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.

Secret to a long life? It may be calorie reduction (for monkeys), as Erika Check Hayden explains.

Belugas’ beautiful bulges. Rebecca Helm on the iconic white whales' functional fat.

Deep thoughts. What does it mean to restrict whaling? What should it mean? Excellent critique by Philip Hoare.

When is science not science? Um, when it’s whaling. Good legal decision, as explained by Justin McCurry.

Marvellous manatees. Gorgeous grazers. Emily Frost provides a nice look at the "sea cow" family.

Isn’t that sweet?! Sarah Zielinski finds that pandas have a taste for the sugary.

The mane event. Lion evolution revealed by DNA analysis. Matt Walker looks into a matter of pride.

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.

What to do if things are bugging you? Evolve stripes. Henry Nicholls explains that this may be what zebras did to contend with bugs.

Cold hard cache. Tara Garnett looks at how squirrels decide to hide nuts.

Family matters. Mammalian infanticide & its implications. Fascinating, if somewhat sad, subject, wonderfully handled by Virginia Morell.

Birds of a feather. Sing similarly. Dan Engber provides the science as to why this is the case.

Child’s play? Kevin Loria explains that some crows are as smart as some kids.

Caws & effects. Crows use logic to solve problems. Corvids are phenomenal, as Jason Goldman reveals.

Phenomenal flocks. Spectacular starlings make marvellous mumurations. Beautiful video, shared by GrrlScientist.

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.

Home team disadvantage? Roberta Kwok looks at how invasive parakeets push out native birds.

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.

Small mercies. Warming climate makes salamanders smaller. Virginia Gewin explains.

Some like it hot. Not salamanders. Warmer climate makes them shrink, as Sarah Williams explains.

You only live once. Lovely, poetic consideration of the lives of salmon (and Drake!), by Natalie Sopinka.

Mouthing it out. Blind fish navigate by suction. Elizabeth Preston continues to share the most amazing animals stories.

Senses & sensibility. Elizabeth Howell finds that sharks use many senses to hunt.

What use is half an eye? It keeps shrimp out of hot water. Alex Riley on an incredible evolutionary innovation. Read of the week.

Hidden in plain sight. Bec Crew reveals that the egg cowrie is a master of disguise.

Wondrous worm. Two meter long hermaphrodite. Matt Simon continues his exploration of the bizarre.

Velvet underground. Mary Bates takes a look at the wonderful velvet worms.

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.

Captive audience. Animals in captivity. Frequently heart rending, via DL Cade.


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

Tremendous trilobites. Trilobite beetles that is. Amazing arthropods, beautifully described by Bec Crew.

Curiously-coated critter. Jennifer Frazer on a new mite that sports a marvellous mantle.

Spidey scents. Nsikan Akpan finds that male spiders sniff out bad sex.

Dinner drama. Spider mealtime takes a Shakespearean turn.  Great pictures by Sean McCann, accompanied by dramatic words by Catherine Scott.

The bearable lightness of being. Phenomenal fireflies, filmed on the move by Vincent Brady. View of the week.

In a flap. Fly flight muscles in action. Emma Ganley looks into it.

Flights of fancy. Butterfly & moth wings up close, photographed by Linden Gledhill.

Hidden in plain sight. Insect camouflage. Nora Gallagher takes a look.

That loving feeling. Cockroach makes babies faster when touched. Rachel Nuwer has a touching tale to tell.

A week ago today, I ate my first crickets.” An interesting look at entomophagy, by Barbara King.

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.

On the right track? Not getting left behind? The direction of arthropods in photos, tallied by Chris Buddle.

“In old passport, dumped, stolen goods.” Pseudoscorpions show up in darnedest places. Super story, by Richard Jones.


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

Dying to know. Did microbes cause the biggest mass extinction? Fascinating hypothesis, with the evidence wonderfully explored, by Akshat Rathi.

Home brood. 450M years ago, a crustacean held her eggs. Wow! Jennifer Frazer beautifully describes an amazing discovery. Read of the week.

Cambrian curiosity. An amazing filter feeder.  Great multimedia presentation of a new, old animal, by Noah Baker & Jessica Morrison.

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.

Back tracking. Reconstructing a dinosaur trackway. So cool. Victoria Gill looks at how it was done.

Stepping back in time. Alexandra Witze looks at the work involved in the reconstruction of a dinosaur footpath.

Lasting impression. Fossils of dinosaur skin imprints.

A cast of character. How Neil Shubin’s Tiktaallk fossil was duplicated. Superb personal experience of merging science and artistry, by Kalliopi Monoyios.

A bone to print. Reproducing dinosaur skeletons using CT scanning & 3D printing. Awesome development in sharing paleontological finds, beautifully described by Katie Jennings.

Spotted in the past. Fossils suggest leopards had a bone to pick. Brian Switek reveals why this is helpful to palaeontologists today.

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.

Light entertainment. Ancient cave art wasn’t static. Flames animated it. Amazing discovery, perfectly described by Zach Zorich.

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.

Wonderful woods. Phenomenal forests. The astounding photography of Kilian Schönberger.

Change wood, be good. Altering trees to make biofuels easier. Robert Service's take on this topic here, and Hal Hodson's take here.

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.

Good for what ales you. Sarah Shailes describes the plant that gives us hops.


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.

Enlightening relationship. David Shultz takes a look at a squid-microbe luminescent partnership.

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.

Plagued with good reasoning. Are rats exonerated as cause of Black Death? Um, not so much. Brooke Borel does a great debunking here.

It’s elementary! Of Holmes, Koch, & disease. Great interview of Thomas Goetz on the Iodine initiative, by Caitlin Roper.

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.

A growing industry. Using microbes to make “living materials”. Intriguing technology, nicely described by Katia Moskvitch.

Word of mouth. S.E. Gould on how community communication & oral vaccines combat cholera.

Catch as cat can. Feline-to-human TB transmission. Rare, but possible. James Meikle looks at the case.


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)

Staying retro. Charles Choi on how retrovirus remnants power stem cells.

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.

Good marks for behaviour? Promise of epigenetic marks to decipher disease.  Great look at a hot topic, by Ewen Callaway.

Fighting the good fight. Heidi Ledford on how our immune system could be used against cancer.

Heart of the matter. It’s possible to break a heart through emotion. Literally. Jason Goldman takes a look at a heartfelt topic.

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.

The long & short of it. Wonderful ode to organisms of great longevity, by Carl Zimmer.

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.

Branching out? What should the tree of life look like? Excellent look at the evidence, by Alex Riley.

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.

Hypothetically speaking. There is value to just-so stories. As hypotheses. Jacquelyn Gill looks at the value of "story telling" in developing ecological and evolutionary hypotheses. 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.

Captivating corals. Simply stunning. Must view of coral reefs and related creatures in high definition slow motion,  by Daniel Stoupin. View of the week.

Our wonderful world, captured in beautiful images, by Kilian Schönberger, via Erin Corneliussen.

Colour my world. The dirt on soil’s hues. Fascinating look at a dirty topic, by Antonio Jordánvia EGU Soil Sciences.

Brushing up on history. Jason Goldman on how historical paintings help us understand changing climate.

Inside scoop. A voyage into an ice cave. Amazing trip, brought to you via DL Cade.

The time of the season. Is getting shorter. In northern forests, autumn & spring edge closer.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Takes up lots of space. Literally. Ethan Siegel describes a giant galaxy.

It’s full of stars. Stunning panorama of our galaxy.

Looking up! Great gallery of best space photos from the past month.

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.

Kinda Mickey Mouse. Jovian storms’ surprising appearance, as Nancy Atkinson reveals.

Moons with a view. Orbiting nearby planets.

Scrappy satellite. Uranus’s patchwork moon, Miranda. Nadia Drake on a lesser-known, but completely intriguing, celestial feature.

What lies beneath. Enceladus’s intriguing ocean. Awesome interactive, by Paddy Allen.

Seas the opportunity! Ian Sample finds that the best place to look for life might be in Enceladus’s ocean.

Superior discovery. Lake Superior-sized sea beneath Enceladus’s ice. Lisa Grossman looks into it.

How do you hide an ocean? Bury it under ice on a distant moon. Akshat Rathi on the latest discovery from Enceladus.

Water world? Well, water moon. Sea lays beneath Enceladus’s icy exterior, as Francie Diep reveals.

Something to sea? Enceladus’s hidden ocean may hold life. George Dvorsky looks at the evidence.

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.

“He brought us closer to the stars.” 19th century glassmaker changed science. Superb story, by Kitty Ferguson. Read of the week.


Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology

Beside ourselves. The multiverses that surround us. Amazing explainer by Ethan Siegel.

It’s all relative? Nope. Much of science is about absolutes. Excellent explainer, by Henry Reich.

Artistry of nature. Turing’s trippy patterns in nature & art, shared by Nadia Drake.

Southern exposure. Ron Cowen on how Antarctic research shed light on the birth of the universe. Great feature.

A wide margin. Width of the Higgs boson. Jon Butterworth's explanation really measures up to the best.

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

Neuroscientists need a statistics refresher.” Critique of weak stats in brain research, by Gary Stix.

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.

Help science move a head! Donate your brain! Greg Miller makes a compelling case for making the donation.

Time waits for no one. Even without memories, episodic amnesiacs are not stuck in time. Neuro Skeptic examines the evidence.

After sunset. We really should be asleep. Eli Chen finds that artificial nighttime lighting not good for us.

Something to lose sleep over. Bethany Brookshire finds that pulling all-nighters could cause neuron loss. (Oh oh!)

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.

Words make scents. Jason Goldman on the relationship between language & olfaction. Fascinating.

Heat of the moment.  Erika Engelhaupt on how thermal imaging a person’s face can reveal psychological state.

All you need is love? On the taxonomy & science of love. Fascinating exploration, by Patrick Clarkin.

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.

Smells like team spirit? Sniffing oxytocin increases group-biased deceit. Fascinating research, wonderfully explained by Christie Wilcox.

Oral fixation. Aviva Hope Rutkin reveals that we’re wired to fill our mouths.


Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education

This made me throw up a little…In a good way! Super Q&A with Joe Hanson.

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.

Ear candy. This week’s Science Weekly podcast is awesome, as usual. Sadly, it’s also Alok Jha’s last. Super send-off at the end of the podcast. Listen of the week

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.

“Chimpanzees never say goodbye.” Wonderful interview with Jane Goodall. Must read, by Henry Nicholls. Read of the week.

A life at sea. What it means/takes to be a marine scientist. Great overview, by Alex Warneke.

The other side of life. Of algae & art. Lovely portrait of biologist & painter Lynne Quarmby, by Rachel Bernstein.

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.

Grad student sabbatical? Is there such a thing? Yes there is. Margaret Kosmala explains how to do it right.

Getting the word out. The challenge of getting a research paper written. Excellent post, by Morgan Jackson.


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