Morsels For The Mind – 14/02/2014

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

This week, a zoo euthanised a healthy giraffe. This raised many issues. The best handling of these issues is found on the next four morsels, which nicely complement each other:

Don’t be drawn in by the hype and really think about the issues at hand before you decide.” Quote by Christie Wilcox from a brilliant, balanced piece on the events related to Marius the giraffe. Read of the week.

A zed & two nots. The story of Marius the giraffe suggests what zoos oughtn’t do. Superb, thoughtful consideration of a difficult topic, by Virginia Morell. Read of the week.

Tall order. Zoos must think carefully about alternatives to euthanising “surplus” giraffes. Excellent look at a fraught issue, by Jason Goldman. Read of the week.

Long & short of it. There’s another way to look at the sacrifice of a zoo giraffe. Irrespective of your view on Marius the giraffe, do read Kim Moynahan’s piece. Important issue. Read of the week.

Candid camera. Large chimpanzee population videoed. Damian Carrington reports.

Send policy packing? Plans to remove wolves’ protection met with howls of criticism, as Virginia Morell reports.

Packing it in? Genetically speaking, is iconic wolf pack on its last legs? Emma Marris takes a look.

Some folks say dogs are just wolves in dog’s clothing. They would be wrong. Because science. I wrote this.

On the plus side. Want a better bond with your dog? Think positive reinforcement. Great reporting on recent research, by Zazie Todd.

The rush of the mush. The changing nature of sled dogs. Fascinating read by Azara Mohammadi, via Frontier Scientists.

Gimme shelter? Looking at shelter dog stress levels. Nice analysis of research by Jessica Perry Hekman.

Getting a head of themselves. Jennifer Viegas reports on how unthinking dog breeding is causing horrible brain problems.

Love your dog? Keep them away from the valentine chocolate. It’s poison. Important post (particularly for dog companions) by Deborah Blum.

Trotting to a different beat. The mutation we selected that changed horses’ gait. Elizabeth Pennisi will bring you up to speed.

Life’s a yawn. For gelada monkeys. They use yawning to convey different information, as Laura Poppick reports.

No monkeying around? Climate change pushes lion tamarin monkeys to brink. John Platt on yet another dire situation.

Leg-sized penis? Testes = 1% of body weight? Mates while sleeping? Behold! The echidna! Christine Dell'Amore shares the latest knowledge on a curious critter.

Real standouts? Naturally-occurring albino & white animals. Mary Bates on some prominent creatures.

Something to chew on. Kate Gammon on the science of teething.

Whales…from…spaaaace! Latest vantage point for counting them is out of this world. Jonathan Amos takes a look.

Flukey finds? Counting whales via satellite has advantages…and drawbacks, as Henry Nicholls reveals.

Aye, robots. Animal populations are being infiltrated by robots. To help animals. Emily Anthes shows how.

Ahead by a whisker. Crowd-sourced photos help ID sea lions based on their snout hairs. Nick Evershed reports.

Silence is golden. For some babies it’s the key to survival. Great story by Robert Krulwich.

Agony & ivory. Since 2002, 65% of forest elephants slaughtered for tusks. John Platt shares some bad news.

The fine point. Poaching rhinos is wrong, but root of problem is TCM market for horn, as Sue Lloyd-Roberts reveals.

Getting the point. It takes a village to save rhinos. Wow! Super story by James Estrin, and mind-blowing photos by Ami Vitale. View of the week.

Ganging up. Crime syndicate gangs are decimating tiger populations. Sharon Guynup immerses herself in the gang culture, and comes up with a remarkable story. Read of the week.

Big gulp. Endangered eels are whale meals. Megan Gannon on a slippery subject.

What’s the big deal?! Sheep-sized rats?! Um, maybe in tens of millions of years… Tori Herridge takes a critical look at recent reporting of a strange story.

Headline fail: “Owl viciously attacks rabbit hunter." Better: “Hunter invades owl territory, steals prey, loses.”

Researchers..gather their data by driving a pickup truck at..90km/h, directly at birds in the road.” Quote by Philip Ball on research ultimately aimed at *helping* birds. Yes, really.

A wing & a prayer. Sighting of rare manumea raises hopes that species still has breeding population. John Platt on a hopeful find.

Language of love? Did sexual selection give us voice? Answers from birds. Super feature by Kate Douglas.

All singing, all dancing spectacle. The courtship practices of the lyrebird. Matt Simon continues his series on amazing animals.

2-for-1 deal. Grrl Scientist describes the curious case of a fraternal twin chimaera in a one body.

Like a bird on a wire. Actually many birds on a wire. And likely unlike anything you’ve seen before. Grrl Scientist describes and shares a beautiful video. View of the week.

Something to crow about. This corvid is genius! Must view video. View of the week.

Caws & effects. Crows are not so bird-brained. Fun explainer by Ziya Tong.

Hatching a plot. Susan Milius on how embryos in eggs reposition to get comfy.

Leapin’ lizards! Darren Naish showcases marvellous monitors.

Colourful character. Panther chameleon. Amazing photos by Pierre-Yves Babelon

Dragon quest. Darren Naish looks at an amazing diversity of dragons.

Out on a limb. Crocodiles. They climb trees. Yes, really, as Stephanie Pappas reveals.

Terror branches out. Crocs climb trees. Yow! Nadia Drake on why you need to keep a lookout at all times.

Highway to shell. Mapping where fisheries pose big risks to sea turtles. Virginia Gewin reports on a conservation challenge.

Shell games. The disappearance & reappearance of Darwin’s tortoise. Great story by Henry Nicholls.

Good news, bad news. Using genomics to crack down on illegal pet trade finds new “dragon”. Nsikan Akpan reports.

Pity the piranha? It’s not what it’s made out to be, as Amy Deacon reveals. No reel surprise? “Trophy” fish sizes are getting smaller. Catch of the day photos prove it, as Robert Krulwich shows.

Keep it down! Human-derived mechanical noise messes up feeding in fish, as Felicity Muth reports.

Out of sight, out of time? Puneet Kollipara on how ocean acidification could impair fish vision.

No bone to pick. Shark skeleton CT scans. Awesome pic, shared by Sarah Keartes.

Oh nothing. Just a fish driving a car. That is all. Douglas Main reveals how it is done. View of the week.

Inner beauty. Of fish, by Adam Summers.

Getting in shape. Katherine Harmon describes how cephalopods flex muscles to change skin texture.

High flyers. Literally. Sarah Zielinski looks at some critters that fly at great altitude.

Nothing to sniff at. Elizabeth Preston tells why smelly animals are loners.

Animal attraction. Creatures in black & white. Gorgeous portraits by Lukas Holas.


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

Flights of fancy. Joseph Bennington Castro looks onto how dragonflies hook up.

Blind ambition. Beetle can't see when runs. Uses antennae. Ed Yong looks into a great story.

Life is sweet. When your feet sense sugar. Like a bee does.

Spidey sense is tingling? Black widows figure out just how much to fight back. Amazing arachnid action, nicely reported by Felicity Muth.

Quite a name to live up to! Beth Skwarecki on the wew beetle named after Darwin and David Sedaris.

Arthropod awesomeness! Chris Buddle’s picks of incredible insect & spectacular spider links:.

Creatures of love. Not just a Talking Heads song. Critters & their ailments that you can get from your lover. Cameron Webb on a not-so-great love connection.

Bugged by bugs? It’s likely that others primed you for it. Excellent post on the psychology behind fear of insects, by  Gwen Pearson.

At the end you’ll also feel a bit hopeful. We can make things better. There is still time to act.” Quote by Gwen Pearson on a wonderful Jilli Rose animation based on “tree lobster” conservation. View of the week.


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

The fossil record is quite simply heaving with transitions, & any statement to the contrary is clearly incorrect.” Quote by Dave Hone from brilliant, must read on transitional fossils. Read of the week.

Rockin’ in the real world. Fantastic fossil find. Super research blogging by Jean-Bernard Caron, via Royal Ontario Museum. Read of the week.

Fantastic fossil find. Cambrian “motherlode”. Great story by Ivan Semeniuk, accompanied by  cool pictures.

Rock on! Jerry Coyne on an avalanche of Cambrian fossils.

Life everlasting? 252M yrs ago, in a mere 60k years, 90% of all life was extinguished. Becky Oskin looks back.

Shell shock. Surprising emergence of turtle fossil tells evolutionary tale. Fascinating little story, by Andy Farke.

See saw. Dimetrodon’s serrated teeth, nicely described by Jennifer Viegas.

Gee, whiz! Dinosaurs peed a lot. Brian Switek explains how we know this.

A colourful past. Legacy of birds’ plumage hues goes back to feathered dinosaurs. Cool story by Helen Thompson.

Colourful characters. Early hues of fur & feather. Dan Vergano casts an eye back.

Born free. Ichthyosaurs had live births. Christine Dell'Amore looks at the fossil evidence.

Marvellous mammals. Brian Switek on some awesome ancient animals.

Family ties? Are 800k-yr-old footprints from a family? Or is it wishful thinking? Barbara King addresses the questions, wonderfully.

Matters at hand. Are ancient artists’ handprints those of women? Great story by Virginia Hughes.

The following six morsels tell the remarkable story & issues surrounding the genome sequence of the “Clovis boy”. Great reads on important subject.

A life less ordinary. Genome of young boy from 12600 yrs ago tells tale of 1st Americans. Super story by Catherine Brahic. Read of the week.

A bridge across time. Genome of Clovis boy supports Bering land bridge origin for Americans. Charles Choi reports.

Remains of the day. Ewen Callaway describes how ancient American genome raises ethical issues around his burial.

Notions of identity & origin are more complex than lines of descent drawn in DNA.” How to interpret the Clovis boy genome sequence. Important.

“He’s kind of like a King Tut in a way.” Shane Doyle on the Clovis boy whose genome was sequenced. Great interview with Catherine Brahic.

People think that there’s a DNA test that can prove if somebody is Native American or not. There isn’t.” Quote by Kim Tallbear from an excellent, thought-provoking interview with Linda Geddes. Read of the week.


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

A matter of time. The remarkable durability of bristlecone pine. Great read by Ted MacRae.

A flowering of thought. Plants helped Darwin’s ideas on evolution take root. Superb bit of history, beautifully described by Henry Nicholls. Read of the week.

Message in a bottle. Story of transatlantic travel told in bottle gourd’s genome. Superb story, by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

Leave the lid up. “Toilet plant” needs all faeces it can get.

Getting the drift. Gourds floated from Africa to Americas. Lizzie Wade looks at an incredible voyage.

Peak performance. Tree roots on mountains act like a climate thermostat.

One for all. Single protein controls disease resistance and flowering in plants.

Rocky row. Largest trees sit atop rocks with best chemistry. Becky Oskin takes a look.

Gee whiz! The science behind that asparagus-urine smell thing.

The perks of biodiversity? More & better coffee. Bob Grant on how to have a java ‬that's all 'round good.

Calling a company evil is easy. Say something enough times & everyone thinks it’s the truth.”  Quote by David Friedberg from an excellent, nuanced piece by Keith Kloor on Monsanto.


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

Inside scoop. Andrew Anthony describes the perspective gained by having one’s gut microbes sequenced.

Sitting on your investment. The first faeces bank. Great idea. Yes, really. Erika Engelhaupt delvers the square poop on this matter.

You light up my life. Aglow with romance. Bioluminescent valentine. Nice! Mark Martin shares some romantic science-art.


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)

Flash of insight. “Mitoflashes” predict longevity. Brendan Borrell takes a look.

It’s a small world. Marvellous microscopy.

Damage control. DNA transcription coupled with repairAndrew Han on a remarkable molecular mechanism.

Historical hookups. Genomes hold evidence of migrations, invasions & trade. Daniel Cossins looks into it.

Formula for success? If it’s baby formula, it might be worth determining if it should be tailored to baby’s sex. Interesting research featuring Katie Hinde, reported by Ian Sample.

If Salk had refused to vaccinate his sons, would other parents have been so willing to vaccinate theirs?” Quote by Cassandra Willyard from an excellent read on Jonas Salk using the polio vaccine on his own son.

We should be aiming to save lives, not create as many cancer patients as we possibly can.” Superb writing by Christie Aschwanden on an important topic - mammography.

Your DNA is showing. Is retaining genetic privacy a lost cause? Probably. Rose Eveleth tells why.

Interesting sequence of events. Interesting events in DNA sequencing, covered by Beth Marie Mole.


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

Getting the drift. Research aims to understand snow & avalanches. Great video feature by Victoria Gill.

Current affairs. Flowing ocean. Wow! Robert Gonzalez shares the view.

Fire & ice. Shape remarkable landscapes.

Not cool at all. As arctic warms, new diseases take hold. Toxoplasma in belugas?! Dire situated reported by Jonathan Amos.

Darwin rocked! Dana Hunter reminds us that it’s important to remember Darwin's contributions to geology as well.

The more extreme an experience is, the more deeply it effects one’s beliefs...” Quote by Maria Konnikova from a super read on impact of heat waves & polar vortices on climate perspective.

There was a mummified hand, like it was waiting to be held. It was 34 years on, & I was holding my brother’s hand.” Quote from an amazing, affecting read by Ed Douglas on a poignant side-effect of glacial retreat. Read of the week.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Way out there. Galaxies 13B light years away. Amazing.

Everyone gets the blues? This galaxy has no blue stars…yet. Ethan Siegel on something that's way out there.

Ironing things out. Iron reveals 13.6B yr old star. Stefan Keller looks into it.

Lord of the ring. Prometheus tugs on Saturn’s F ring. Jason Major shows the evidence.

Spot the difference.  Phil Plait describes the Sun’s massive blemish.


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

Go with the flow. Treating the universe as a fluid to uncover Big Bang’s secrets. Natalie Wolchover on a fascinating approach to cosmology. Read of the week.

The hole truth. Did Hawking really eliminate black holes? Um, not so much. Excellent dissection of a timely topic, by Matthew Francis. Read of the week.

Night moves. Neutrinos caught shape shifting in the dark. Lisa Grossman on things that go bump in the night.

Catch the wave. The wave equation that is. It changed our understanding of most everything, as Alok Jha explains.

Greater transparency. Illuminating explainer on why you can see through glass, by Mark Miodownik.

Oh what a tangled Web we’ve woven. Rachel Nuwer finds that it is tough to find a place where you can truly disconnect.

Building on experience. Using cues from environment, robots make castles. Hal Hodson constructs a great story.

Getting it together. Working like a termite ensemble, robots build stuff. Nadia Drake reports on some very cool research.

Where the wild things are? How best to conserve nature. Even conservationists disagree, as Amy Mathews Amos describes.

It’s the wild, rambunctious product of genes & evolution, competition & symbiosis.” Quote by Nadia Drake from an awesome post on “nature at its most raw & captivating”, the Amazon jungle.

It may have been Darwin Day, but don’t forget about Wallace! Lovely tribute by Kate Whittington.

Do you believe in evolution? “No, I don’t. I accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution, belief isn’t necessary." Quote by Ryan Ellingson, handly defusing the “big criticisms” of evolution. Great read.

Odds & ends. Were we destined to be here, or is it all just chance? Great reflection by Jon Butterworth.


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

What were they thinking? Looking at brains in action. Nice overview featuring the collected talents of Kate Yandell, Kerry Grens, Jef Akst, and Tracy Vence.

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about kissing but were afraid to ask. Awesome video by Joe Hanson. View of the week.

Surely love isn’t a human invention." Excellent interview of Ken Kraaijeveld on animal courtship, by Amy Maxmen.

A touching tale. How stimulating the brain alters the sense of touch. Fascinating story by Virginia Hughes.

Watch out. Being watched changes our behaviour. But not chimps. Fascinating observations, beautifully connected by Jason Goldman.

The hunger games. Joseph Stromberg explains How cannabinoids give you the munchies.

Chrissie Hynde was right, there is a thin line between love & hate, as Melanie Tannenbaum reveals.

Brain death is a tragic topic where neuroscience, ethics & philosophy collide.” Excellent treatment of a sensitive subject by Christian Jarrett.

Touchy topic. Epigenome modification changes pain sensitivity. Bethany Brookshire on a sensitive subject. Literally.

Placebo sleep? Yep, it’s a thing. As Tom Jacobs explains, you are more rested if you're told you had good shut eye. Might there be "nocebo sleep" also - feeling exhausted because you were told you had a restless night? Hmm. Watch this space.

Say what? Chatting to babies boosts their brain power. Ian Sample reports on latest findings.

The kids are alright? What’s the “right” amount to praise children? Claudia Hammond on getting the balance right.

We can work it out. Figuring out the neuroscience behind Beatlemania. Jordan Gaines takes a look.

Topic of note. How big leaps in pitch, like in “Over the Rainbow”, catch our ear. Cool story by Philip Ball.

Why DO we give flowers to profess our love? Because evolution! I wrote this.

The power of place. On Muir, Plato, & walking in nature. Wonderful musing by Evan Edwards. Read of the week.

We’re better, natured. Great discoveries await outdoors. Lovely post & drawings by Samantha Taylor. Read of the week.

Creature comfort. Caring for animals may help kids develop sympathy & empathy. Excellent look at some recent research, by Zazie Todd.

Obstinate cheerfulness makes illness & deprivation easier to bear, reduces the damage they cause & postpones death.” Quote by Patrick Rabbitt on ageing, death & depression. Lots of food for thought.

Good things come in threes. Like area codes. They have cultural value. Awesome look at an everyday topic, by Megan Garber. Read of the week.


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

He provided us with a lens that irrevocably changed the way we see & understand life on Earth.Darwin changed the way we see the world. It’s a vision worth sharing!  I wrote this.

Minding p raises Qs. Stats darling, the p-value, gets a comeuppance. Regina Nuzzo did a great job reporting on one of the most intensely discussed issues of the week. See the comments also. Read of the week.

The evolution will be televised. The role of TV in communicating science. Excellent & important post by Matt Shipman. Read of the week.

H1N1 is swine flu mixed with bird flu..for it to exist, pigs had to mate with birds.” Um, no. Quote from an excellent, thoughtful post by Kim Moynahan on the challenges of science communication.

You’ve got to believe? Belief, religion & science. Michael Ruse's take. Terry McGlynn's take. Thought-provoking reads.

What’s next? Pondering the career paths of science PhDs. Thoughtful piece by Athene Donald. Also has good comments.

For many of us working in the field, the obviousness of the low numbers..has neutralised any astonishment.” Quote by Athene Donald on from an excellent piece on a report on female representation in academic STEM.

The thing that goes bing. Setting up new research equipment. Great advice by Isabel Webb.

Butterflies take flight amidst a web of lines & helices…the mathematical complexity of nature starts to make sense.” Quote by Liz Stinson on Rafael Araujo’s mind-blowing fusion of maths, natural history & artistry.

Drawing on experience. Lovely cartoon on interactions with non-human animals, by Connie Sun, shared by Robert Krulwich.

Seeing is believing. Year's best science visualisations. Simply stunning. Must view. View of the week.

I’m not a LOL sort of person, but “Valentine's Day cards for scientists” by Dean Burnett made me do just that! Awesome!


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