Morsels for the mind – 13/9/2013

14 September 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!

If you do nothing else, make sure to check out the “Reads of the week”.


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

“Who are we to try to hook the Leviathan?” Melville, whales & the march of science. A work of genius by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

Hearing things. Echolocation is such a sound solution that evolution found out how to do it the same way, twice, and independently. Elizabeth Pennisi, Ruth Williams, and Erika Check Hayden all converged on this wonderful story of convergent evolution.

Seasoned travellers. Orang-utans plan journeys in advance, and let others know where they are off to. Seth Borenstein and Jennifer Viegas tell of a fascinating, and challenging, find.

It’s a matter of pride. The value of cuddling to lions. Jason Goldman on big cat bonding.

Who’s having the last laugh? Rats. For science. Mary Bates superb treatment of this topic is no joke. Amazing.

All the right moves. For dogs, interactive movement is an attention grabber.

Winning whiskers. Seal facial hair picks up good vibrations. Alex Theg’s first blog post for PLOS gets the seal of approval.

Fate is seal. Tracking rescued seal pups’ return to the sea. Wonderful feel-good story & photo essay by Nadia Drake. Speaking of which…

A whale of a time. Remarkable numbers of whales congregate to dine on krill & anchovies. Nadia Drake with yet another feel-good story & photo essay.

Bray, eat, love. Natural history of wild donkeys & asses. Darren Naish trots out a surprisingly cool topic.

The mane thing. Horses honed as humans traded along the Silk Road.

Much at steak. The dilemmas raised by eating, or not eating, horse meat. Bora Zivokovic masterfully handles a contentious topic.

The big chill. Rats can be taken put into a novel hibernation state and taken to very low temperatures. Laura Sanders shares a cool story.

Oh poop. Wild mice can’t afford to avoid faeces.

Not so nutty? Smaller testes, better dad.

Size matters. Evolution of giants & dwarfs on islands.

Grey zone. The status of grey wolves raises many questions.

Black & white case? With panda conservation, there are grey areas.

I would walk 500 miles, & I would walk 680 more. Amazing trek of GPS-tracked prairie chicken. Shaunacy Ferro talks the walk.

The pane of death. Challenges of designing windows that don’t kill birds.

Makes good scents. Birds sniff out a good mate.

Home tweet home. Beautiful birds’ nests.

Escape claws. It’s the crab fight club strategy.

Home brood. Where starfish babies come from.

Surf’s up. The challenges of being a beach-dwelling isopod.

Terrifically translucent. Snails residing deep underground.

Seeing is believing? Extinct animal sighting that probably weren’t. Nicholas Lund illuminates the unseen.

Wild night life. Desert wildlife after dark.

Better natured. Glorious nature photography.

Anyone home? Non-human animals take residence in abandoned houses.


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

Building a buzz. How evolution honed bees’ flight muscles.

Aristocratic aria. Why a butterfly sings like a queen ant. From an awesome, relatively new blog on things related to ants, AntyScience.

Parasitic protectors. Farmer ants defended by mercenary parasites. Ed Yong takes a look at the lifetime during wartime at our feet.

Mysterious males. Enigmatic male ants. Brendon Boudinot sheds light on a remarkable subject.

Friendly skies. Bees mate in flight. Great video footage.

Leaf it alone. Best. Camouflage. Strategy. Ever. Great stuff from Real Monstrosities – wonderful website for funky critters.

Phenomenal fungal farmers. Amazing ants.

Fatal attraction. Spider courtship.

Oh, what a tangled web they weave. Are cribellate spiders the creators of mysterious silk-fenced towers? Great post by Charley Eiseman.

Multiplying error. Mathematics of moving pollinating honeybees around may add up to disaster. Ferris Jabr takes a look at the overall equation.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Dig this. Relatively unsung fossils advanced our understanding of dinosaurs. Wonderful exploration of how we come to know dinosaurs, by Brian Switek. Read of the week.

Making light work of it. Evolution filled pterosaur bone with air.

Went flat out. Flat-tailed mosasaurs swam swiftly.

Claws & effects. Claw marks could be prominent in the fossil record. Tigers tell us so. Nice forensic palaeontology explained by Andy Fark and Brian Switek.


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

Pretty parasite. The plant that lives off plants. Sarah Shailes shares the nasty side of some plants.

Food for thought. A call for a rethink on genetically modified crops. Pam Ronald hits the mark here.

Pulling the wool over their eyes. Middle Ages’ legend of “vegetable lamb” of Tartary. Becky Crew on a fascinating interpretation of cotton.

Growth industry? Should botanical gardens help plants migrate with changing climate? Kate Whittington roots out a contentious topic.


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

“Sometimes when everyone else sleeps I can’t resist the run.” Of belly buttons & a passion for science. A simply awesome post on the workings of science by Rob Dunn. Read of the week.

One love. Deadly fungus reproduces unisexually. Tanya Lewis and Elizabeth Norton on a fungus that goes it alone.

Home alone? You’ve always got microbial roommates. Veronique Greenwood took a look around her house.

Skinny genes? Faeces-borne microbes can make mice slim. Brian Owens and Meghan Rosen provided this scoop on poop.

“Mindless bacteria were killing each other billions of years before we came on the scene.” Richard Lenski on the take home message related to a must-read paper. Rich has recently entered the world of blogging, and the outcome is predictably fantastic.

Taming the savage yeast. Helpful fungi have lead domesticated lives for long time. Jennifer Frazer on the raisers of bread and brewers of beer.

Fierce foes. Are pathogenic fungi the microbes we really need to worry about?

“Ceaseless & unyielding, evolution shapes & reshapes the fabric of this world.” Beautifully explained exploration of the evolution of the flu virus, by Sedeer el-Showk.

Fear not. Rabies is fascinating, but hydrophobia isn’t why.

Fighting fire with fire. Designing good bacteria to combat bad bacteria.


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)

Inside job. Adult cells converted to embryonic stem cells inside living mice. Heidi Ledford and Rachel Rettner got the inside scoop on this story.

Gee whiz! Urine provides a veritable stream of chemicals. Dan Nosowitz and Alexandra Zabjek leaked the news.

High shot. A vaccine to counter cocaine use.

All in sequence. Time to ensure realistic ethical questions are applied to genome data. Mark Henderson highlights future challenges.


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

Explosive discovery. The world’s largest volcano, lurking deep in the ocean. Alexandra Witze plumbs this story’s depths.

Dunes tunes. Solving the mystery of singing sands.

It’s monumental. Our monuments commemorate our history, & the geology of our planet. A landmark piece by Joe Hanson.

Skating on thin ice. Marked arctic ice decline. Amazing data, worrying trend.

Watermelon, man. James Randerson highlights a useful metaphor that underscores a problem in climate change discourse.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Far out! It looks like Voyager 1 *finally* entered interstellar space. Yes, really. But it’s not left the solar system yet. A lot of fabulous writers took this topic to great heights this week: Andrew Grant, Adam Mann, Rebecca Rosen, Megan Garber, Ron Cowen, Michael Slezak and Victoria Jaggard. It’s may be way out there, but it’s local legacy won’t soon be forgotten – stunning pictures of our solar system. Reads of the week.

Super slinky. Black hole ejects a cosmic coil.

Brilliant bizarre butterfly. In space. Amazing and surprising.

Marvellous mash-up. Brown dwarf = star-planet hybrid. Bill Andrews on big ideas about small stars.

Born slippy. Mystery birth of free-floating planets.

Terrific twin. The Sun has one.

Riding out the storm. The solar system is caught in a celestial tempest. Lisa Grossman provides the forecast.

Celestial stealth. A comet, hidden in plain sight.

Dramatis personæ. Of Greeks, Trojans, Centaurs & happenings around Uranus. Charles Choi and Caleb Scharf spun a good tale.

Curious crater. Marvellous Martian geography.

Is there anybody out there? New equation may help predict likelihood of inhabited planets.

Out of this world? Does Earth’s chemical heritage point to life’s origins elsewhere?

“The sidewalk astronomer is a small embodiment of larger principles.” Ann Finkbeiner has a wonderful story about peering into the sky in public.


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

“Once the candle is extinguished, science can still be just as illuminating.” Wonderful ‘waxbows’ photographed by Grover Shrayer and poetically explained by Kyle Hill. Speaking of which…

Up in smoke. What it takes to vaporise a person. What every villain needs to know. Great explainer by Kyle Hill.

Weight for it… “Fat” gravity may help explain Universe’s expansion.

Oh G! Gravity is having constant troubles. Adam Mann and Katia Moskvitch covered this weighty matter.

“Few physicists have ever really felt comfortable with quantum theory.” Philip Ball discusses the reforging of physics.

“Now we can say his proposal wasn’t so crazy after all.” Hofstadter’s fractal butterfly.

In the blink of an eye. With chemistry it’s “Now you don’t see it, now you do”.

Hot stuff. Droplets skate around due to Leidenfrost effect. As usual, Joe Hanson brings us the hottest science.

Here’s the kicker. Field goal accuracy dependent on the ball holder. Matt Shipman scores a touchdown with this story of football physics.

Raise a little shell. Mathematics explains formation of seashell spines. Daniel Cossins shares the solution.

Can’t stop us now. Have humans finished evolving? No. No. No. No. Ian Rickard, Holly Dunford, Barbara King, & John Hawks are unanimous in their excellent responses to this question.


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

“Celebrities provide our primate minds with stimulating gyrations of hierarchy & affiliation.” Robert Sapolsky in a brilliant piece on the magnetism of celebrities. Read of the week.

Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying. How your eyes trick your ears.

Not the way you remember it? Your memories are reinventions of what was.

It all adds up. How the brain keeps tabs on quantities.  Count on Mo Costandi for great coverage on brainy stuff.

Matter of taste. Without tasting something, your brain can imagine its flavour.

Catching a buzz. How Szechuan peppers make nerves tingle. Helen Fields and Tia Ghose deal with a hot topic.

Touching tale. Just where are our erogenous zones? Neuroskeptic and Tracy McVeigh got into the zone in their exploration of this subject.

Senses working overtime. There’s a sixth sense – for numbers.

Negative influence. Politics messes with numeracy skills. Hmm.

Clean delivery? When pregnant women “nest”, it’s actually about organising, not cleaning. Jo Marchant delivers the science on this topic.

Give a little bit. Debunking myths about philanthropy, by Eric Johnson.

Altogether now. Will a neuroscience revolution be powered by crowdsourcing?

Cool for cats. The psychology of felines & the humans they share their lives with.


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

Aye, spy. Astounding tale of a disgraced herpetologist, taxonomist, ogre, spy. A must read, fascinating profile of a complicated scientist, and another scientist’s aims to understand him better, by Brendan Borrell. Read of the week.

Citizen see, citizen do. Sharing discovery is key to citizen science action. Important post on how to make a great idea actually work, by Caren Cooper.

Living for the city. In urban environments, life emerges from the sidewalk’s cracks. Wonderful outreach work by Molly Steinwald, shared by Greg Hanscom.

140 character building. Shaping young biologists using twitter. John Romano on how he uses social media in a meaningful way.

Natural wonder? Do modern ecologists really need to know natural history? Thought provoking post by Tom Webb.

Wild pitch. When a science PR pitch is thrown wide of the mark. Matt Shipman and Bug Girl share a doozy.

It’s all good. Good advice on science advising applies to science writing broadly. Athene Donald on the write stuff.

“Making a complicated topic accessible is a talent…to be rewarded, not penalized.” Sarah Boon is spot on here.

Go with the flow? The “academic pipeline” isn’t the only route post-PhD. Sci Curious is absolutely correct in this awesome piece that underscores that the tenure stream is not the only route after the PhD – there are many alternatives. This theme was amplified by Zen Faulkes.

What’s the beef? Lab-grown meat raises issues that some may find unsavoury. Julian Baggini tastefully handles the ethics of this timely topic.

“Fatherhood is the most epic thing I’ve experienced.” Alexis Madrigal’s wonderful ode to the joys of becoming a dad.

That was then, this is now. Journalism project follows science stories that are decades old.

“Science is the one culture that’s truly global.” Martin Rees, on the value of science.

“To know that you will never know everything, but you never stop wanting to.” The beauty of science, by the incomparable Robert Krulwich.


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