Morsels For The Mind – 06/06/2014

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

Triplet trouble. Offspring count impacts stillbirth risk in marmosets. Relevance to humans? Carl Zimmer explores the results and their implications.

Not merely a fluke. A whole beached whale hidden by paint & varnish. Super story, by Megan Gannon.

Elephants never forget. Culling leaves a traumatic mark on herd members, as Ariel Mark explains.

Stunning savannah silhouettes. Wildlife at sunset, photographed by Paul Goldstein.

Born to run? California Chrome could have made racehorse history this week. Was a win (or a loss) in his genes? I wrote this.

The big chill out. Being tree huggers helps overheating koalas. Cool story by Victoria Gill with some interesting video stills of koalas getting chilled.

That’s cool. Michael Slezak explains how hot koalas chill out by tree hugging.

A breed apart? Captive white tigers are inbred & not legitimate conservation. Powerful case made by Jackson Landers.

Canine killer. Nsikan Akpan explains how cyanobacteria are a frightening threat to dog health.

It’s a doggie dog world. Great citizen science projects for canine companions. Julie Hecht has pulled them all together in one convenient resource.

Resourceful rodents. Rats ask for more info when they don’t know. Amazing example of surprising non-human animal behaviour, expertly explained by Mary Bates.

Lost & found. John Platt on a big-eared bat, thought extinct for 120 years, that has been rediscovered.

All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it's bat guano. Gwen Pearson illuminates some shiny faeces.

No laughing matter. Hyenas were (& probably still are) horribly misunderstood, as Matt Simon explains.

I am the walrus. Not so cute goo goo g’joob. Jason Goldman on a blubbery bird- & seal-eating predator.

Protecting fowl from going afoul. Poultry farmer preserving rare breeds. Superb story & video, by Maryn McKenna.

Eyeing dinner. Gannets spot active fishing boats from 11km away & fly there for food. Christine Dell'Amore on the intelligence of bird brains.

Lookin’ good! Elizabeth Preston on how bird behaviour shapes appearance.

Tremendous tundra travels. Marvellous migratory birds. Fantastically fascinating discoveries, and research, shared by Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists. Really love the videos in this Frontier Scientists post. Super research video blogs on some amazing biology. Views of the week.

Winging it. Nsikan Akpan tracks swallows' amazing flight manoeuvres.

Open & shut case. Swallows deliberately operate motion-sensor doors. Extant dinosaurs are amazing. AMAZING! GrrlScientist has the video to prove it. View of the week.

Tremendous travellers. Animal migrations to & from the UK. Superb presentation by Chris Packham.

The mating game. James Owen describes a frog's novel way of doing it.

A real mudslinger. Sandhya Sekar on how a frog packs its eggs in muddy pots.

Sex in the city. Urban frogs amplify mating calls with sewage drains. Katia Moskvitch listened in.

Fantastic flights. Of rays! Wow! Two amazing videos (first, second).

A shot in the dark? Blind cavefish gains name from Indiana Hoosier basketball. Elizabeth Preston on a novel creature with a novel name.

Count on it. Zoe Gough finds that blind cave fish discriminate quantities.

Don’t breath. That’s how to hide from a sea catfish. Ed Yong explains why.

Deep beauty. Deep sea creatures, photographed by David Shales.

Flexible partners. When jellyfish mate. Joseph Bennington Castro on some lesser-known biology.

Under the sea. Deep beauty. Must view, by Dustin Adamson. View of the week.

No ifs, ands, or butts. A.V. Flox busts a myth about tapeworm appearances.

A moving experience. Tracking animals using their pixel-based “numerical signature”. Amazing technology, nicely explained by Greg Miller.

Dead reckoning. Do marine corpses tell tales of sea monsters? Hmm… Excellent comic by Ethan Kocak (comic artistry) and Darren Naish (story).


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

Butting in. Bombardier beetle fires defence out bottom. Matt Simon has the low down.

A fine romance. The tender & vengeful love lives of tiny red velvet mites. Awesome stuff, from the consistently awesome Oatmeal. View of the week.

Mother’s milk. Blattodeans are mammal-like insects. Wow! Great post by Piotr Naskrecki. Read of the week.

Colourful characters. Dave Pacchioli on cool convergence of body colour in bumblebee species.

No direction home? Not bees. They likely construct a mental map. by Michelle Warwicker

Homeward bound. Bees map the return trip, explains Jessica Morrison.

The hot sex. Heat determines sex of wasp offspring, explains Elizabeth Preston.

Cockroach cocktail. Sana Suri on how a wasp turns ‘roach into zombie.

A weighty matter. Hefty pregnant scorpions most likely to sting, as Sarah Zielinski explains.

Sometimes looking like crap is a good thing. Carrie Arnold on the species that disguises its abode as faeces.

World Wide Web. Spider silk transmits information. Olivia Solon on a very cool story.

Getting the point. Spider fangs are perfect piercers, as Tanya Lewis explains.

Waking wasps. Hymenoptera after a night's sleep, caught in the act by Sean McCann.

Branching out. Treehopper song shaped by their home tree. Kylla Benes considers the data, and its implications.

When shouldn’t a weed be a weed? When it supports a fragile butterfly population, as Evelyn Boychuk explains.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite. Gwen Pearson has super advice on how to achieve that feat while travelling. by


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

Whole lotta love. Kelly Oakes on how dinosaurs got it on.

Don’t walk past. 11M year history of legless lizards. Stephanie Pappas on the latest fossil finds.

Tick talk. Megan Gannon looks into lyme disease-like bacteria in 15M-year-old amber-entombed ticks.

The ticking of time. Rachel Nuwer finds that ancient amber-embedded tick suggests it was Lyme carrier.

A dire situation. The lives, demise, & reappearance (in Game of Thrones) of dire wolves. Excellent look at an extinct creature that lives on in popular culture, by Kyle Hill.

Canine clues in mammoth mystery. Did domesticated dogs increase prehistoric pachyderm peril? Pat Shipman has a hypothesis that suggests they may have.

Along for the ride. Mary Beth Griggs finds that world’s oldest trousers were used for horse riding.


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

Mind your elders. Terrific trees that yield food & medicine. Nice perspective, by Sarah Shailes.

This is gnarly, dude. The twisty natural history of Garry Oaks. Great overview, by Carly Ziter.

With a little help from some friends… How plants help each other. Interesting things that plants do, nicely explained Anne Buchanan.

Electric company? Are host trees protected from lightning by conduction through parasitic lianas? Jyoti Madhusoodanan considers a shocking hypothesis.

Ironing out the details. Krishna Ramanujan on how plants transport iron.

Wonderfully wet. Spectacular swamps, photographed by Karen Glaser.

Salt of the Earth. As soils get saline, plants perceive it the way you perceive pain. I wrote this.

It’s not easy being green? Things are changing for Arctic plants. They’re being monitored in a variety of ways, as Laura Nielsen explains, writing for Frontier Scientists.


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

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Malaria was once a syphilis treatment. Amazing history of science story, beautifully told by Rebecca Kreston. Read of the week.

Going viral? Interest in bacteria-killing viruses to combat antibiotic resistance. Sara Reardon looks at the recent developments.

Members only? Tracy Vence looks at microbes that reside on the penis.

Gee whiz. Contrary to folklore, urine is not sterile. As Erika Engelhaupt explains, microbes are everywhere. Even your brain.

Hungry for change. Gut microbiomes also need to mature. Malnutrition stunts that. Fascinating research results, with important implications, nicely reported by Ed Yong.

Break it up! Targeting bacterial aggregates, biofilms, to bust disease. Cool approach to a longstanding problem, nicely explained by S.E. Gould.

Painful protozoan parasite. The fascinating, yet deadly, life cycle of sleeping sickness, well explained by S.E. Gould.


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 & epigenetics)

A matter of taste. Could our genome sequences help tailor diets that both nourished & appealed? Catherine de Lange considers the possibility.

Lightening up. Tia Ghose on the genetic basis of blond hair.

The gene genie. Transgenerational epigenetic effects likely attributable to...genetics.

A splice of life. Details of cell’s splicing machinery. Kelly April Tyrrell looks into it.

Skeleton crew. Seeing scaffolds inside your cells.


Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology, evolution & extinction

Collateral damage. When we fall prey to microbes, we’re likely caught in crossfire of an ancient war. Ed Yong’s piece on evolution of microbial competition & its impact on us is genius. Science writing at its best. Read of the week.

Like the light spectrum, there are not, and never have been ‘primary’ colors of humans.” Quote by Ken Weiss from an excellent, thoughtful, thought-provoking piece on “race”. Read of the week.

Can’t get something for nothing. Of spontaneous generation & its debunking. Great story, by Matt Simon.

Darwin's dream. A beautiful exploration of the Galapagos. Wow. Great video by Dustin Adamson. View of the week.

Better than romance? Might chocolate get in the way of love? Good fun, by Robert Krulwich.

The same old same old? We’ve been genetically manipulating organisms for 50k years. Rachel Mitchell has a great overview.

Genetic judgements. What place does DNA have in the courtroom? Thoughtful take, by Virginia Hughes.


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

Hurricanes given female names are deadlier? Spoiler: not really. Excellent debunking by Ed Yong.

Making waves. Jessica Carilli on why surfers praise & curse the wind.

Net effects. Trawling creates ocean deserts. It's just wrong, as Christie Wilcox explains.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Seeing the unseen. Infrared astronomy. Astounding pictures, shared by Mika McKinnon.

A long, long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away. Matthew Francis looks at a distant galaxy.

Lighter shade of pale. Ultraviolet light from ancient stars.

Eye in the sky. Flora Graham looks at a spectacular ringed star.

X marks the spot. X-ray sources in spiral galaxy.

Colossal cosmic collision. Amazing light show. Clara Moskowitz explores the latest findings.

Smashing result! Cosmic collision made galaxy spiral, explains Katia Moskvitch.

A big deal? Exoplanets a little larger than Earth seem surprisingly common. George Dvorsky considers the evidence.

There’s no place like home? Exoplanets that are like, yet not like Earth. Bill Andrews considers the "Earth-like" places found so far.

Way’s away. Ken Croswell takes a look at stars from other side of Milky Way.

This rocks! Ian Sample looks at the evidence for a rocky exoplanet that has 20 times the Earth’s mass.

Look up. Look at this. Twitter helped find it, as Lauren Hitchings explains.

Periodic table of the planets? Getting a handle on how elements impact exoplanet size. Caleb Scharf looks at the latest developments.

Sneaky Saturn. Big planet slips from behind the moon. Phil Plait takes a peak.

Spot the difference. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has lost some greatness, explains Jason Major.

Heated relations. Nadia Drake on how Venus became super hot.

Moon's mountainous middle. Nadia Drake considers Iapetus's equatorial range.

Coming up dry? Might lava & not water formed Martian canyons? Excellent take by Robin Wylie. Read of the week.

Bursting the bubble. Lava bubbles suggest water in Mars past, but does that mean life was there? Mike Lemonick considers the possibility.

A big hit. Alexandra Witze looks at the Moon’s smashing past.

Some assembly required. Will we colonise other planets by sending DNA to "print" humans there? Meghan Neal on a nifty, if fanciful, idea.


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

The tug of time. How light gets stretched. Superb explainer, by Ethan Siegel.

Dead calm. Cosmic waves stilled by tide of misfortune. Ron Cowen reports on the dust up highlighted in a critique by Paul Steinhardt.

A silver lining… The positive side of the gamma ray burst that wasn’t. Excellent take on a fraught topic, by Matthew Francis.

Now that’s cool. Figuring out the temperature of dark matter. Great explainer by Ethan Siegel.

May the forces be with you. Jon Butterworth on reconciling the forces of gravity & quantum mechanics.

Quantum leaps. Physics shouldn’t jump to explain all things, like consciousness. Excellent critique, by Matthew Francis.

Seeing is believing? Fantastic optical illusions, shared by Phil Plait.

On the Go. The ancient game Go is a computing challenge. Excellent post, by Alan Levinovitz.

Parents, let your kids play with non-Newtonian fluids.” Super advice from Adam Mann. Oobleck is great fun.

Odd one out? Are we hardwired to prefer even numbers? An even-handed look, by Alex Bellos.

Home alone? Apple plans to be there with you. Great dissection of latest developments, by Megan Garber.

Getting a head in life. Julianne Wyearick on the secret to a good foam on a beer.


A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-, nutrition-, and exercise-related stories

Moms the word. Three parent kids - 2 biological mothers + one father - on the horizon. James Gallagher looks at the timeline.

The whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth? Does flossing really prevent decay? Claudia Hammond looks at the evidence.

Like a picture of Abraham Lincoln holding an iPhone.” Old wine counterfeits. Super story by The Kitchen Sisters - Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva.

This is sick. Literally. The Barf Blog focuses on vomit & food health. Awesome new site, curated by Doug Powell.

Get the balance right. Rachel Nuwer on Addressing the problems of sex bias in biomedical research.

Check in the male? No, for Rett research, female mice are better model. Rachel Nuwer explains why that makes sense.


Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories

Sense of direction. Molecular guide for neuron branching.

Bad connections. Bethany Brookshire finds strong neuronal links associated with depression (in mice).

Something to reflect on. Understanding mirror neurons. Excellent, hype-free take, by Jason Goldman.

Flashy research. How flashes of light are illuminating memory formation. Cool approach, masterfully explained by Ewen Callaway.

A bright idea. Switching memories on & off with light. Fascinating research, perfectly explained by Mo Costandi.

Getting left out. When you’re drowsy, your attention shifts to the right. Fascinating research result, masterfully explained by Mo Costandi.

Fill your head with cool stuff. It’s a way of protecting your brain. Mo Costandi on cognitive reserve.

All in his head? Did a brain scan really show a neuroscientist he’s a psychopath? Chris Chambers has some answers.

Hard to swallow? A morality pill? First, let’s define morality. Excellent critique, by Molly Crockett.

Take a sentimental journey. Being nostalgic is good for you, as Tom Stafford explains.

It’s all bad. Relationship between animal abuse & family violence. Excellent exploration of important research, by Zazie Todd.

Qu’est que c’est? Second language skills slow brain ageing.

The good word. Retaining languages is essential to retain cultures. Important finding for cultural preservation, well explained by Rachel Nuwer.

Write on! The value of handwriting. Fascinating piece, by Maria Konnikova.

A small matter. Youngest kids in the family are bigger than their parents think, explains Susana Martinez-Conde.

How are you feeling? It could be Facebook tweaking your emotions. Interesting research, with equally intriguing implications, nicely explained by Jalees Rehman.


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

"Once upon a time…" You really must read this wonderful tale by Stella Duffy, on the value of fables and fairy tales. Read of the week.

The power of science writing. Thoughts inspired by great reads by Ed Yong & Robin Wylie. I wrote this.

Every woman who teaches a STEM role model.” Excellent take, by Julia Percival.

Necessary & not shameful.” Self promotion. Excellent case made in favour of it by Liz Neeley.

Get out there, shed your inhibitions & scientific reserve & be passionate.Martin Christlieb on outreach.

I see social media as a tool, neither good or bad in itself.” Excellent take, by NeuroSkeptic.

The other social media. How social scientists can aid science journalists. Excellent case made by Rachel Ewing.

Rife with clattering jargon, methodological skirmishes, & ideological warfare.Paul Voosen on science historians' woes.

Einstein hated peer review. Should he have? Thomas Roulet & Andre Spicer look at peer review then and now.

Matt Shipman has great advice for new graduates: What not to be.


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