Morsels for the mind – 12/7/2013

12 July 2013 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!


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

Whip it! Whip it good! By far the story that captured interest this week was the whip-like tail of the thresher shark, that it uses to throttle its sardine prey. It got great coverage by Becky Crew, Ed Yong, Christie Wilcox, Ian Sample, and Josh Howgego. The reporting on this was sharper than sharks with frickin’ lasers!

Heard it through the grapevine. By cuing into birds’ alarm calls, lemur avoids predators.

Life in the slow lane. Super slow motion video is hastening the understanding of biology.

Club seine. Fin whale gets dubstep remix of its song. Doesn’t know if it wubs it or not.

A whale for the killing? Why should we save whales? Excellent case made by Sarah Mynott.

Peril in paradise. Hundreds of manatees, dolphins, and pelican are dying, and nobody knows why. Amazing reporting on this by Nadia Drake.

Some nerve! Monumental whale brains and neurons.

Chimp changes. The remarkable genetic heritage of our fellow apes.

Made in America? American dog breeds established after a migration across the Bering land bridge.

A change for the better? What a century of dog breeding has wrought.

Dogged determination. Resilience required in the search for the rare New Guinea Singing Dog.

Do you see what I do? Dogs don’t. Their vision is surprisingly poor (in some ways).

Me and my shadow. Cats are remarkably synched to the rhythms of their human companions.

The X factor. Tracking bats in flight using X rays reveals their flying secrets. It’s completely batty! Speaking of which:

Getting a lift. Bats take off for flight with an action like a flexible bowstring.

Not just another pretty face. Naked mole rats may be ugly, but they tell us much.

Guacamole lovers? Coyotes, foxes and bobcats call avocado orchards home.

Bad male delivery. Over abundance of males means honeycreepers’ future not so sweet.

Surprising city slicker. New bird species is an urban dweller.

It takes a thief. Cockatoos learn to pick locks. They really are smart birds. Super smart.

Egg-citing find. Remarkable self-cleaning, water-repellent shell keeps guillemot eggs dirt free.

Winging it. Shape shifting hummingbird wing helps flight. And are they ever amazing fliers.

Protective puke. Baby birds vomit in your general direction as a defence mechanism.

Bad schoolmates. Fish injures others to escape predators. Game theory plays itself out beyond “the dismal science” (i.e., economics).

Cold comfort. Octopus survives frigid temperatures through its blue blood.

A fragile balance. Garden of glass sponges reflects change Antarctic ecosystem. Superb piece, by Joe Hanson.

Here’s looking at you. Starfish have eyes on their arms.

Divide and conquer. Sand dollars clone themselves as a defence strategy.

Favouring flatulence. How to know the best position to let it rip? Science!

Forgetting their place. Cells that take up residence in the wrong part of the body.

“Why would nature give an adult tissue these kinds of cells.” Virginia Hughes gets to the nub of adult stem cells.


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

Walloping web snappers!  Spider webs are attracted to charged insects. When spiders take charge, this may help capture prey. Or it may have little relevance at all. Time plus science will tell.

Plugging into the ant-ernet. Ants use algorithms to network. Amazing read by Deborah Gordon.

First rule of cricket fight club… Crickets battle more vigorously when others watch on.

Spider bites? Yeah, not so much. They’d actually rather not bite you. Great interview with Chris Buddle.

Here’s looking at you. Caterpillar has a blinking eyespot. Here’s how it was spotted.

Putting out the fire with gasoline. The lengths that people go to, to eliminate the invasive fire ant.


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

Tremendous tree timing. Woody plants use internal clock for water transport.

It all stemmed from this. The first forests.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Frozen in time. A whole lizard locked in amber for 23 million years!

Pit stop. Tar pits capture fate of ancient animal carcasses.

Fantastic fossils. Tremendous trilobites.

“It was the first dinosaur millions of people saw.” The amazing story of Dippy.

The early bird gets the learn. Great primer on bird evolution by Darren Naish.

Big bites. Sabre-tooth cat versus sabre-tooth marsupial.

Head games. 3D scan of fossil skull reveals Homo floresiensis a distinct human species.

So nice, done twice. Agriculture enjoyed multiple origins. These were the seeds of change.

Shiny happy people? Even Neanderthals liked a bit of bling.


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

Bugs as drugs. Making microbes into medicine. Great story, beautifully explained by a master, Carl Zimmer.

Hangers on. Gut microbes stick with you, like, foreva. Ed Yong really gets to the bottom of things in his exploration of colon bacteria.

Getting the cold shoulder. Claims of fish gut microbes in Lake Vostok receive chilly reception.

Genetic engineers. Microbes modify plant genomes, naturally.

Invisibility cloak. Fungus hides itself from plant defences.

Think pink. What colour is snow algae? Fascinating stuff from Jennifer Frazer.

Taking flight. Hepatitis B, infecting birds for 82 million years. That’s back to the time of dinosaurs folks.

Ferreting out the cause. 80 years ago, the viral basis of influenza was discovered. In ferrets.

Going viral. How a cat virus went lethal.

“The possibility of losing one’s humanity and regressing to an animal state.” Rebecca Kreston considers the past perspectives of rabies. Superb.


Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others)

Move along, nothing to see here. How female scents keep sperm on the move. Great, fascinating read by Veronique Greenwood.

Muscling in. How muscle REALLY works.

Silence is deadly. Even neutral “silent” mutations can be costly.

Antibodies and autism. Astonishing link between maternal immune response and foetal neuron development.


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

That’s the way it flows. The importance of fluvial geomorphology. Great post on a timely topic.

As the minutes dragging? It could be because the Earth is slowing down.

Can you dig it? Old landfills are a goldmine of opportunity.

Solid start. 2.4 billion-year-old rock points to origins of primordial photosythesis.

Heart of the matter. Tackling the enigma of the Earth’s core.

Seeing is believing. Landsat images really show what is going down on Earth.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Galactic gas guzzler. Quasar reveals a feeding galaxy.

The certainty principle. When it comes to dark matter, there’s no room for error.

Crystalline entity. Is this the nature of a faint white dwarf?

Brief bursts from beyond. Ultrashort radio blasts from outside the solar system raise questions. May provide answers as well.

Winding it up. In space, there is wind.

Dust in the wind? Might some proposed exoplanets merely be gas and dust?

What’s the matter? Antimatter streaming from our sun.

Mercury’s makeover. 4 billion years ago, the hot planet got resurfaced by volcanoes. All the rough spots got ironed out.

Phobos’s fate. The future of the Martian doomed moon.

Parting shot. The last image we’ll see of the Herschel space probe for at least another 13 years.

Way out there. Regardless of where Voyager 1 is in the universe, it still captures the imagination.


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

Change encounters. Spectacular read by Lewis Spurgin on islands, evolution, politics and the convergence thereof. Read of the week.

Wait a minute. New atomic clock to redefine the second. It’s about time.

Living in the now. Only The Flash would know what that is like. A brilliant way of looking at physics, by Kyle Hill.

Lighten up. All models of photons are wrong to some extent, but it’s nothing to fret about.

MC hammered. How does Einstein’s famous equation relate to your life? This nails it.

The answer is in the bag. Why are testicles left hanging? Evolution!

It never stops. Human evolution continues. Because cholera.

Boy or girl? In mammals, mom may “control” babies’ sex.

The certainty of uncertainty. The assurance of not knowing.


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

Mind over matters. Want to sort more of the world’s problems? Apply a little more psychology.

A head for remembering. Decaptitate a worm, and the regrown head still has memories inside. WOW! Spectacular stuff from Elizabeth Preston, as usual.

Everything makes scents? Why do we have odour receptors all through our bodies? Awesome piece by Veronique Greenwood.

Minding animals. Wonderful consideration of non-human animal minds and emotions, based on recent books by Barbara J King and Virginia Morell.

Only human? Identifying grief in non-human animals.

Sit. Stay. Think. Nice consideration of dog consciousness by Barbara J King.

Home sweet home. We function as home base for kids, dogs & space probes to explore their respective universes.

Talent show. What does science say about the personal skills we may possess?

Singing your heart out. Relationship between group singing and heart rate. Amazing.

“Change does not undo his ‘cookieness’”. On the challenges of being Cookie Monster. Great reflection on peer pressure and being oneself by Krystal D’Costa.

Singularly stupid. Psychology has nothing good to say about solitary confinement. Why is it still being done? Spectacular reporting on this tough subject by Brandon Keim and Atul Gawande.

What did you expect? The ongoing challenges of placebos in psychology experiments. Ed Yong conducts a masterful dissection of this problem.

In the running. Stressed? A run may sort you.


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

Troubles afoot. The “Bigfoot genome” and what it says about science. John Timmer’s take on this is fantastic.

Monster mash-up. Like Bigfoot, there is no evidence to support the existence of the Loch Ness beastie.

Building STEAM. Inserting arts into STEM. Awesome, important thinking, by John Maeda.

Drawing folks in. Using art to engage people with science. Art is a uniquely human tool to communicate the awesome nature of science. Great stuff!

The double –edged sword. Caleb Scharf wonderfully considers the challenges of using metaphor to explain science, and why he will continue to use them.

“ A few months ago an amazing thing happened. I talked to my identical twin sister about my research.” A wonderful reflection on science communication by Suzie Sheehy.

“And the cat doesn’t answer because it’s a cat.” Great reflection on a thing a cat did and the nature of science, by Ben Lillie.

In science’s image. Ben Lillie designs a cool tool to observe the images people connect with science, when they tweet – in real time!

Putting the quest in questioning. It’s questions, not answers, that propel science. Excellent piece by Stuart Firestein.

As the worm turns. Watch worms lay eggs. For science!

Getting the jump on things. Nice reflection on the joys of fieldwork on jumping spiders.

The most dangerous piece of lab equipment? Spoiler: It’s us.

“Science isn’t a matter of trying to prove something.” Great interview with Saul Perlmutter.

“Whatever amuses me the most.” Joe Palca’s criterion for picking the best science stories. Great interview with NPR radio icon by Matt Shipman.

Stop the presses! New model for science communication catches on.

It take every kinda people… Why stereotypes of scientists are misleading. Great piece by Grace Lindsay.

“I absolutely love being a professor.” Great, positive reflection on the academic life by an early career scientist.

Surprising finds. Beautiful reflection by Jessa Gamble on being startled, biology, and writing.

Is there another way for doctors to think about patients? Yes. Yes there is. And it is beautiful.


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