Morsels For The Mind – 10/01/2014

12 January 2014 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest

Every day we provide you with #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast 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

There was a lot of interest in prairie dogs’ contagious yips this week. Here is a trio:

Catchy tune. When prairie dogs sing it’s contagious, like yawning. Ed Yong never tells a boring story.

Pass it on. Prairie dogs pass along contagious signalling. Victoria Gill passes it on to you.

Get along little doggie! Prairie dogs’ yippee-yi-yay gets passed along like a contagion. Bec Crew shares.

Don’t know if prairie dogs yawn contagiously also, but dogs catch yawns from humans.

Doggone it. Last 100 yrs of selective breeding has messed up our canine companions. Big time.

Makes good scents. Julie Hecht describes how humans can smell which dog is theirs.

Fear factor. Folks have difficulty telling when their dogs are fearful. They shouldn’t. Julie Hecht explains.

The eyes have it. Raising eyebrows to make face more baby-like increases dog adoptability. Companion Animal Psychology looks at the science.

Down in the dumps? Do dogs really align themselves along the N-S magnetic axis when having a poo?

Party pooper? Do dogs align magnetically when defecating? Let’s look at the data collection, says Buzz Skyline.

There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle – just the race for reproductive success.” Quote from an interesting piece by Brittany Fallon on chimps’ sex lives.

Oh boy. Infant male chimps may socialise more than females. Don’t read too much into it, says Felicity Muth.

Little get-together. Conjoined grey whale calves. Freaky find reported by Pete Thomas.

All together now. Dolphin megapod - 3000-5000 at once!

Not nice. One nasty dolphin. Incredible story, by Virginia Morell.

If you can’t take the heat… Eat moss & poo. Like a pika. Awesome story by Sci Curious.

Absurdly awesome. Pink fairy armadilloMatt Simon continues his series on whacky critters.

Winging it. Joseph Castro describes how bats have sex.

“Enough about cunnilingus, what about statistics?” On bat sex acts, and their stats. Brilliant piece by Andy Field.

Sound sleepers. These bats snooze through the din of automobile traffic. Excellent post by Elizabeth Preston.

Chilling out. How do city critters beat the frigid weather? Like this. Eleanor Spicer Rice reveals the secrets.

Squirrels…pesky? Far from it, they’re inspirational engineersI wrote this.

Home on the range. Bighorn sheep reintroduced to where they once played. Kate Yoshida on a new herd.

Pet hypothesis. Are petting zoo visitor enriching the animal’s lives or aversive? Interesting and timely story by Jason Goldman.

Tender trap. Tremendous tigers spotted by camera trap, shared by Lindsey Krat.

Black & white & dead all over. How the “first” panda found its way to Paris. Henry Nicholls on a little bit of natural history history.

Lions & tigers & bears, goodbye? Like 75% of large carnivores, they are all in decline. Dire situation explained by Matt McGrath.

A big deal. When large carnivores are on the decline, the impacts are significant. Christopher Joyce reports why.

Nothing to take pride in. Lions almost extinct in West Africa. Yow. John Platt on another dire conservation situation.

Never cry wolf? The last of the Denali wolves. Beautiful, if sad, gallery by Tom Mangelsen.

Losing by a hare’s breath? What accounts for lack of lagomorphs in Patagonia? Matthew Cobb considers the question.

Hare today, gone tomorrow? John Platt describes a lagomorph on the precipice of extinction.

A little pick-me-up. Rescued baby animals - in pictures. Warning: Cuteness overload possible with these photos by Alex Cearns.

A bone to pick. Amazing skeletons, via Joseph Stromberg.

Objects of desire. Corvids like “things” as much as food, and Mary Bates beautifully describes.

Better under pressure. Jason Goldman explains how relaxed natural selection pressure almost doomed bird to extinction.

Long haul flight. Little bird makes 26k km migration from Shetlands to Ecuador. Yow.

An end to bore done? Might birds defeat the emerald ash borer?

The falcon & the snowman? Nope, the snowy owl. Great share from GrrlScientist.

Get on up. When climate gets tough, penguins head to higher ground. Becky Oskin gets to the top of it.

Up and at it. Penguins beat climate by climbing ice cliffs to nest, as Jonathan Amos reports.

No yolking matter. In 1911, 3 men trekked 100km in Antactica to collect penguin eggs. Why? GrrlScientist has the answer.

The next two morsels are linked via Richard Meinertzhagen, who (fraudulently) reported an owlet extinct, so it wasn’t properly protected. Astounding story heard through John Platt.

Owl’s well that ends well? Nope. An owl, thought extinct, found, but highly endangered. John Platt covers it.

Bad birding. Ornithology fraudster Richard Meinertzhagen. Incredible story, shared by Maggie Koerth-Baker.

A snake in the grass? Nope, a very cool lizard. Darren Naish describes it.

Leapin’ lizards?! Not when tamed by island living. Ed Yong tames a wild story.

Dinner is crap. Literally. When you are a baby lizard. Mollie Bloudoff-Inde explains.

Out on a limb. How might leg motion evolved from fins? Fish provide stroke of insight. Ed Yong on a moving subject.

Go with the glow. That's what many fish do - they biofluoresce. Ian Randall on an illuminating find.

Shine on you crazy stonefish. The wonderful biofluorescence of sea creatures. Betsy Mason shines a light on it.

Colourful characters. Even drab fish biofluoresce. Interesting post, by Laura Poppick.

Lighten up. That’s what fish do, as Danielle Venton reports.

Getting a head in life. Mola is a swimming head. Matt Simon on a heady topic.

Great white hope. Iconic sharks might live more than 70 yrs. Jonathan Amos looks at a timely tale.

No bones about it. Brendan Borrell on how the shark genome illuminates cartilaginous fish biology.

You can tune a piano, but you shouldn’t tuna fish. Dire situation for bluefin, as Svati Kirsten Narula makes clear.

Protecting species 140 characters at a time. Using twitter in conservation. Nice paper by David Shiffman and colleagues.

Eyes in their stars. Sea stars see! Christie Wilcox shows how.

They have an interesting perspective. Starfish have eyes on their arms. Ed Yong looks into it.

Setting sights on the stars. Even starfish have rudimentary vision, as Douglas Main perfectly explains.

Shell shock. Seashell collecting has a cost. A serious environmental cost. Roberta Kwok reveals how much.

Blooming into being. Joseph Jameson-Gould on how the coco worm comes forth.


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

Having a ball. Fly weathers cold inside gall ball. Morgan Jackson on a cool subject. Literally.

Follow the sun. That’s what dung beetles do to navigate. Jef Akst explains.

Getting the creeps. Mass of daddy long legs. Matthew Cobb shares something that might give you the shivers.

Walloping websnappers! Spectacular spiders, photographed by Nicky Bay.

Look down. There are wonders at your feet. David Orr's wonderful retrospective of his best photos from last year.

Better natured. Astounding nature photos from the past year, by Nash Turley.

Phantastic photos. Of incredible insects (and one really cute baby), by Alex Wild

Who’s on first? Dr Who. He helped determine if arachnophobia is hardwired. Yes really. Entertaining Bug Girl post.

A grassroots movement? Did ants evolve from the bottom up? Nice research by Rob Dunn and colleagues.

Surprising start. Laura Poppick on how a cockroach fossil suggests intriguing origins.


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

There was much interest in the hues of ancient marine animals this week. Some of the coverage:

50 shades of gray? Extinct sea reptiles hues, shaded in by Brad Balukjian.

True colours. The real hues of ancient sea creatures revealed. Illuminating piece by Sid Perkins.

Made in the shade. The colours of ancient creatures that lived in the oceans depths. Ed Yong shades in the details.

Everybody gets the blues. But not extinct sea reptiles, they only got the greys. Rebecca Morelle on some shady business.

Back in black. Dull shades were in for extinct sea reptiles. Great explainer by Stephanie Pappas.

Paint it black. Ichthyosaur was black all over. Cool research, with a nice explainer by Shaena Montanari.

Flower power. Amazing floral structures from the Cretaceous, in amber.

A luring argument. If crocs use sticks as lures, might dinosaurs have also used tools? Brian Switek considers the question.

Top drawer research. Dinosaur discoveries can be made from fossils stored on museum shelves. Brian Switek looks into it.

In a flap. Cretaceous bird had teeth but flew like starlings, as Brian Switek expertly explains.

Meat, the family. Ancient ancestor of carnivores. Nicely described by Stephanie Pappas.

Impossible to better this headline: “‘Nutcracker Man’ ate tiger nuts.” An extinct hominin, described by Charles Choi.

The whole tooth? Pleistocene hunter-gatherers had cavities, maybe from nuts in diet. Gemma Tarlach takes a bite out of a nutty subject.

Deep secrets. Daniel Schillereff on what lake sediments can tell us about the colonisation of Easter Island.

Sign of the times. 2300 yr old multiplication table, made of bamboo strips. Jane Qiu describes this ancient find.


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

The gene genie.  Amazing things go on within plant genomes. Superb feature by Megan Scudellari. Read of the week.

Branching out. Genes important for making branches in weeds, important for coppicing in trees.

Rocky romance. Ancient flowers caught in the act in amber.

A matter of time. Amazing homage to ancient bristlecone pines - threatened by climate change. Great film by Grant Slater.

Something for nothing. Phosphorous deficiency promotes partnership between plants & helpful fungus.

Golden opportunity. Tracy Vence on how “gold leaf” takes on new meaning with biogeochemical prospecting.

The debate isn’t about actual GMOs — it’s about the stories we’ve attached to them.” Excellent piece. I don’t agree with everything Nathanael Johnson writes but admire his levelheaded, informed approach to a fraught debate.

“At stake is how to grow healthful food most efficiently.” On GM crops, science, lobbying & politics. Superb coverage by Amy Harmon. Read of the week.


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

Microbial mats make morphs. How blobs become tubes. Laura Poppick explains.

Mystery microbe. Cholera strain that caused plague last century mysteriously disappeared. Ewen Callaway examines the clues.

Going viral? Is it time to turn to anti-bacterial viruses to combat antibiotic-resistant microbes? Anne Buchanan makes the case - compellingly.

Not so catchy? MERS may not be as contagious as originally feared (yet). Super analysis by Helen Branswell. Speaking of which:

A catchy question. Is this year’s flu outbreak worse than normal? More amazing analysis by Helen Branswell.

Stool to stand by. Faecal transplants are helping out kids with gut infections. Meeri Kim gets to the bottom of it.

Marvellous mutations. How surprising variants enable evolution. Carl Zimmer on the ongoing story told by E. coli.

Preys on the mind. N.V, Patel describes a brain-eating amoeba.


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)

Unexpected relations. A truly shocking outcome of personal DNA testing. Astonishing, must read story by CeCe Moore. Read of the week.

The Y question. Why Y chromosome has low diversity. Science by Melissa Wilson Sayres, story by Ian Sample.

Quick switch. Sarah Shailes explains how calcium switches on genes.

Into the fold. Role of folding environment in making mis-folded prion proteins. Interesting biochemistry, described by S.E. Gould

Double or nothing? How gene duplication might have fuelled human evolution. Awesome explainer by Emily Singer.

Cancer seems insistent on becoming the one left standing — death’s final resort.” Quote by George Johnson from a thought-provoking piece on the scientific challenge of cancer.

No stitch up. You can mend a broken heart with glue. Heartfelt tale by Ed Yong.

No smoke & mirrors. Anti-tobacco efforts have saved millions of lives. Erika Check Hayden explains just how many, and how.

The big chill. How our bodies respond to frigid temperatures. Greg Wells explains.

Running on empty. How ultramarathons affect the body. Excellent examination, by Dina Maron.


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

Let it snow! It may be cold, but snow is a wonder. Two takes: one by Joe Hanson, and another by me.

Wind chill is the scourge of most meteorologists…it really skews the picture.” Brilliant, timely piece by Les Perreaux.

“All this cold weather must mean climate change is bunk, right?” Um, not so much, as Eric Holthaus beautifully points out.

A quiet winter’s day. Why everything seems less noisy during snowfall. Duncan Geere on the silence of winter.

Explosive discovery. The trigger of super eruptions. Erik Klemetti describes it perfectly.

The upper crust. Was once drippy. Cool.

Hole notes. Breanna Draxler on the music the Earth makes, from the depths of a 10km borehole.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s ice. And planets.

We are stardust. And this is how it’s made. Great explainer by James Morgan.

In deep. Galaxies seen deep in the universe.  Clara Moskowitz takes a look at it.

A big dust up. Beautiful, dusty remnants of a supernova. Amazing stuff, shared by Phil Plait.

Star attraction. Alex Witze on how a bloated, dying star has a surprise neutron star in its core.

Light entertainment. Lisa Grossman describes how the Hubble telescope has used gravitational lensing to see galaxies 12B light yrs away. The image it acquired is astonishing.

Going the extra distance. James Morgan reports that the distance between galaxies has been measured with unprecedented accuracy.

Big thing, small package. Nicole Gugliucci on a dwarf galaxy’s massive black hole.

Ironing things out. Molten iron rains on brown dwarfs. Francie Diep describes some heavy weather.

Three’s company. A remarkable trio of stars. James Morgan explains why they are so remarkable.

Cloudy vision. Clouds “seen” on exoplanet. Alex Witze makes a murky subject very clear.

This rocks! 5 new rocky exoplanets.

A real lightweight. A very low density exoplanet. Matt Kwong on this weighty matter.

A weighty matter. Ron Cowen on an Earth-mass planet has surprisingly low density.

Deep thoughts. Exoplanets distant from their suns could support life far underground.

A new lease on life? Might ailing planet-hunter, Kepler, get a new mission? Let’s hope so! Miriam Kramer on what's next for everyone's favourite planet-finding probe.

Wish you were here? The dark side of the moon is, um, turquoise. Ian Sample on a discovery that is not as prog rock as those sentences might suggest.

The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” Quote by Carl Sagan, from a wonderful film by Penny Lane on a love letter in space. View of the week.

The final frontier. Most spectacular space photos from last year. Astonishing selections by Adam Mann. View of the week.

“You can find amazing things while looking for junk.” This and 9 other things learned from Comet ISON, nicely laid out by Corey Powell.


Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computation, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution

Oh nothing. Anil Ananthaswamy on how vast expanses of nothingness could lead to new theory of gravity.

A warped way of looking at it. Sun may “warp” dark matter, influencing detection. Cool find, perfectly described by Katia Moskvitch.

Rules of attraction. Celestial trio to put gravity to the test. Interesting research, described by Adrian Cho.

Let there be life. Did evolving abiotic chemical systems give rise to life?  Superb piece by Cadell Last.

Hot stuff. Astronauts research supercritical water - it burns without flames. Jason Major explains.

Getting it together. Remarkable self-assembly of a flower-like, liquid crystal lens. Jessica Hamzelou looks into it.

It all adds up. The mathematics of when you might die. Good stuff, as always, from Robert Krulwich.

Intelligence designed? Artificial intelligence is not where you’re being told it’s at. Gary Marcus does some myth busting.

Aye, robots. The farmers of the future. Fiona Harvey looks into a field of dreams.

Time travellers. Daphnia hatched from 700 yr old eggs shed light on evolution. Astounding research, expertly described by Carl Zimmer.

Running to stand still. Akshat Rathi on how the Red Queen hypothesis may explain rainforest biodiversity.

The way back machine. Looking at your evolutionary ancestry. Good fun.

What? Where? When? Interactive map of extinctions over geological time. Very cool.


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

I always felt I was conditioning myself for that situation.” Quote from a genius piece by Paul Tough, a harrowing tale a fisherman tossed overboard. Read of the week.

Read a lot of amazing stuff this week. This was amongst the best: “My Mother’s Lover”. Excellent examination of a family's history, by David Dobbs. Read of the week.

When systems designed to save lives are hard to grasp, we’ve reached a technological threshold that bears examining.” Quote from a fabulous piece by Samuel Arbesman on technological complexity & how to deal with it. Read of the week.

The lure of the technological sublime has ruined more than one social movement.” Quote by Evgeny Morozov from a thought-provoking piece on invention & democratisation of technology.

Minute minders. Looking at the brain in exquisitely high resolution. James Gorman looks into it.

Cell by date. Tracking neuron development over time. Awesome technology, perfectly explained by Virginia Hughes.

While taking attendance, the teacher suddenly couldn’t make sense of letters. Amazing story by Virginia Hughes.

Walk it off. Getting a step ahead in life: the hows and whys of walking about. Excellent read by Barbara King.

Blue Monday? Definitely a New Order song. Definitely not a scientific phenomenon, as Pete Etchells explains.

Most depressing day of the year? Nope. “Blue Monday” trivialises real depression. Great interview with Pete Etchells.

Kids just wanna have fun. Laura Sanders on how babies are attracted to happy sounds.

Tuning up the brain. Folks take pill, unleash child-like pitch perfection. Hmm.

Better read? Matt Shipman explains how “readability” scores for materials assigned to students are pretty well useless.

Game over. That nostalgic feel you get from old video games. Interesting stuff, by Veronique Greenwood

Stuck in the net. Even when your friends change, the structure of your social network is preserved. Elizabeth Preston tells you how.

It’s elementary. Thinking like Sherlock Holmes. Entertaining piece by Kyle Hill.

Presumption assumption. Sometimes what we think is the same, isn’t. Excellent piece by Alex Brown.

One step ahead. Walking about the city reveals things otherwise missed. Superb piece by William Helmreich.

A shore thing. Nice reflection on going to the beach with kids, independent of season. by Brooke Hecht

Open up? Not office design. The “open office concept” is a fail. Excellent examination of a trendy topic by Maria Konnikova.


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

The nature of things. Wonderful post exploring the continuum between nature writing & science writing, by Sarah Boon. Read of the week.

Duly noted. Incredible value of natural history field notes…in education. Awesome piece by Chris Buddle. Read of the week.

Write on! On a passion for, & challenges of, writing. Lovely post by Kim Moynahan,

Erika Check Hayden is an amazing science writer. This is what a day in her life is like.

“This Sci Curious post is a must read for all aspiring scientists: "Leaving academia. The “system” failed me. It should have failed me sooner."  Must do more in academia to provide folks with different paths to embrace their passion for science. The academic path is just one route to a life in science. Shouldn’t be presented as the sole route. Read of the week. Read the comments!

Was about to comment on the great Sci Curious post in the morsel above, but Cedar Riener perfectly articulated anything I might have said. Cedar Riener’s response is superb: Some definitions of “scientist” too narrow. “Success” defined in limited terms. It’s high time we defined “scientist” more broadly. Science is a big tent. Come in, there’s plenty of room. Read of the week.

Off the beaten track. Doing a PhD? There’s a road to success beside tenure track, as Maren Wood explains.

Just say no. Why one prof declined an invitation to the dark side (admin). Good perspective by Terry McGlynn.

“Get the machine that goes ‘bing!’.” Scientific equipment is great, big ideas are better. Superb piece by Philip Ball. Read of the week.

You probably already knew, but the quote in the last morsel references this fabulous Monty Python sketch.

“Reality check: Medicine is super-Hard”. Excellent piece by Matthew Herper explaining why just-turned-17-year-old Jack Andraka isn’t on Forbes 30 Under 30. What is equally excellent, is Jack Andraka's mature response: "T‬hanks so much for article & clearing up some confusion. Appreciate judges comments & recommendations." Both Matthew Herper & Jack Andraka show great integrity, respect, and thoughtfulness. Model behaviour, both. Read of the week.

“After 4 flights, a bus ride, & 2 days in a canoe, we were there.” Tropical science, featuring Phil Torres, described by Nadia Drake.

“Jairo is dead. For me there is no justice.” The murder of sea turtle defender Jairo Mora Sandoval. This Matthew Power piece on conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval’s murder is a stunning must read. Read of the week.

It’s hugely valuable to de-mystify the process of science.” From a super interview of Katie Mack by Julie Gould.

If you really want to democractise science, crowdfunding seems a bit too ephemeral.” Great analysis by Alice Bell.

To attract authors to send their best work to you & referees to review for you, become more sensitive to our needs.” Quote by Dorothy Bishop from a superb post on how scientific journals must change. Spot on!

Devil in the details. Ewen Callaway on how preclinical animal studies are lacking details needed to assess work.

This might go against everything some have been taught.” Quote from a thought-provoking editorial by L.A. Harvey about abolishing hypothesis tests in clinical trials.

Zen & the art of biology? Are Buddhism & life science aligned? Thought provoking piece by David Barash.

Open & shut cases. Chemistry needs to be more open, like bioscience. Compelling case made by Peter Murray-Rust.

Factor it out. We need to reduce the emphasis placed on science journal impact factors. Excellent case made by Steve Caplan.

Strength in small numbers? While underrepresented, female scientists may be better at the job. Richard Grant makes the case. (Bad headline on the original piece though.)

140 character building. The conversationalist approach to twitter, by Paige Brown.

You only had to ask. Great insights into reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” (AMA). Superb post by Alexis Madrigal.

Keeping it simple. Is the “TED oversimplification” meme an oversimplification? Chris Anderson makes the case that it is.

A motional rescue. Super selection of top science videos. Great views.

The nature of things. Marvellous nature photos from last year, by Sean McCann.

Cold comfort? Some sciencey stuff to do on a frigid wintry day, selected by Erin McCann.

No dragon research?! What were we thinking?! Research agency gives great apology, and Laura Stampler covered it.


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