Morsels For The Mind – 08/08/2014

9 August 2014 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest, Science

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

Ape aid. How gorillas help human communities. Usher Komugisha & Andy Nicolson take a look at how it's being done.

The right stuff. Meeting a right whale & her calf. Wow.

Vaquita vanquished. Rare porpoise about to go extinct. Sheesh. John Platt on the dire situation.

Cetacean suffering. Dolphin deaths defy complete culprit characterisation, as Dina Fine Maron explains.

Noisy neighbours. Our ocean exploration is deafening for whales. Jason Bittel on our impact on nature.

Out of the way! Sarah Zielinski on the conflict between whales & shipping lanes.

Pachyderm peril. Who's to blame if elephants disappear? Michael Tomasky has the answer.

Have you herd? Horses communicate using their ears. Carrie Arnold on scientific verification of something equestrians have known forever.

Bearing weight. Fattening grizzlies avoid diabetes. Heidi Ledford explains how.

Lone wolf. Remarkable canine makes 2000 km trek across Europe. Superb story, by Henry Nicholls. Read of the week.

"They let us learn about the challenging parts of life – birth, love, arguments, illness, death." The things we learn from cats and dogs, as explained by Matthew Herper from a brilliant piece about learning about health care through a cat's death. Read of the week.

Sad goodbye. The passing of a wonderful dog. Deeply affecting personal account, by Holly Dunsworth.

Dog tired? Need a cat nap? Don't worry about your critter companions catching zzs with you, says Hal Herzog.

Phenomenally fluffy. Pallas cats are amazing, as Mary Bates makes clear.

Fabulous felines. Lovely lynx. Nice profile by Alina Bradford.

Curiosity killed the cat? No, when it comes to big cats, we did. Dereck and Beverly Joubert interviewed by Katie Langin on how big cats are on the extinction tipping point.

Cool, for cats. Natasha Geiling on how non-human animals beat the heat.

Heal thyself. How non-human animals battle infection. Interesting overview, by Jason Goldman.

Sealed with a kiss. Prairie dog kiss-greetings establish social network, & spread disease, as Rachel Nuwer explains.

Prickly relationship. How porcupines have sex. Joseph Bennington Castro continues his "how animals do it" series.

Good as gold. Newly discovered golden bat. Michelle Warwicker fleshes it out.

Aye, eye. Parasites that blind their host. Tommy Leung does his usual great job at making the gross fantastically fascinating.

Temperate travellers. Bird migrations evolved to tropics. Ed Yong on a somewhat counter-intuitive discovery.

Not so bird brained. How emus foiled an army. Interesting history, by Bec Crew.

Birds' words. Penguin "language". Nishad Karim listens in.

Can't beat this beat. Victoria Gill looks at hummingbirds' hovering wingbeats.

Like sand in an hourglass... This is the start of the days of these turtles' lives. Awesome.

Pure brilliance. Joshua Batson explains how a deep sea shark sees & is seen in dark.

Isn't that bright? How glowing sharks see in the dark. Illuminating report by Tanya Lewis.

Back to school. Where teen whale sharks gather. Megan Gannon takes you there.

Shattering relationships. Glass eel pits scientists against fishermen. Superb story, by Annie Sneed. Read of the week.

The air of their ways. Betas gulp above water - to fight, explains Ella Davies.

Spot the difference. Cichlid's egg spots. Lovely post by Natalie Sopinka.

Positively problematic. False positives for toxins thwart plans to eat invasive lionfish.  Important research by Christie Wilcox, nicely reported by Jason Goldman.

Amazing amphipod. Living 7km undersea. Sandrine Ceurstemont takes a look.

Spermantangium to spermatheca. Mystery of squid sex, nicely explored by Danna Staaf.

Taking charge. Squid camouflage uses proton transmission. Super little post by Leah Cannon.

Stunning strategist. Elizabeth Palermo considers jellyfish's smart search logic.

Up close & personal. Parasite portraits by Marcus DeSieno, shared by Becky Harlan.

Call of the wild? City kids more likely to think of exotic animals than non-urban kids, finds Elizabeth Preston.

Showing their age. The oldest organisms are astounding. Amazing showcase, by Joe Hanson. View of the week.


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

The worm turns. Into a fly. Amazing cell activity, nicely described by James Gorman. View of the week.

Weaving wonder. Spiders web-spinning mechanism. Great look at some cool biology, by Robin Meadows.

Commonly amazing. Neoantistea, remarkable common spiders. Catherine Scott on the beauty in the everyday.

Dinner date. Joe Dramiga on female sexual cannibalism in spiders.

Quick change artistry. Elizabeth Preston explains how a butterfly turned from brown to purple in 6 generations.

A whole new hue. Butterfly wing colour can be changed remarkably fast using artificial selection, explains Christine Dell'Amore.

Time, flies. Remarkable aerobatic reaction speed of flying insects.

Dead reckoning. Some insects feign death for survival, explains Claiborne Ray.

Beetle mania! When Japanese beetles meet geraniums, it's mayhem. Good fun, with words by Matt Shipman, and art by Catherine Kehoe Arnold.

Mind the mound. Lisa Margonelli on how termites build their towers.

All abuzz. A hymenopteran day. Beautiful images, by Sean McCann.


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

Silurian surprise. Early jawed fish pieced together. Dave Rudkin on his latest discovery.

Think we know a lot about dinosaurs? There are at least 10 big mysteries we have yet to solve, as Brian Switek reveals.

Hot herds. Small, social dinosaur roamed near equator. Paul Barrett reports on his latest discovery.

Trudging in time. Do fossil tracks record a dinosaur stampede, or a well-used walkway? Travis Park considers the options.

Can you dig it? Nice overview of a triceratops dig, by David Evans.

March of the mega penguin? Extinct penguin was ~2m tall, explains Jeff Hecht.

Not bird-brained. Pigeon use underscores Neanderthals cognitive sophistication, expains Jason Goldman. Read of the week.

Ruffling feathers. Neanderthals donning plumage is a perspective changer, as Kate Wong explains. Read of the week.


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

"They're still here, still grabbing on, not letting go." Persistence of moss. Beautifully poetic stuff, as we've come to expect from Robert Krulwich. Read of the week.

Gender bender. The water lily that switches between male & female flowers. Very cool botany, nicely described by Anne Buchanan.

Here comes the sun. Sarah Shailes looks at the remarkable sunflower & its solar-tracking ability.

Scents & sensibility. Of the world's stinkiest but tasty fruit, durian. Oh, & orang-utans. Great piece of research travel blogging by Russell Laman.

Roots of imagination. What plant might Groot have evolved from? Good fun (great comments) in this post by Esther Inglis-Arkell.

Save your breath. Literally. Trees make for better breathing in cities, as Jason Goldman reports.


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

Fossil fuelled. Incredible oil-utilising ecosystem in tar pit water droplets. Amazing discovery, nicely described by Mark Zastrow.

Knowing your inner self. Tracking gut microbes over time. Fascinating, must read by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

Tardigrade's troubles. Parasitic fungus. Danielle Mills Waterfield on what water bears can't bear.

Sharp shooters. Jennifer Frazer takes a look at harpoon-firing fungi.

This is what a half million person water ban looks like. From space. Tom Yulsman reveals all.

The dirt on war. History of biological warfare, by Rebecca Kreston. Excellent.

Fabulously fermented food. S.E. Gould on how bacteria do their stuff to make sauerkraut.

Go with the glow. Nature of fungal infections illuminated by bioluminescence. New research tool 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)

The great divide. Regions of the genome that reinforce speciation. Fascinating discovery, perfectly explained by Emily Singer. Read of the week.

The mark of the past. Epigenetic marks in ancient genomes. Very cool discovery, perfectly contextualised by Virginia Hughes.

Not just a matter of taste. Tongues don't just sense sugar's sweet. Prepare body for energy boost. Remarkable discovery, nicely explained by Eleanor Nelsen.

War of the wombs? Interesting take on the "battle" between mother & foetus, by Suzanne Sadedin.

Give 'em a hand. How five digits arise. Great bit of biology, perfectly explained, as usual, by Ed Yong.

Go with the glow. Awesome bioluminescence. Great infographic by Eleanor Lutz.


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

"Possibly the most important research program in evolutionary biology in the last half-century." Quote from a wonderful profile of evolutionary biologists Rosemary & Peter Grant by Jonathan Weiner. Read of the week.

Wild at heart? Rewilding needn't be on a grand scale, can have relevance in your garden, explains Sarah Boon.

Eating meat will save the world? Um, not so much. Great debunk, by George Monbiot.


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

Deeply rewarding. The value of the ocean's depths is vast.

Watery ways. Weddell seals with oceanographic labs on their heads explore Antarctic seas. Cool.

Water, water, everywhere. But toxic. Good overview of Lake Erie algal bloom, by Gwen Pearson.

When Great isn't. Superb, comprehensive take on Great Lakes algal blooms, by Codi Yeager-Kozacek. Read of the week.

Gorgeous glades. Amazing Everglades. Fantastic photography by QT Luong.

Mountains of life. Remarkable biodiversity on ocean seamount. Victoria Gill plumbs the depths of this cool story.

Life is a highway. And when you conduct research in the arctic, that highway is ice. Laura Nielsen provides some cool insights into northern research, for Frontier Scientists.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

A long, long time ago... A galaxy 9.6B light years away.

A bridge really far. Intergalactic gas bridge 2.6M light years long.

Enlightening. Celestial enigma to be illuminated as binary stars get together. Alexandra Witze on some funky astrophysics.

Double trouble. Binary stars skew exoplanet orbit, explains Charles Choi.

Fallen star? Exoplanet may had fiery youth.

Wonderfully wimpy. Weak supernova likely left zombie dwarf.

Eyes on the skies. Hunting for alien life by looking at exoplanet atmospheric signatures. Charles Choi considers how it's done.

X marks the spot. X-ray images of space, curated by Mika McKinnon.

A flare for the dramatic. Solar prominence. Mika McKinnon shares some hot stuff.

Hot stuff. Sun's atmosphere hotter than surface.

Explosive behaviour. Robert Sanders reports on Io's weeks of volcanic hell.

Rules of attraction. Saturn's gravity creates tides driving Enceladus's geysers. Cool discovery, nicely described by Phil Plait.

If it looks like a duck... It might be a comet. Yes, really, as Jason Major reports.

Stormy relationships. Monstrous storm cycles on Uranus. Jason Major looks into it.

In a week full of plenty of inhumanity, it is comforting to see astonishingly positive things humanity can accomplish. Like catch a comet. The next Morsels report on the Rosetta spacecraft catching up with comet after 10 years & 6.5B km travelled. Amazing...

Catching up with a new friend. On Aug 6, something humans made will meet up with a comet. Awesome story, by Daniel Scuka.

Rosetta's stone. Spacecraft catches up with its comet quarry. Superb coverage by Elizabeth Gibney. Read of the week.

Remarkable rendezvous. Rosetta spacecraft meets with comet, after 6.5B km chase.  Great stuff, by Ian Sample.

A little get-together. A big deal. When a spacecraft catches a comet, amazing things happen, as Michael Lemonick reports.

Close encounter. Jacob Aron reports on how the Rosetta spacecraft gets friendly with comet.


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

Spaced out. We don't have a good definition of where the final frontier begins. Great essay, by Greg Klerkx. Read of the week.

The big empty. Far from being null, cosmic voids are full of possibilities. Awesome look at the non-stuff of the universe, by Matthew Francis. Read of the week.

Taking our lumps? Is the universe lumpy or an old smoothie? Interesting consideration, by Matthew Francis.

A weighty matter. Comparing the mass of galaxies. Amazing that this is even possible.

Learning to react. Creating a robot that synthesises any organic compound. Mark Peplow on attempts to create an amazing technological innovation. Read of the week.

Not rocket science. No, an "impossible" space drive has not been validated. Great debunk by Corey Powell.

Making physicists smile. "Cheshire Cats" created: neutrons separated from their magnetism. Charles Choi takes a look.

Out for a spin. How does cosmic rotation originate? Super explainer, by Ethan Siegel.

Picking up the pieces. Accounting for boson scattering. And how the Higgs was needed. Jon Butterworth on some interesting LHC discoveries.

Up and atom. Amazing story of a single atom in your body. Awesome stuff, by Ethan Siegel. Read of the week.

Turbulent times. What if weather forecast models could help predict war? Brilliant bit of the history of science, by David Berreby. Read of the week.

Good vibrations. Grabbing sound using vibrating objects. Astounding. Hal Hodson looks at just some phenomenal technology. View of the week.

Into the fold. An origami robot folds itself into action. Yes, really. Amazing technological advance, nicely described by Victoria Gill. View of the week.


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

Worried about Ebola? Read this, by Tara Smith. Read of the week.

Brilliantly balanced. Intelligent overview of Ebola situation, with superb links to other coverage, by Maryn McKenna. Read of the week.

Ebola, experiments, ethics. Fraught situation of testing treatments. Excellent overview, by Tracy Vence. Read of the week.

The other little blue pill. HIV-infection-preventing pill horribly under-reported. Superb reporting, by Arielle Duhaime-Ross. Read of the week.

They say laughter is the best medicine. But it's exercise that's being prescribed, as Brian Owens explains.

Hype vs hypothesis. Reservations about resveratrol. Evidence of health benefits still not in, as Hilda Bastian explains.

Something fishy? Does fish oil really have benefits people think it does? Elizabeth Preston looks at the (lack of) evidence.

Oh crap. When our excreted pharmaceuticals get flushed, they don't go away. Important report by Corrinne Burns.

"You can do all this sh*t, but it all comes down to two guys on bikes, trying to beat each other." Quote from a superb piece by Alex Hutchinson on using tDCS to enhance athletic performance. Read of the week.

In it for the long run. "Hiking" the 4250 km trail from Mexico to Canada in 59 days. Amazing story of pushing the limits of the human body, by Sarah Laskow.

A real drag. Body hair removal seems to help cyclists with aerodynamics. Runners too? Alex Hutchinson considers the possibility.

Back to the future. How palaeo-diets caught on. Interesting perspective, by Elizabeth Kolbert.


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

Eye on the prize. How retinal neurons connect with the brain over time. Cool neuroscience discovery, perfectly explained by Bethany Brookshire.

Fish on the brain. Grey matter appears elevated in eaters of fish, explains James Hamblin.

Mind the subject? Do science students' brains differ from those in humanities? NeuroSkeptic looks at the evidence.

Eye see. Of changing vision & brain plasticity. Wonderful, personal reflection by Anne Buchanan. Read of the week.

Firing squad. 80k fish neurons fire. Beautiful video, shared by Joshua Batson.

Hope for the hype? Might there be something to neuromarketing after all? Mo Costandi considers the possibility.

Turn that frown upside down? Maybe not. It mightn't be good for you. Apparently. Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on the latest evidence.

Bathed in creativity. Nick Stockton explains why your genius moments occur in the shower.

Freedom of choice? Abundance of good options creates anxiety. Maria Konnikova takes a look at a decidedly first-world problem.

Money well spent? Some material goods can bring happiness, explains Rebecca Rosen.

"None of these views are wrong. But none of them are complete, either." Quote by Bethany Brookshire from an excellent piece on our incomplete understanding of addiction. Read of the week.

Culture club. The birth, spread, & death of global cultural centres. Fascinating look at history, by Alison Abbott.

Outside chances. When "uncontacted" tribes connect with outside, odds are against them. Rachel Nuwer explains why.


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

Hypothetically speaking. Of Bigfoot, the null hypothesis & how science works. Excellent look at what science is all about, by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

If you love your data, set it free? Challenges of making data open access. Great take, by Jim Woodgett.

Life. Maybe not the universe. And everything. The things a kid can learn in astronomy club. Beautiful story, by Ben Lillie. Read of the week.

So tragic & sad. Stem cell scandal leads to death of world-leading researcher, Yoshiki Sasai. Poignant reporting by David Cyearanoski.

"While invariably fraud involves a failure..of oversight, most of the people involved are honest, decent scientists." Quote by Michael Eisen from an essential read on the implications of scientific witch hunts, from a very personal perspective. Read of the week.

"The most visionary public engagement work unseats Professorships, it doesn't replicate them." Quote by Alice Bell from an outstanding perspective on what science outreach really needs. Read of the week.

An old problem? Aged citizen scientists may negatively impact data quality, reports Katie Langin.

To blog or not to blog? Good advice on academic blogging, by Achilleas Kostoulas.

Not write. Dire authorship situation for women in physical science, mathematics & computer science. Emma Pierson has all the data.

Honesty the best policy? Does that apply to publishing in "best" journals? Robert de Vries offers up a critical perspective.

The gang's all here? The ins-&-outs of an institutional blog site. Super advice, by Matt Shipman.


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