Morsels For The Mind – 1/11/2013

2 November 2013 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Uncategorized

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 of the week”.


Feather, fur & fin – birds, beasts, fishes, and the things they do

“We shouldn’t draw the curtains over the aspects of animal behavior that make us cringe.” From a brilliant piece by Laelaps on other animals behaving badly. Must read. Read of the week.

Behind the seens. The challenges camouflage poses for prey & predators. Superb piece by Jason Goldman. Read of the week.

Bottoms up! Humpback whales dine from sea floor. Douglas Main gets to the depths of this subject.

Time for a change. Orcas go through menopause.

Sonar’s shot? Even dolphins lose hearing with age. Virginia Morell on an accidental discovery.

Don’t it make my gold eyes blue. Reindeer eyes’ cool colour change. Amazing tale by Ed Yong. Read of the week.

Under the weather. Rain seems to prevent giraffe interbreeding. Interesting story, shared by Rachel Nuwer.

Crowning glory. Amazing antlers.

Where cuteness knows no bounds. An olinguito. A *baby* olinguito. Becky Crew makes you go “dawww”.

Which side are you on, Boy? For dogs, right versus left tail wags say different things. Rebecca Morelle broke the news that had tongues wagging.

Good sense of direction. Dogs inform others of emotions via tail wag direction. Megan Gannon spots a good story, and explains it nicely.

A telling tail. Dogs reveal different emotions via direction of wagging tails. Ian Sample’s take on the canine story of the week.

Share & share alike. Dogs likely to have an attachment profile like their human companions.

Familiarity breeds respect. Those familiar with dogs unlikely to harbour breed stereotypes.

“You can’t help but marvel at just how much life is supported by the nature that’s already around us.” From a lovely post by Levi Stahl on juncoes as a salve for the bleakness of late October.  Read of the week.

When less is more. Astounding story of the lesser flamingo, by Steve Boyes.

Dynamic duo. How wrens sing duets. Felicity Muth on a tuneful topic.

What the flock. Aerial acrobatics of dunlins. Wonderful post by Grrl Scientist.

Snake eyes! They’re making a bizarre spectacle for themselves. A really cool element of biology, brilliantly shared by Sci Curious.

It’s hip to be rare. If you’re a male guppy. You get sex.  Cool find, succinctly summarised by Kelly Servick.

That snapper you think you’re eating? It’s probably not. How DNA barcoding could keep restaurants honest. Great investigation by Amy Maxmen.

Revealing deep secrets. Rare oarfish washed up from ocean’s depths is ichthyology bonanza.

Ever want to date an octopus? And by “date”, I mean determine its age. Katherine Harmon Courage revealed how. Speaking of which:

Cephalopod celebration! Katherine Harmon Courage’s new book, OCTOPUS!, is out! In keeping with the appendages, here are her favourite 8 facts discovered in preparing the book.

Curious critter. “A core of sex covered in a sheath of eating.” Craig McClain fleshes it out.

Deeply mysterious. Curious critters of the ocean’s depths.

The horror. The horror. One horrific critter. Brilliant post on a nasty creature, by Rebecca Helm.

Living on burrowed time. Flesh-boring larvae. As usual, Matt Simon examined the weirdly wonderful.

If you love something, set it free. Unless it’s a classroom animal. Sci Curious discussed the growing Invasive danger from releasing “the teacher’s pet”.

The worm turns. Invasive earthworms wreak havoc in forests.

Destructive behaviour. Fungus wiping out amphibians by making host cells kill themselves.

Murder by death. Amphibian killer disease invokes host cell programmed cell death.

It’s all wrong. Dolphins as bait. To catch sharks. For shark fin soup. C’mon. Alexis Manning on a horrific series of events.

Bad trade? Is legal sale of endangered animal parts a reasonable way to prevent extinction? Kate Whittington explores a tough topic.

Today’s special. Correcting an invasive species problem by eating it.  Erik Vance sits down for a meal.

Chyme in if this interests you. Eating the stomach contents of herbivores.

In a whiz. Working out the dynamics of the law of urination. Carrie Arnold on a topic that is surprisingly fascinating.

Constipated denizens of the deep? Just one of the reasons to dismiss mermaids. Awesome guest post by Sheanna Steingass.


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

Meet the beetles! Harlequin ladybirds (or ladybugs in some lands) are amazing invasives. Nash Turley took spectacular photos of them and I wrote about them.

Walk on the wild side. Lou Reed's wonderful velvety, underground-dwelling namesake. Super living legacy, shared by Bug Girl, for a genius who passed away last week.

Horning in. Why rhinoceros beetles have huge horns. Elizabeth Preston’s lovely take on an evolutionary tale.

Amazing aerial acrobatics. Dragonflies’ brain activity tracked in flight. Cool research, expertly conveyed by Helen Fields.

Mounting suspense. Why do some male insects seem to attempt to inseminate other males? Sci Curious lays it all bare.

Taking the sting out of things. A parasite that makes zombies of hornets. Great, if gross, stuff from Tommy Leung.

Tremendous tarantula. The world's largest spider is, well, gargantuan. Carrie Arnold on one big bug.

Bound to be different. Dung beetles’ unique gallop. Victoria Gill examined their gate.

Presents of being. Spiders bring gifts for long sex.

What a horrible way to go. If you’re an arthropod. Suitably horrendous gallery by Alex Wild.

This may get under your skin. Tick bite. It swims into your epidermis. Nice. Ed Yong brings the gross, with video!

Walloping websnappers! That spider bite you got? Probably not a spider bite. Brooke Borel provides a reality check.

Giving insects a bad name… Are ants slave-masters or kidnappers? Great post by Alex Wild.

Ignorance is bliss? It can be, for social insects.


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

Taking it all in? Did teeth originate as armour on the outside of mouths?

Big bonehead. Ancient boomerang-skulled amphibian.  

Meet Joe. Joe’s a baby dinosaur. When you look up “awesome” in the dictionary, this site is there.

Buzz kill. Ancient bees may have been wiped out along with dinosaurs. Denise Chow looks into the past.

Mummy dearest? Myth of a curse that emerged from the crypt & refuses to die. Jo Marchant on persistent fictions.

A shore thing? Did Africa's Great Lakes boost our ancestors' brains?  


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

Legends of the fall. Autumn leaves are marvels. GrrlScientist, on leaves changing colour. Me, on the value of fallen leaves.

Small wonders. In search of the terrifically tiny, delicate flapwort. Lovely post by Richard Carter.

Grow with the glow. Global photosynthesis fluorescence. As usual, Joe Hanson shares the coolest stuff.  View of the week.

It’s the pits. Why avocados should have gone extinct with large fruit eaters.

Perfect partnership. Bat & carnivorous plant.

One of these things is not like the others. And, unfortunately, it’s the model plant. Intriguing.

Rock on! The remarkable stone plant’s secrets.

How do you like them potatoes? The historical nastiness of spuds.  

Grow with the glow. How jellyfish fluorescence revolutionised plant biology. Petra Kiviniemi shared this flashy innovation.

Authenticity grows on trees. Fresh-picked apples are worlds away from the supermarket. Awesome personal reflection, by Christie Aschwanden.


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

Field of dreams. Prairie's diverse microbial past. Sarah Zhang on yet another interesting study.

Missing element. Organisms grab nitrogen at ocean’s depths. Interesting ecology shared by Jennifer Frazer.

What goes around comes around. Fungi feed bacteria then eats ‘em.

Completely batty? Are bats the natural reservoir for SARS? Excellent read by Ed Yong.

An oldie, but a baddie. The plague is still with us. Rebecca Kreston visits an old enemy.

Nothing to sniff at. Every freakin’ flu vaccine myth debunked. Great work by Tara Haelle.

Way out there. Beaming genes across space – the next step in synthetic bio? Hmm. Amy Nordrum explores the future of genomes.


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)

“There remains the glittering prospect of finding some systemic secret to how the great genomic machine operates.” From a brilliant piece by David_Dobbs on the challenges, particularly the pitfalls, of genetic association. Wonderful weaving of a personal example and a much broader implication. Masterful writing. Read of the week.

It’s complicated. Why it’s difficult to find single genes “for” a given trait. Excellent examination of where genetics currently stands, by Ken Weiss & Anne Buchanan.

Smells like gene spirit. How genetic variants contribute to olfaction. Ken Weiss on how we sense scents.

One plus one equals one. Sometimes gene function doesn’t add up. Great piece by Ken Weiss. Speaking of which:

Code comfort. Using forensic DNA analysis to understand violent conflicts. Amy Maxmen does a perfect job of handling a fraught subject.

More than twisted. Your DNA is like a dystopian nightmare. Lovely imagery. Great stuff by Greg Miller.

Interesting sequence of events. GenomeTweet tweets whole genome sequences. Peter Harrison tells why.

Into the fold? Nope. When protein folding goes wrong.  

Getting it all together. Catalysing self-assembly of the molecules of life. Andrew Bissette on the get-together that may have underpinned our existence.

A weighty matter. Gravity keeps animal cells small. Intriguing hypothesis, shared by Megan Garber.

Wanna new drug? Data might be the best medicine. Excellent overview by Tim McDonnell.

All in the family. Imagine a pedigree with 13M members. Yaniv Erlich assembled one, as reported by Heidi Ledford.

Will it add up to nought? Search for genetics for “maths genius” is divisive. Balanced coverage by Erika Check Hayden.


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

“It’s a living, breathing, shaking and baking place.” A massive magma lake under Yellowstone. Alex Witze on some cool geology.

Blast from the past. Ancient mural may be first depiction of a volcanic eruption.  

Shell shock. Sea plankton exoskeletons provide record of changing climate. Simon Redfern gets a chance to write about his own research, and does so wonderfully.

The future is now. There’s a fleet of underwater flying robots helping to predict storms.

New gold dream? It’s a nightmare. Horrendous Amazonian destruction. Superb reporting on a terrible find, by Ed Yong.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Frigid find. Coldest place in the universe.

Star of the show. Proxima Centauri has flare for drama.

Wild at heart? Milky Way's central black hole.

The hole truth? Might black holes never die, but just fade away? Ron Cowen explores a new hypothesis.

A home away from home? Extending the hunt for habitable planets. Eugenie Samuel Reich on a timely topic.

Goodness, gracious, great ball of fire! NASA reports on the rocky Earth-like exoplanet that is a raging inferno.

Hot stuff. Super-heated, but otherwise Earth-like planet. Alok Jha brings an out-of-this-world story down to Earth.

Hot, hot, hot. Earth-like planet too scorching for life, but raises hopes for future finds. Lisa Grossman on a hot topic.

This rocks! Rocky, Earth-sized exoplanet is so hot, the ground always flows with lava. Adam Mann describes some hot rocks.

Marvellous moon. Salt flats in Titan’s lake land.

Good morning sunshine. Astonishing solar flares erupted last week. Tariq Malik looked into it.

A flare for the dramatic. Spectacular solar show. Truly stunning.

The prize in the skies. Astonishing auroras.

Library…in…SPAAACE! Parallels between Voyager 1 & bookmobiles. Interesting analogy, by Shannon Bohle.

Who’s out there? Two decades ago, Carl Sagan reported detection of life in the universe. His approach is still being used today.

Listening up. Earth’s ear on space celebrates its 50th anniversary. Fabulous feature by Nadia Drake.


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

“If math is a language – then it too is metaphorical.” Challenges of chatting with aliens. Adam Mann examines how we might get lost in translation.

“If you wish to believe in miracles, do so knowing that the evidence is not on your side.” From a great piece by Lawrence Shapiro on the insurmountable odds against miracles.

On the edge of chaos. Using the iconic theory to predict extreme, seemingly chance, events.

Beyond selfish. The selfish gene metaphor is useful, but has limits. Thought-provoking piece by Sedeer El-Showk.


Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it

Ancient hiss story. We primates have a special corner of our brains to recognise snakes. Carl Zimmer explores the inner reaches of our minds.

Snakes on a brain. There’s a special place for them.

Longstanding awareness. Consciousness evolved in the Cambrian, >500M yr ago.

In da club. Our brains have a “rich club” network organisation. Fascinating piece by Emily Singer.

Zombies are people too? How far would you go to ward off a zombie? Interesting blend of ethics and psychology, and pop culture, by Pete Etchells.

Changing minds? Could the brain reorganize itself within minutes? Hmm. True to form, Neuro Skeptic takes a sceptical look.

“Until we get a grip on our own minds, our grip on anything else could be suspect.” From a thought-provoking piece by Mike Hanlon on the tough question of consciousness.

Getting a head in life. Retaining memories after decapitation. Fascinating find, explained by Sarah Zhang.

He said. She said. Back-and-forth of marmoset chatter hints at origins of conversation. Brandon Keim on primate chit-chat.

A turn for the worse? Do marmosets really take turns “talking” as per human conversation?

Don’t read the comments? Psychology of online commenting. Spectacular read, as usual, by Maria Konnikova.

Gimme a break. No, seriously, my brain needs it, and so does yours. Excellent read by Ferris Jabr.

Walking before we crawled? Is crawling a relatively recent human innovation? Intriguing hypothesis, shared by Kate Gammon.

Yum, that looks tasty! How what we see, influences what we taste. Interesting subject covered in a cool video by Cheryl Murphy.

Sweet dreams aren’t made if this. The downside of a nightcap. Jordan Gaines might get you to take a second look at before-bedtime imbibing.

In the cool of the evening, when everything is getting kind of groovy… This song is not merely "Spooky", but spookier with eyes closed.

Shelf-ish behaviour. Can ebook collections ever *really* replace library shelves? Excellent exploration of this timely topic by Mark Changizi.

Surreal experience. Salvador Dali’s bedbug bite that was a birthmark. Amazing story by Brooke Borel.

“Could the Gladwell treatment be harmful to children?” From a superb critique, by Mark Seidenberg, of “Gladwell treatment” of dyslexia.

Beyond light entertainment. When orgasm triggers a kaleidoscope of colour. Amazing.


Behind the scenes – the workings of the museum – discovery and communication

All aboard! How trying to fit animals on the ark reinforced notions of species. Excellent story by John Wilkins.

The scientific method. Great insights into science blogging from expert David Bradley. Super interview by Paige Brown.

It’s all about focus. Superb interview of insect photographer par excellence, Alex Wild, by Matt Shipman.

“It took persistence, courage & confidence…throughout this challenging year.” Anatomy of a retraction. A brave, personal reflection by Pam Ronald. Retractions by Pam Ronald show huge integrity & scholarly leadership.

To blog or not to blog? Nobody may read it, but a blog is great value anyway. Superb post by Simon Goring.

A case of you. What happens when you become your own case study? Kathleen Raven did the experiment.

Making waves. Diane Orihel & her battle to save Experimental Lakes. Excellent feature by Hannah Hoag.

"Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony." Learning life's lessons from Lou Reed. Poignant, wonderful post by Margo Page.

“We remain connected, a human grid tempered in flickering campfires.” On living off the grid. Superb personal reflection by Michelle Nijhuis.

“There’s something magical about how things come together, criss-crossing the world before emerging.” From a magnificent piece by Brandon Keim on just where stuff comes from. Read of the week.

I would walk 500 miles. And I would walk 500 more. A 1000 mile walk. Awesome challenge, shared by Liam Heneghan. Read of the week.

“We can’t rely on a mountain or a remote wasteland to create waldeinsamkeit; we have to create it ourselves.” From superb post by Mat Honan about the difficulty of getting away from it all. Read of the week.

Here be monsters. The magical margins of ancient maps. Excellent meld of science and art, by Greg Miller.

Living on the edge. Ocean-farers “unknowns” went from monsters to men during age of discovery. Hannah Waters on the shifting tides in ocean exploration.

Embracing the void. Astounding meditation on the night sky & our relationship to it, by Ross Andersen.

Moving experience. Way before the animated gif there was the phenakistoscope. It was amazing.


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