Morsels For The Mind – 09/05/2014

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

The penis monologues? “People forgot..the story of duck penises is really the story of duck vaginas.” Quote by Ed Yong from an outstanding piece on biases in animal research. Read of the week.

Bad relations. How “civil war” erupted within a family of chimpanzees. Fascinating analysis of Jane Goodall's original data reveals family conflict. Perfectly explained by Colin Barras.

Perhaps exploding whales force us to confront something profound about ourselves.” Superb consideration of our approach to a whale's death and how it relates to the history of the internet, by Andrew David Thaler. Read of the week.

No fluke. Careful analysis of African dolphin population reveals species in peril, as John Platt explains.

Don’t myth a swim. Dolphins protect swimmers from sharks? Um, not so much, explains David Shiffman.

These critters rock! Literally. Sarah Zielinski looks at amazing rock climbers.

Pachyderm planet. Elephant kind once shaped vast ecosystems. Fascinating look at the past, by Jude Isabella.

Pachyderm peril. The impact of human civil war. Wow. Bill McQuay & Christopher Joyce look at a fraught situation. Amazing. Read of the week.

Get ready to rumble. Christy Ullrich Barcus provides some great audio of elephants’ distinct vocalisations. Listen of the week.

Bad medicine. Tigers still being used for TCM. It’s just wrong. Sharon Guynup looks into a bad state of affairs.

Sealing their fate? Nadia Drake finds that multiple factors make for sea lion pup strandings, but sardine stocks key.

New bearings.  Hannah Hoag finds that polar bears recently split from brown bears.

A bearable lightness of being. Richard Harris explains how polar bears eat so much fat & stay healthy.

Milking the data. Susan Milius looks at the intriguing components of lactation liquid across species, and how they are milked.

Cat got your tongue? For some reason, lynx ended evolved a pathetic mew. Robert Krulwich listens in.

Seeing eye to eye. Humans, dogs, & squid stare across an evolutionary divideI wrote this.

Intelligence unleashed. Virginia Morell on dogs’ amazing comprehension of human verbal cues.

Gimme shelter. What people look for in canine adoptions. Excellent look at the research, by Zazie Todd.

Smart in vestment. Matt Shipman looks at new canine vest technology that enhances work of disaster response dogs.

Senses working overtime. Molly Loomis on amazing things animals sense.

Bone to pick. Chipmunk hybrids more common than penis bones suggest, as Sarah Hird explains.

Cute. Not cuddly. Scorpion-eating mouse. Stephanie Pappas on a fierce little critter.

Creative composers. Allison Eck on the nature of birdsong. Fascinating. Read of the week.

Bird is the word. Nightingale’s big vocabulary. Jamie Doward & Amy Moore look into the language.

It takes a thief. Bird fakes warnings to steal food. Ed Yong looks and listens to a feathered deceiver.

Sound the alarm! That’s what crafty bird does to thieve food. Excellent read, by Christopher Templeton.

Alarming discovery. April Reese on how a bird uses fake alarms to steal neighbours’ food.

No direction home? Jessica Morrison finds that human-made electromagnetic fields disrupt bird compass.

Bearing it in mind. Our electromagnetic noise causes birds to lose bearings, as Ed Yong explains.

Losing a sense of direction. Rebecca Morelle finds that electrical fields disrupt bird navigation.

Birds of a feather…have a surprising number of freaky deformities, as Darren Naish explains.

Sunnier future? Solar energy powers tracking transmitters for endangered petrels. John Platt on how technology is helping conservation.

Feeling no pain? Migratory bird survival linked to stress insensitivity, explains Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists.

Material assistance. Henry Nicholls looks at how pesticide-infused cotton helps Darwin’s finches fight deadly maggot.

A nested development. Jessica Morrison explains that Darwin’s finches can clear nests of pests with insecticide-treated cotton balls.

Less than a shore thing. Development threatens shorebird migrationMargaret Munro on an important conservation problem, perfectly highlighted by this particular example.

Under the sea. Joseph Bennington Castro looks at the sex life of sea turtles.

Forget St. Patrick. The more snakes the merrier. So says Buzz Hoot Roar!

Amazing axolotl. Retains gills. Regrows amputated limbs. Matt Simon continues his look at the most curious critters.

Two sides to every story. Remarkable biology of flatfish & their sidedness. Superb look at some cool biology, by Ferris Jabr. Read of the week.

Moved by the hand of cod? Do fish really use tools? Jason Goldman looks at the answers. And the implications.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat. For Jack Bauer. David Shiffman reveals that Jack's killed more people during episodes of "24" than all sharks have since 1580.

I know many people think that they are ugly; that just makes me love them more.” Quote from a great piece by David Shiffman on a recently caught goblin shark. Super stuff.

Fishy finds. Remarkable (& surprising) sculpin species netted through DNA tests, explains Matthew Frank.

With anemones like this, who needs, um, enemies? Giant invertebrate eats baby seabird! Kim Martini on some frightful biology.

Thievery incorporation. Sea slugs steal anemone defence & make it their weapon. Fascinating biology, beautifully explained by Sara Mynott.

Anemone mine? An anemone species, isn’t. It's a novel creature.

Deep wonders. Creatures of the sea. Image gallery collated by Rose Pastore.

Deep friendships. Aquaman hangs out in a biodiverse ‘hood, as Andrew David Thaler explains.

Growing concern. Godzilla is destined to get larger. Rhett Allain brings you the science.

A big deal. Is sexual selection making Godzilla bigger? And increasing urine output? Craig McClain has the answers.

What’s eating you? If you’re a parasite, it could be us. We have a love for curious cuisine, as Carl Zimmer explains.


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

Able semen. Ed Yong on a bug that passes microbes to offspring via sperm.

A real buzz about this performance. Bees perform learned feats. Felicity Muth shares some amazing animal behaviour.

Forget social butterflies. We have much to learn from social bees. Excellent look at the biology of social behaviour, by Emily Singer.

Bees catch zzzzs. Sleeping while grabbing hold of leaves. Sean McCann captured a remarkable behaviour in beautiful photographs. View of the week.

Beautiful bilateralism. Gorgeous gynandromorphs.

Crocodilian tears. Are butterfly watering holes, as Richard Kemeny reveals.

Into the fold. Sara LaJeunesse looks at a Wasp with origami-like folding wings.

Presents of mind? Male spiders bring worthless gifts for sex, explains Felicity Muth.

Branching out. A fishing spider hiding out in a tree. Ted MacRae covers a nice bit of natural history.

Private eyes. They move under the skin of spiders, as Jason Goldman reveals.

Field studies &..reports from experts are piling up. They don’t paint a pretty picture.” Pollinator decline. Dire. Quote by Brandon Keim from an excellent, if grim, look at the status of pollinating insects.

Spidey sense is tingling? Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on the weird things that can occur after spider bites (which are rare).

Fear factor. What is the underlying basis of arachnophobia? Super overview, by Chris Buddle.


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

Dinosaur heal thyself.  Phil Manning looks at the remarkable things that happened to dino-sores.

Can you dig it? Charles Choi finds that dinosaurs could - with claws!

A small advantage. George Dvorsky on dinosaurs that avoided the whole extinction thing by getting tinier.

Small mercy. Michael Balter on how birds evaded dinosaur apocalypse by downsizing.

Ahead by a nose. Alexandra Witze looks at Pinocchio rex, the long snout tyrannosaur.

So much for that idea? Fossil find challenges geoengineering hypothesis. Becky Oskin looks at the evidence.


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

What’s a little sharing among fronds? How a gene traversed its way between ferns. Superb explanation of some amazing biology, by Jennifer Frazer. Read of the week.

These roots weren't made for walkin'. But they were made to sense & react to salty soilI wrote this.

Taking a bite out of the cold. Leaves with teeth contend better with cooler climes, explains Mary Wilson.

Wildest dreams. Efforts to conserve wild ancestors of fruit & nut trees. Excellent feature, by Josie Glausiusz.

No respect. Of neeps & tatties, this is the one that gets maligned. And it's undeserved, explains Rebecca Rupp.

Troubles crop up.  Sarah Shailes finds Canola negatively impacted by fungal disease.

Phenomenal flora. Fantastic flowers, photographed by Lucie van Dongen.


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

In the line of fire. Stephanie Swift on how soil microbes respond after wildfire.

Hot stuff. Tommy Leung looks at the microbe that parasitises worms at hydrothermal vents.

The lone danger. When microbes go it alone, antibiotic resistance more likely to emerge, as Jason Anthony Tetro explains.

Only the lonely. Mutate this fast. (If they’re microbes.) Elizabeth Preston looks at the evidence.

Easy to resist? Soil microbes readily evolve antibiotic resistance. Excellent look at the evidence, by Carl Zimmer.

Resistance is futile? Not for microbes. They’re beating our antibiotics. And it’s dire, as Maryn McKenna makes clear.

War. What is it good for? Unfortunately, for a surge of polio. It kills vaccination work, as Debora MacKenzie explains.

A losing battle. In times of conflict, polio wins, we lose. Vanessa Heggie looks at the history.

Home alone? Nope, potentially harmful microbes live with us. But that’s normal. Excellent look at our household companions, by Maggie Koerth-Baker.

Desert storm? The gathering risk from MERS in the Middle East. Superb overview, by Helen Branswell. Read of the week.

A spot of bother. The plague that is smallpox. Nice overview by Brooke Borel.

Grounding flu’s flight. Penguins have novel avian flu, explains Richard Harris.


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)

Everything old is new again. Transfusions of young blood foil ageing. Excellent explanation of some remarkable research, by Jennifer Frazer. Read of the week.

Fountain of youth? It could be young blood. As Carl Zimmer explains, it appears to reverse ageing in mice.

Letter perfect? Microbe engineered to use DNA code with 2 novel letters. Ewen Callaway has a great explanation of the feat of the week. Read of the week.

It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.  Ian Sample describes a microbe engineered to survive using DNA with novel chemistry.

When a pretty picture is not a pretty picture. When it’s cancer. Corie Lok on new cell biology providing insights into how tumours invade.

You are what you eat? Diet correlated with genome’s retrovirus composition. Fascinating discovery, explained by Sedeer el-Showk.

United we stand. Y chromosome study actually underscores similarity of sexes. Excellent consideration of the way the science was originally presented, by Sarah Richardson.

A big look sea. Bioprospectors look to oceans for new drugs. Rebecca Morelle examines a new wave of exploration.

A matter of size. Flies provide insights into mechanisms controlling growth. Viviane Callier looks at the evidence.


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

Time for a change. The nature of evolution vs natural selection. Superb stuff from the great folks at Minute Physics. View of the week.

The ghost of Tom Joad. Steinbeck’s ecological legacy. Love this piece, by Bil Gilbert. Read of the week.

You might think you have nothing in common with a squid. You do. And it’s amazingI wrote this.

We are not alone in our cities, & that can be a wonderful thing.” On urban biodiversity. Superb piece, by Seth Magle. Read of the week.


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

Bust a move? Did giant asteroid kickstart continent movement? Akshat Rathi considers the possibility.

The green planet. Plants via satellite. Beautiful look at our planet, shared by Betsy Mason.

Hot stuff. Gorgeous geysers, beautifully photographed by Owen Perry.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Astronomical time machines.” Light echoes. Wow! Nadia Drake has a beautiful description of an amazing phenomenon. Read of the week.

Living in the edge. The oldest stars. Beautiful look at the cosmos, by Nadia Drake.

Looking up. Images of the cosmos, curated by Dan Vergano.

Stellar performance? Cloud headed for black hole may be holding hidden star. Intriguing possibility, considered by Seth Fletcher.

Far flung places. Andrew Fazekas on a galaxy that tosses out stars.

Mature for their age. Young galaxies with “mature” rotation.

The killing moon? Akshat Rathi reveals that exomoons could hinder our capacity to detect life on exoplanets.

Here comes the sun. Like a great big orange.

A flare for the dramatic. Our sun.

Seen in a different light. UV cast on Saturn’s rings. Jason Major on a thing of beauty.

How days shape up. Saturn’s day revealed in hexagonal storm, as Eric Hand explains.

Lucid in the sky with diamonds? Maggie McKee finds that on Saturn, glittery carbon rain may fall.

A beautiful way to go. Before destroying us, Saturn would be stunning. Cool look at a fictional apocalypse, brought to you by Kyle Hill.

Anchors aweigh! We should search the seas for life. On Europa. Compelling piece, by Lee Billings.

Super sandwich. Ganymede’s multilayered oceans. Douglas Main looks into them.

This is what an avalanche looks like…on Mars.

Good morning Earth! It’s Earthrise. From our moon. Phil Plait shares the latest photos, with nice explanation.


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

Not so black & white. Just because “white holes” could exist doesn’t mean they do. Superb look at what physics does and doesn't say about reality, by Matthew Francis. Read of the week.

Attractive picture. Magnetic snapshot of our galaxy.

Celestial power? Katia Moskvitch finds that northern lights could provide insights into nuclear fusion energy.

Shocking sight. Double rainbow zapped by lightning. Phil Plait looks at a remarkable photograph, and explains how it came to be.

Mercury falling. Use & abuse of liquid metal. Great history, by Adrianne Elayne.

Holey wow! Plastic heals itself like skin. Closes holes. Amazing biomimicry, nicely explained by Gabriel Popkin.

Packing a punch. How the mantis shrimp’s wallop is inspiring new materials. Cool biomimicry materials science, nicely explained by Meeri Kim.

Suspending disbelief. How must Spiderman’s web be structured to suspend what it does? Matt Shipman looks at the material science side of our favourite web slinger.

Walloping websnappers! Rhett Allain on the physics of Spidey’s web.

How it all plays out. Challenges of developing a game to understand species invasions. Interesting interview, by Matt Shipman.


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

Rebirth of the cool. Advances based on hibernation could help us beat maladies. Excellent feature, by Frank Swain. Read of the week.

A womb with a view? Matt Simon looks into the spectacular wrongness of classical perspectives of the womb.

Can’t beat beet? Alex Hutchinson explains how beet juice (or other veg) boosts muscle contraction.

Faster, better, stronger? Are athletes on an upward trajectory? Superb, must-view, by David Epstein. View of the week.

It is a cute concept. And an important one. It just happens to be wrong.” Read this piece by Jonathan Eisen. That is all.

Mind over matter? Could behavioural training short circuit inflammation? Fascinating possibility, nicely covered by Heidi Ledford.


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

Getting inside our heads. The challenges of brain scanning - not yet reading minds. Melissa Hogenboom on the state-of-the-art.

Running on empty? Running helps mice clear memories. Because neurogenesis. Amazing research, brilliantly described by Ruth Williams.

Win some, lose some? Gaining neurons causes mice to purge memories. Excellent research, wonderfully explained by Emily Underwood. Read of the week.

In with the new, out with the old. New neurons in. Old memories out. Helen Shen describes the latest evidence.

There’s a thin line between love & hate. And neurons draw the line. Fascinating discovery, with a brilliant contextualisation by Jason Goldman.

Moving experience. Mo Costandi looks into the recent research on the retina’s motion-detecting neurons.

Drawing on experience? Erika Engelhaupt finds that we tend to locate features incorrectly when we draw faces.

Exercise your thoughts.  Virginia Hughes explains that even a mild physical workout seems to boost brain activity.

Critical condition. Why are we so susceptible to criticism? Dean Burnett has some answers.

Game changer? Need new mindset when considering impact of video games on violence. Pete Etchells & Chris Chambers make a strong, and compelling case.

No laughing matter. Pathological laughter and mental illness. Fascinating look at a pathology that is decidedly not funny, by Virginia Hughes.

Keep it to yourself? How academics deal with mental health problems. As Kim Thomas reveals, this is not good.

You are what you reap? Debora MacKenzie finds that there are differences in cognition between rice growers & wheat growers. Great coverage of some beautifully conducted research.

Reading between the lines. Fiction changes perceptions of human relatedness. Intriguing research discovery, nicely explained by Jalees Rehman.

Facing facts. Seeing faces where there are none? The moon, toast, etc? It’s just face pareidolia.

When the drugs don’t work. Magnetic brain stimulation may. Better depression treatment? Douglas Main considers the possibility.

Sight unseen? Why your brain makes it impossible to unsee some things. Superb look at how the mind is boggled, by Alexis Madrigal. View of the week.

The hole story. Sam Kean's amazing look at Phineas Gage, whose brain was pierced by a tamping rod. Wonderful read. Read of the week.

He is an n of one, an anecdote in the context of science, our beloved, happy, hilarious, precious anecdote.” Quote by Emily Willingham, from a beautiful piece on her autistic son, & where science must go for him. Read of the week.


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

Small in stature, but a giant when it came to courage & the big issues.” Remembering Farley Mowat who passed away this week, at 92. Farley Mowat shaped so much of my early life. Safe to say that his writing nurtured my passion for nature. Sad he’s gone.

Inspirational & never-failing in his drive to promote planetary sciences.” Colin Pillinger gone. Stuart Clark provides a perfect tribute.

Peer-reviewed scientific literature provides a veritable buffet of bad science.” Quote by Aled Edwards from a no-holds-barred critique of the science literature & its communication. Make sure to read Jim Woodgett’s thoughtful comment on Al Edwards’s critique. Excellent points.

This piece, which criticises criticism of open access, is nearly perfect. It just need to delete words “junior” & “senior”.

Tweets at the break of day. Even twitter has a dawn chorus. Amazing visualisation, shared by Joseph Stromberg. View of the week.

Bust the move. Some gifs shouldn’t be used to communicate science. Thought provoking critique, by  Andrew Bissette.

Life is a highway…Share the route you took post-PhD! Super project being launched by Jacquelyn Gill.

Degrees of pressure. Denia Djokic & Sebastien Lounis consider grad school’s impact on mental health.

All the world’s a stage. The stages of an academic career. Nice overview, by Hope Jahren.

The next three morsels are beautiful counterpoints. All are thought provoking, and should be read together in this order. Reads of the week.

Intelligent designs? Today’s scientific instruments lack the style of those of past. Philip Ball asks whether this is a  good thing. Read of the week.

Instrumental behaviour. Modern scientific instruments still have the right “feel” to them, says Stephen Curry. A wonderful reply to Philip Ball. Read of the week.

Instrumental behaviour. Could modern scientific instruments have a more inspiring aesthetic? A superb reply to Stephen Curry, by Philip Ball. Read of the week.

There’s still plenty of life in those dead trees.” The value of reading on paper. Interesting look at "old" technology, by Brandon Keim.


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