Timmer.
Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology
Southern exposure. Ron Cowen on how Antarctic research shed light on the birth of the universe. Great feature.
Head’s up! 3D printing of a new skull makes for life-saving transplant. Erika Engelhaupt takes a look into the spectacular procedure.
Memory only skin deep? Not even. Wearable e-skin stores data in remarkably thin patch, as Jessica Morrison describes.
Bound to be appealing. Robotic kangaroo.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
The roots of behaviour. Identifying neurons that shape how fly maggots behave. Cool research, superbly explained by Laura Sanders.
“If it’s real, if it’s replicated…” Controversial link between brain structure & autism. Greg Miller looks at the evidence.
Time waits for no one. Even without memories, episodic amnesiacs are not stuck in time. Neuro Skeptic examines the evidence.
“flashy, Magically Rendered Images.” Potentially self-aware MRI reveals what fMRI really stands for. Quote from a super post by Pete Etchells on how MRI of MRI reveals stuff about MRI. URL says it all.
Pause for thought? Pete Etchells looks at the correlation between stress of public speaking & pauses in speech.
The kids are (just) alright? Showering inflated praise on kids can be problematic. Pete Etchells looks at the evidence.
Time spent poorly? Hours of TV & video negatively correlated with kids’ wellbeing. Great critical look at the research, by Pete Etchells.
Liar, liar. Laura Sanders finds that, not so surprisingly, lying to kids may teach them to lie.
Heat of the moment. Erika Engelhaupt on how thermal imaging a person’s face can reveal psychological state.
The love hormone? Um, not so much. Oxytocin promotes group-serving dishonesty. Ed Yong, "king of oxytocin debunking", take a great look at the latest evidence surrounding the activity of this amazing hormone.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
“Science gives us more accurate pictures – but the meaning we find in them remains up to us.” Quote by Jon Butterworth on the differences between science & religion. Thought-provoking read.
“People know she’s for real, it’s not just some persona.” Nick Nichols describes Jane Goodall. Quote by Nick Nichols from a remarkable reflection on Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday, from an interview with Janna Dotschkal. Read of the week.
Train in vain. A failed railway technology. How time makes good ideas “bad”. Superb story, by Philip Strange. Read of the week.
Silence is golden? Is science sometimes better served by people saying nothing?
Who gives a tweet? Not many folks from “ivory tower”. Must fix this.
Just say no? Know when to say yes to doing something, & when not to. Important post for academics, by Athene Donald.