Morsels For The Mind – 13/12/2013

15 December 2013 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest, Science

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

Better to burn out than fade away? Or vice versa? 46 species make answering tricksy, as Virginia Gewin reveals. Great read.

Matters of life & death. Amazing look at ageing & mortality, reported by Virginia Hughes.

Constant gardeners. Bonobos key in forest seed dispersal. Their loss to bushmeat a huge ecosystem risk, as Christina Pham reports.

Absence of malice? We & other animals need to know when someone has ill intent. Jason Goldman continues his comparison of humans and other animals.

Aye, robot. Like us, chimpanzees intrigued by & interact with automatons. Barbara King on a fascinating find.

It's been spotted. Rarest big cat, Amur leopard, seen on camera trap. Jason Goldman on a rare observation.

Dogs and cats. Living together. And not getting along. Wolves & cougars.

In for the kill. A tiger downs a gaur. Amazing observation, reported by Ullas Karanth.

Can't bear it. Salmon declines correlated with grizzly stress, as Sarah Zielinski reports.

Grin & bear it. Getting perfect pics of forest giants, by Arjen Drost.

The better to eat you with, my dear. Evolution of fictional wolves. Amazing piece by The 17th Fish, on phylogenetic trees & folk tales. Super explainer. If you haven't already checked out the Scatter Feed blog, where this piece was posted, do so right away. Those folks can write. Read of the week.

Leader of the pack. Like dogs, wolves can learn from human cues. Jason Goldman on the finding and its implications.

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. How do you make dogs' flatulence less pungent? Julie Hecht continues to sniff out the science of canine farts.

No walk in the park?  For some dogs, time in the dog park is stressful. Companion Animal Psychology takes a look at the latest evidence.

See Spot run. How your dog can be your running partner. Tips from Martin Love.

The Smiths were wrong. Meat isn't murder. It's torture. Brilliant, if depressing, feature by Paul Solotaroff.
 Read of the week.

Agony & ivory. We're going to lose elephants if we don't halt illegal animal parts trade. Kate Wong on a dire situation.

Behind by a neck. Okapi, endangered forest giraffe. Sad story, but a great post by Christopher Basu. If you haven't already checked out the Scatter Feed blog, where this piece was posted, do so right away. Those folks can write.

Nice for mice? We must carefully consider how the mouse is used in research. Important ethical issue, sensitively covered by Ken Weiss.

Feigning feistiness. Birds bluff aggressive intent. Philip Ball on amazing avian behaviour.

"The painted Pūkekos never recovered their status; their shields, shrunk for good, were now considered the saddest." Quote by Colin Schultz, from a wonderfully Seussian natural history.

Agents of shield. Bird's facial shield determines perching order.

Sticking it to naysayers. Gator stick use suggests they're more intelligent than thought. Jason Goldman on a find that's no croc (well, it's sort of a croc).

Leapin' lizards! Reptiles breath like birds. Ewen Callaway on a surprising find.

Completely crappy. Tourists giving endangered iguanas diarrhoea. Yeesh. John Platt on tourism that stinks.

Roll with it. Toad rolls like stone to avoid trouble. Heidi Smith Parker gets the story rolling.

Outta sight! How a cavefish rapidly evolved blindness.  In an amazing piece of writing, Ed Yong explores an example of the impact of an "evolutionary capacitor". Must read. Read of the week.

Home delivery. Lemon sharks return home to give birth. Rachel Brittin on a surprising migration.

Shaping up. Evolution of sandcastle-building novelty in fish.

Land ho! Terrestrial tricks of a leaping fish. Elizabeth Preston gets the jump on a great story.

Eat up! Want to keep invasive lion fish in check? Put 'em on the menu. Melissa Gaskill reports on the case being made.

Memorable meals. Cuttlefish recall what, when & where they ate. As usual, Ed Yong plates up a super story.

A bowlful of jelly. The origin of animals. Catherine de Lange looks at the latest evidence to support a starring role for comb jellies.

Combing for origins. Comb jellies emerged from base of animal family tree. Carl Zimmer digs into the roots of animal origins.

Amazing amphipods. Skeleton shrimp. Jennifer Frazer on a curious critter.

Thievery incorporation. Sea slugs steal & use jelly stings. Ryan Ellingson on a great example of kleptoplasty. Read of the week.

Slugging it out. Amazing diversification of antarctic slugs.

Deep wonder. Creatures of Antarctic ocean, shared by Liz Langley.

To study them myself I swore, like many marine scientists before. Long live our oceans, evermore.” Quote by Sheanna Steingass from a wonderful, poetic ode to ocean life.


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

Proof in the putting. Fruit flies put eggs where per cent alcohol is just right, as Brian Owens reports.

Flower power. Mantis gets its prey by posing as posies, as Susan Milius reports.

Butt out. Ant makes defence foam from her posterior. Alex Wild shows how.

This'll grab ya. Hunting prowess of dragonfly nymphs. Bug Girl shares more insect wonderfulness.

Masters of disguise. Astounding insects, photographed by Nicky Bay and shared by Nadia Drake.

Sizing up the competition. Ant size evolves faster than shape.

Presents of being. Spiders bear gifts for sex. Catherine Scott continues her exploration of spider awesomeness.

Love connection? With these insects, likely not. Buzz Hoot Roar has given you fair warning.

Amazing arthropods. Wonderful wrap-up of the week's best on the science of creepy crawlies. Chris Buddle keeps the bugs coming.


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

More skin in the game. Edmontosaurus had a cock's comb flap on its head. Intriguing find reported by Ed Yong.

Heads up! Duck-billed dinosaur had cock's comb. Stephanie Pippas covers this story from the top down.

A tail to tell. Did plesiosaurs have soft-tissue tail fins? Intriguing find, reported by Brian Switek.

Night moves. A dinosaur hunt in the thick of darkness. Excellent speculation & artwork by Mark Witton

Icthyosaurs didn't suck. Literally.

That sinking feeling. How giant pterosaurs avoided being sunk in open water. Dave Hone has buoyant writing on this tale.

Back to the old house. On the origins of home building.Interesting anthropology by Ian Tattersall.

Make sure to read both of the Brian Switek pieces on sabre cats:

Gone but not forgotten. Wonderful musing on the Smilodon sabre-tooth cat. Simply superb writing, by Brian Switek.
 Read of the week.

Fangs for the memories. The rise, demise & potential reappearance of sabre-tooth cats. Brian Switek expands on his look at sabre cats.


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

Floral foolery. Plant's fake pollen attracts bees. Elizabeth Preston looks into the buzz on this find.

An army of clones? No, a grove of them. And they are amazing.

Honed for home. Local adaptations in plants.

Happy trails? Snail trail mucus invokes plant defences. Kayla Graham cultivates a good story.

Inside edge. Fungi that grow within crop plants could boost productivity.

Losing a peel. Fungal pathogen decimating domesticated banana. Declan Butler on an important food security issue.

Legends of the fall. Awesome autumnal leaves. Joe Hanson has a nice gallery.

Night moves. Nocturnal floral action.

Key to success. Plant immunity based on lock & key complex.


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

The word on turd. The most abundant species in human faeces. Fascinating finds, shared by Rob Dunn. Read of the week.

Gut reaction. Diet induces rapid microbiome switch. Ed Yong gets inside this story.

Breast kept secrets. Beneficial microbes in milk. S.E. Gould examines.

You are what you eat? Maybe, but your gut microbiome definitely is. Elizabeth Pennisi takes a look inside this story.

Cash cache. There's more in your wallet than legal tender. Currency carries microbes, as Chelsea Harvey reports.

Home sweet home. Jello accommodation for microbes provides foundation for pathogen research. Zach Zorich reports.

The bugs of war. Infections are the only big winners during wartime, as Jonathan Ball reports.


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)

Testing genes? Genetic variation contributes to >50% of variation in exam results. Hmm. Ian Sample on a find that mustn't be used as justification to alter the education system.

Ahead by a nose. Expansion of sinuses in large-snouted dinosaurs. Travis Park on some heady stuff.

A nose for value. For odour perception gene function, it's a case of use it or lose it. Carl Zimmer's explanation here is nothing to sniff at. Speaking of which:

Supplemental data. The intriguing story of vitamins, going way back. Great piece by Carl Zimmer.

Sins of the fathers. Dad's diet leaves a mark on kids.


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

Really enjoying Alok Jha's Antarctic research expedition journal. Looking forward to seeing how it all progresses. See the next morsels for examples of the voyage log:

The nausea & discomfort was a fitting start to our expedition.” An Antarctic journey begins, with Alok Jha and colleagues.

Everything's ship shape. Embarking on an Antarctic research expedition. Alok Jha & colleagues share a photo gallery.

I woke up this morning when I slid, head-first, into the wall at the end of my narrow bunk.” Quote from one of Alok Jha's excellent journal entries on his Antarctic expedition.

Lasting legacy. Looking for plastic, adrift in remote southern seas. Alok Jha reports from the Antarctic expedition.

Current affairs. Tracking the flow of water in the Southern Ocean. Alok Jha continues his report on an Antarctic expedition. Cool stuff.

A billion years ago, a huge rift nearly cleaved North America down the middle. Then it failed.” Quote from an outstanding piece by Jessica Marshall, on our geological history. Read of the week.

Shocking hypothesis. Earthquake aftershocks may spread like wildfires. Adrian Cho takes a look.

Hot stuff. Tracking mantle plumes to identify mega volcanoes. Alex Witze gets the dirt on this subject.

Colossal cavern. Massive magma chamber found. Rebecca Morelle digs into this find.

Deep secrets. How mysterious "Moho" forms beneath Earth's crust. Cool story, by Becky Oskin.

Can you dig it? Is mystery pock-marked landscape merely gopher excavations? Intriguing hypothesis, explored by Rebecca Morelle.

The big chill. There's a place on this planet that is really frickin' cold. Mark Fischetti on a place that gives you goosebumps.

No two alike. Spectacular snowflakes. For science! Joseph Stromberg shares the wonders of snow.

Cool running. The mysterious tracks of arctic meltwater, considered by Frontier Scientists.

Not so sweet. Huge quantities of artificial sweeteners in river system. Mind boggling find reported by Ivan Semeniuk.

Accept no substitutes. For many elements we use, there are no substitutes. Akshat Rathi on an important subject.

Lights out. Artificial lighting is destroying the night sky. Excellent feature by Mark Binelli. Read of the week.

Cloudy with a chance of Shelob. Mapping climate in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Adam Vaughan reports.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

A star is born. Baby neutron star. Phil Plait shows us.

Way out there. Exoplanet with a huge orbit. Phil Plait take a look.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star. Magnificent "miniatures" of the Universe. Beautiful pictures shared by Jason Major.

Far out! The wonderful worlds beyond our own solar system: exoplanets. Joe Hanson takes a look into space. View of the week.

It's elementary. Phosphorous forged by supernova. Chris Sasaki shows that we are, indeed, all stardust.

The sun & the heir. Searching for our star's siblings. Joseph Baneth Allen reports.

Round it goes. Plasma flows drive sun's rotation. Gabriel Popkin spins a good story.

Everything evolves to wisdom & peace—& stability—through big revolutionary events.” Quote by Alessandro Morbidelli from super piece by Corey Powell on the evolution of our solar system. Read of the week.

Thar she blows! Water spurts from Europa. Alex Witze reports.

Saturnian sculptors. Moons shape rings. Gorgeous.

As time goes by. 4 billion years of Martian history in 2 minutes. Awesome video shared by Caleb Scharf. View of the week.

There's shrinkage? Mercury getting tinier. Alex Witze on a surprising find.

Power of place. Earth sits precisely within the habitable zone in our solar system.


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

A matter of time. A phenomenal, elegant, profoundly illuminating look at deep time. Must view. View of the week.

All an illusion? Support for theory that Universe is a hologram. Mind blown by Ron Cowen's report here.

Time out. What if time had no beginning or end? Welcome to "rainbow gravity" universe. Clara Moskowitz on a topic that's out of this world.

The hole truth. Extracting energy from black holes would be risky business.

Catching a few rays. Cosmic rays, that is. Superb explainer by Ethan Siegel.

Knotty by nature? The amazing science behind fluid knots. Natalie Wolchover on a fascinating subject.

Rock on. Stones split water to yield hydrogen. This discovery hit pay dirt as Simon Redfern reports.

Missing link? Drawing a fascinating connection between quantum entanglement & wormholes. Katia Moskvitch provides a great explainer here.

Ironing out fine wine. Get rid of iron, keep you wine tasting fine for longer. Mmmm. Sci Curious uncorks the chemistry.

Goldilocks' mug? A cup that holds coffee at just the right temperature. Matt Shipman on a hot topic.

"Dude, whatcha do to my beer?!" "Cavitation, dude, cavitation." Maki Naro brings his outstanding comic skills to explain cool physics behind a beer-drinker's nightmare.

A matter of time. Cloning quantum information from the past. Mark Wilde's wild idea, reported by Paige Brown.

Ah, there you are. New algorithm finds you, even in untagged photo. Cool but kinda scary.

Had the time of their life? Did the early universe support life? Zeeya Merali looks at the evidence.

Special delivery? Did life-bearing debris from dino-killing asteroid impact travel to other planets? James Morgan looks at the evidence.

Domestic bliss? How much does the process of domestication really tell us about evolution? Anne Buchanan considers.

Troying with their affections. Helen of Troy, female promiscuity, & evolution. Great read by Eric Johnson.

Stepping it up. Step-like fitness trajectory observed in long-term evolution experiments. Richard Lenski on his long term evolution experiments. Speaking of which:

Getting better all the time. Even if environment constant, evolution endlessly hones fitness. Richard Lenski continues his "take-home message" series on his long term evolution experiments.

"To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed." Problem is, we don't become alarmed. Superb piece by Robert Krulwich.


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

Hopping a head? Might jumping genes shape the brain? Unbelievably cool, must read by Mo Costandi. Read of the week.

Imagine being born into a world of bewildering, inescapable sensory overload.” Quote by Maia Szalavitz from an awesome piece on the brain & autism.
Read of the week.

Nothing to sniff at? Can nasal spray oxytocin enter the brain? Better studies needed, as Neuro Skeptic explains.

Child's play? Infant cognition research is tricky, but it grows on you. Interesting subject, explored by Angela Saini.

When the drugs don't work. What failed general anaesthesia tells us about consciousness. Maggie Koerth-Baker does a great job investigating a timely topic.

Sleep on it. It could enable you to find the creative solution. Intriguing find, beautifully explained by Tom Stafford.

If you snooze, you lose. Literally. Hitting the snooze button does you no favours, as Monika Konnikova reports.

Skin in the game. Nudity offers social benefits. Gary Lewandowski shares the naked truth.

“We are all human; we all live & love.” Moving beyond constraints of 3 genders. Brilliant post by Barbara King.

Reigning LOLcats & Doges. The winningest Internet trends in animal speak. Cool consideration of the evolution of memes, by Annalee Newitz.

Do you mind? A deliciously irreverent look at "differences" in female vs male brains. Dean Burnett does a great job here.

I found his performance a little stiff. RoboThespian acts, does stand-up comedy. Yes, really. Betsy Morais reports.


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

Science, after all, is a quest, of the oldest and most enduring stories we have.” Quote by Michelle Nijhuis, from a wonderful piece on science writing. Read of the week.

The tension between chance & necessity.” Richard Lenski on life, research & everything. Interview by John Stanton-Geddes.

Keeping abreast of science. Great interview of Florence Williams, author of "Breasts", by Matt Shipman.

"Unemployable in today's academic system." Peter Higgs. Think about that. Love this interview with Peter Higgs. Decca Aitkenhead gleaned some amazing revelations.

Popularity contest? When personality & popularising affect get in the way of science. Great take by Razib Khan.

Reality check. What we think a science prof does may not be what a science prof does. Chris Buddle sets the record straight.

Carrots win. Most professorial performance management is fairly useless, but incentives work. Jonathan Jones explains.

What the hell should a science blog be?” Joe Palca has some great ideas about science blogging, as he revealed in his interview with Paige Brown.

Writing is a form of self-expression that bundles my creative outbursts to something others might enjoy.”Quote by Annelie Wendeberg from a superb piece on how we fail to teach proper science writing. Annelie Wendeberg's piece is also a sign off (for now) from SciLogs. Her super storytelling will be sorely missed.

No more tiers? Nobelist Randy Schekman opposes top tier "luxury" journals. A rather privileged position to take.

Tiering up. Assessing the impact of publishing in top tier journals. Eugenie Samuel Reich looks at the data.

Deep impact. Digging beneath the simplicity of impact factors. Excellent take on impact factors by always astute Stephen Curry. Speaking of which:

I tip my hat to him. But I hope he is not done with this issue.” Stephen Curry on Schekman & impact factors.

Tag team. Nature & reddit partner to improve science communication. Rebecca Rosen looks into it, by interviewing Ananyo Bhattacharya.

Teaming with ideas. Nature and reddit are partnering to share science. Cool insights into the partnership from Matt Shipman.

With Twitter, my academic world expanded.” Quote by Gozde Ozakinci from a great piece by James Coyne on value & advice on twitter use for Early Career Researchers (and everyone else in academia, really).

Deeper impact. Twitter may not change academic impact of research, but enhances social impact. Emily Darling on a key distinction between the roles social media can play in disseminating science.

Despite good intentions & initiatives, gender inequality is still rife in science.” Not good.
Excellent follow up here:

"Many researchers face uphill battle in getting citations...specifically, researchers who are women." Matt Shipman delves into a troubling report.

Seasons greetings! Check out Kate Whittington's lovely, interactive, festive, natural history sketchbook. View of the week.


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