Morsels For The Mind – 14/03/2014

Every day we provide you with Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast 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

Whale of a run. “Stampeding” dolphins, via Dolphin Safari. Yow!

Tangled up in blue. But safe in red & orange. Emily Gertz on how rope colour helps whales avoid entanglement.

Aping the ape. Chimps will yawn when humans yawn. We’re special & not so, as Carl Engelking reveals.

Sharing feelings? What does contagious yawning tell us about empathy? Outstanding treatment of an observation that's far from boring, by Jason Goldman. Read of the week.

One of the family? Sometimes non-human animals adopt unrelated individuals. Why? Jason Goldman delves into the question.

To boldly go… Helps baboons with social learning, as Mary Bates reveals.

Ready to rumble. Elephants rumble distinct alarms for bees vs humans.

The better to hear you with. Virginia Morell finds elephants have an ear for differences in human voices.

If you give a Maasai man a lift in your car, the elephants behave in a different way around you.” Quote by Karen McComb, interviewed by Victoria Gill on the amazing skills of elephants.

Ear & present danger. Carl Engelking explains how elephants distinguish age, gender & dialect in human voices to ID herd risk.

Herd of hearing. African elephants delineate human voices - discern those of danger - as Matt Kaplan explains.

Voicing concern. Jason Goldman on how elephants distinguish age, gender, dialect in human voices, and act accordingly. Read of the week.

Elephants never forget. And can tell humans apart. Endless wonders, perfectly described by Ed Yong.

Dog tired? Not those that ran the Iditarod. They’re finely tuned athletes. They burn 12k cals / day! Laura Nielsen looks at remarkable canines, for Frontier Scientists.

Much ado about mushing. The Dodo has experts take a critical look at Iditarod dogsled race.

Frank Zappa here: "Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow." Me: here. I wrote this.

Dealing with crap. What to do with accumulating dog poo? Thoughtful assessment of current approaches, by Susan Freinkel.

A cat of a different stripe? Mystery big cats a little less mysterious. Intriguing piece of natural history detective work, by Darren Naish.

Some pig! Swine smarts. as Andy Wright reveals, they're more intelligent than many would care to think.

All in the family? Is incest ok when it involves saving a species? Amazing story of rhino conservation, by Elizabeth Kolbert.

King of pain? Male mice will approach another male in pain, but only if he’s top mouse. Felicity Muth on an interesting find.

Amazing armadillos. Armoured wonders. In comic form! Ethan Kocak's comic-fied biology is just perfect. View of the week.

Pangolins ≠ medicine. Trade in endangered mammal for TCM “at shocking levels”. Douglas Main on a dire situation.

Amphibious audio. Spotted seals hear well in & out of water. There's a risk from human-made noise, finds Sarah Zielinski.

Pretty pinnipeds. Wonderful ribbon seals. Bec Crew shares the wonder.

Our plastic = sea lions’ slow death. These were rescued. Perhaps no trash in oceans better?

Oceans are a toilet bowl for our waste.Chelsea Rochman on the plastic pollution accumulating in ocean animals.

Bright lights, big problems. Artificial light messes up fruit bats. Could alter seed dispersal. Mark Kinver explains how this could mess up forest regeneration.

UV light transmitted to animals’ retinas. Hence, danger from power lines?! Um, hypothesis at best. Right, Damian Carrington?

That makes scents. Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato on how skunks got their smell.

Hold on! Corvids are able to delay gratification depending on payoff. Awesome! Jason Goldman in fine form in his new home at io9.

Forgoing temptation. Crows exhibit restraint, finds Jyoti Madhusoodanan.

Incredible irruption. What huge numbers of snowy owls tell us. Super video, shared by Grrl Scientist.

Giving a hoot. Determining causes, & consequences, of snowy owl “invasion”. Meredith Rizzo on the owl irruption.

Razzle dazzle. Thomas Sumner on how a bird bends light to woo females.

Delightful divas.  Bethany Brookshire on female birds' tuneful history.

Parrot pedestrian. Kakapo goes walkabout. Mary Bates on one wonderful bird.

Fantastic flight. Beauty of flying birds. Ray Hennessy's photography is simply stunning.

Not so black & white. Penguins need knitted sweaters?! Um, really? Some helpful fact checking, by Mike Dickison.

Whose side are you on? Birds show “handedness” (wingededness?).

Getting it right. And left. Budgies show handedness (wingedness?). And that’s good for flocks, as Elizabeth Preston explains.

Imagine walking the Earth after 182 years. Jonathan has. He lives today on St. Helena. Superb story, by Sally Kettle. Read of the week.

Astounding alliance. Algae & salamander team up. Brandon Keim on a remarkable partnership.

Bad trade. Millions of amphibians are shipped around the world. It’s spreading lethal disease. Sarah Zielinski on a worrying issue.

Caught out. Tagged sharks reveal marvellous migrations…& terrible fates. Paul Rincon takes a look.

Sharks. Bourbon. If you need any more reasons to read this piece, it’s also awesome. Great story by Mika McKinnon. Read of the week.

Deeply helpful. Fishy odour molecule sets fish depth limit, finds Jonathan Amos.

I feel your pain? Do lobsters, octopuses & other invertebrates have pain? Excellent look at the question, by Tamar Stelling.

A real pain? When reporting on pain (& other) research, how to deal with non-replication? Important consideration, by Zen Faulkes.

Tremendous triops. Africa Gomez brings the facts on a curiously cool crustacean.

Worming their way into trouble. Earthworms are invasive. That’s a problem for forests, as Bruce Stutz reports.

Dined to death. Sea cucumbers are going extinct because they’re a “delicacy”. Jason Goldman lets you know why you should care.

Of duck penises, gecko toe-pads, & Gila monster venom. Ryan Jacobs on the “value” of “frivolous” science.


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

Never leaves the body of her host; she only sticks her genital region out to mate.” And this is before things get bizarre. Quote by Gwen Pearson on the lovely lives of parasites with mouthless females & males with stabby penises. Read of the week.

Paper chase. Sean McCann on the amazing sex lives of paper wasps. Read of the week.

Taking a stab at sex. Of penis fencing & love darts. Some species really have it bad, as James Gilbert shows.

A little get-together. Alex Wild looks at social spiders hanging out.

Reigning in the rain. Paul Manning on how ant queens stay high & dry when flood waters rise.

Life blossoms. Remarkable insect diversity on 2 species of flower. Ed Yong describes a remarkable find.

The enemy of my enemy. Ed Yong looks at a spider that avoids an spider-eating spider by taking refuge among spider-eating ants.

Allure of death. Male spider finds male corpse scent attractive, as Colin Barras reports.

Catching a lift. Pseudoscorpions ride on beetles, as Ross Piper shows.

Oh Beehave! Algorithm models bee colony behaviour.  Paul Bisceglio finds that it could help sustain hives.


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

Well over a tonne & longer than your 3-seater sofa.” Ancient crocs were cool, but wouldn't make great house guests. Mark Witton shows why.

The whole tooth, & nothing but the tooth. A megamouth shark known only by its teeth gets a name. Brian Switek takes a look at it.

Nanuq of the north. Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, a small, Arctic Tyrannosaur! Gemma Tarlach on a cool discovery!

Pole position. Alex Witze on the first tyrannosaur found in far north.

A weighty matter. How stegosaurs supported their plates. Super “story-behind-the-paper” by Heinrich Mallison.

A shore thing. Before whales populated oceans, their ancestors hung out in the surf, as Travis Park reveals.

What was its porpoise? Jennifer Viegas describes an ancient cetacean’s wicked underbite.

Hearing things. Carl Zimmer on how whales evolved echolocation.

Sound solution. Brian Switek on how whale echolocation evolved.

Getting sea legs. Ancient sloths took to water. Nadia Drake shows how they did it.

Say cheese! Mummies from 3800 years ago buried with well-aged cheese. Tia Ghose looks into it.

Rock on! Citizen scientists dig into palaeontology. Great stuff, shared by Christopher Dean.

Can you dig it? Citizen Science meets palaeontology. Awesome stuff, by Christopher Dean.


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

Crimson tide. Sarah Zielinski on how plants converge on red blooms for honeyeaters.

Phenomenal flora. Plant perfection, by Dominic Dähncke.

The roots of success. Sarah Shailes on how orchids need fungi associated with roots to grow.

On the clock. Brooke Borel shows that plants pick the time for their battles.

Accept all imitations. As their name implies, Mimetes imitate. A nice reflection on plants & life by Tim Entwisle.

Seeing the forest for the trees. Tribute to Evelyn’s influential ‘Sylva’ on its 350th anniversary, by Gabriel Hemery.

Landscape architects. Humans shaped tropical forests 11k years ago. So says pollen! Josie Garthwaite shows how.

Not so sweet. John Platt on how unsustainable cultivation puts honeybush tea at risk.

The fruits of our labours. How GM saved the production of papaya. Excellent.

Purity stems from this. How water can be filtered using a tree branch. Brilliant bit of "technology", explained by Jennifer Chu.

No easy fixes. Fraught history of Haber Bosch & nitrogen fixation. Fascinating story, by Anne Buchanan.


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

Needs of many outweigh needs of few? Altruistic, suicidal algae. Elizabeth Preston on some remarkable biology.

A big deal. Viruses with huge genomes changing our view of life. Excellent story, by Didier Raoult.

Spoiled sports? Do microbes make fruit taste awful to deter fruit eaters? Kai Kupferschmidt looks at an intriguing hypothesis.

Phenomenal fungi. Marvellous mushrooms. Jennifer Frazer looks at a beautiful book.

Nothing but the tooth. Carved teeth depict “tooth worm”. Amazing bit of history, courtesy of Lindsey Fitzharris.


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)

Mind the gap. Mini-barcodes help fill in holes in DNA-based species identification, Kerry Grens reveals.

Resistance is futile? Actually engineering an HIV cure holds promise. Brilliantly explained by Nathalia Holt.

The skinny on the “fat gene”. Chromosome structure “missing link” between genome location & function. Ed Yong on the big fat revelation of the week. Read of the week.

Getting the fats straight. “Fat gene” not where people thought it was. Brian Owens looks into it.

As a scientist who’s studied infectious diseases, vaccination is a no-brainer for me.” Great case for vaccination made by Tara Smith.

Early warning. Lipid biomarkers may predict onset of Alzheimer’s. Incredible if it pans out, but needs serious validation, as reported by Alison Abbott.

Ready for prime time? Whole genome sequencing not there for the clinic…yet. Erika Check Hayden on the current state of affairs.

Getting the sequence right. Ed Yong finds whole-genome analysis needs work before clinic-ready.

WHO’s doing what? Brian Owens describes how World Health Organisation’s sugar recommendations is souring opinions.

Why spend a small fortune on a microscope? Make one from paper in 20 min for 50 cents. Freaking amazing, by Greg Miller. View of the week.


Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology & evolution

Ecology would be easy, were it not for all the ecosystems.” Phenomenal editorial in Nature Magazine, on ecological complexity. Read of the week.

Test of character. Character displacement tested as driver of evolution. This piece by Emily Singer is simply spectacular science writing. Great story, beautifully researched. Read of the week.

“The Selfish Gene” should die? Um, no. Karen James's superb, fair take on David Dobbs’s piece in Aeon magazine.

Just deserts? We must pay more attention to conservation in arid zones. Jason Bittel on the compelling case.

Fair game? Lighter skin, hair & eyes under relatively recent natural and sexual selection. Michael Balter looks at the evidence.

Udderly different. In Africans, lactose tolerance evolved alongside livestock domestication, as Helen Thompson perfectly explains.

Not so useless? Fish adipose fin has evolved multiple times. Likely adaptive. Intriguing discovery, nicely explained by Sedeer el-Showk.

Size matters. For cichlid evolution.

Soak this in. Sponges may have created the circumstances that made life as we know it. Carl Zimmer looks at the evidence.

The name game. Taxonomists help us make sense of our world. Sing their praises, says Tim Entwisle.

Far from ideal. Of Plato, Aristotle & biological “ideals”. Thought provoking bit of philosophy of science, by Ken Weiss.

Life as we know it? Is “life” merely a concept? Thought provoking read, by Ferris Jabr.


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

Plasma protection. How Earth safeguards from the Sun. Nicely covered by Jennifer Chu.

Water in the ground with diamonds. Gem impurities suggest H2O deep underground, as Rick Lovett explains.

These rock! Giant boulders are the lingering signatures of glaciation. Alan Shapiro rocks this story!

Go with the flow. Erin Corneliussen looks into volcanic rivers.

That sinking feeling. Jason Goldman on how sea level rise threatens much, including our cultural heritage.

Shakin’ all over. Global seismology network leaps from land into the seas. Nicola Jones dives into the story.

Tupperware + flour + shaking = 200 volts + new physics. Simple science links earthquakes & lightning, as Douglas Main found.

Cloudy vision. When it comes to forecasting climate, clouds obscure the picture, as Gabriel Popkin makes clear.

For want of water. Emma Marris on the evidence that drought undermined ancient civilisations.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

“It’s a bit like the moment before a penalty shot in soccer.” Astronomers prep for black hole meal. Adam Mann looks into it.

Out for a spin. Quasar measured spinning pretty well as fast as physically possible. Yow! Great find, perfectly explained by Matthew Francis.

Ain’t no sunshine when they go. Rogue planets cruise universe without home star. Superb look at a cosmic oddity, by Nadia Drake. Read of the week.

Big star quality. Bill Andrews reports on a hypergiant.

Stuck in the middle of it all? Phil Plait on the supernova wedged between two galaxies.

One big star. Literally. 1300 times the size of ours. Awesome discovery, perfectly reported by Jacob Aron.

Names without frontiers? Should anyone have a shot at naming Martian craters? Hmm. Adam Mann weighs in.

In the zone. What factors make an exoplanet deemed “habitable”? Excellent explainer, by Amanda Shendruk.

Power of the glory. Lisa Grossman on Venus’s revealing rainbow “glory”.

Explosive observation! Eruption on Io. Wow!

Hitting high notes. Sound of meteors ripping into atmosphere. Nina Sen on a sound discovery.

Sky high. We get a buzz from starlit skies. We must preserve them. Tyler Nordgren makes a compelling case.

Look into the light. Aurora, stars & lightning. Gorgeous video, shared by Jason Major.

Bruno [yes/no]. Debate over curious “cosmologist”, Giordano Bruno. Corey Powell here & : Steve Soter, Cosmos co-writer, here.

Hero sandwiched. Steven Soter & Corey Powell debate the legacy of Giordano Bruno. Excellent.

Heroic attempt. Celebrating Giordano Bruno as a scientific hero isn’t so good, says Rebekah Higgit.

The space between us. Astronaut diaries reveal out-of-this-world experiences, as Aviva Hope Rutkin found.

Fantastic news! Nadia Drake joins National Geographic Phenomena blog group! Congratulations Nadia and National Geographic!

The final frontier. A personal journey into space, & why there’s no place like home. Awesome launch to a new astronomy blog, by Nadia Drake.

Grand cosmic questions loomed large in our home.” Super interview of Nadia Drake by Carl Zimmer.


Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology

Bumping bubbles. Made thunder in baby universe. Lisa Grossman takes a look.

Known unknowns. There’s a lot we don’t know. Embrace it. Awesome way to look at things, by Caleb Scharf.

Nobody’s perfect. Not even our universe. It’s lopsided. And that’s just amazing. Great read, as usual, by Matthew Francis.

We’re copycats. Nature has been building quantum computers for 100s of millions years. Seth Lloyd looks at the creations. Great stuff.

A taste for physics. New neutrino results look at their flavours, reveals Jon Butterworth.

Pressure drop. Means volume drop. That’s what the ideal gas law says. Great explainer by Alok Jha.

Warm to the coolness. Ice melting in timelapse. Astounding video, by Shawn Knol. View of the week.

Strength in weakness. Gaps & cracks make things stronger. Absolutely brilliant, must read by Aatish Bhatia. Read of the week.

Back to the future. Hoverboards are not real, but quantum levitation is. Kyle Hill always brings the cool.

Up in the air. Airline flightpaths on a typical day. Astonishing. Must view. View of the week.

Good rocking at midnight? Amy Guttman on why bourbon is being loaded on seafaring vessels.


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

A rubber hand can help overcome racial bias. Yes, really. Brilliant story, perfectly captured by Jenny Morber . Read of the week.

It’s new, frightening, & profoundly peculiar. It’s a disease may not even exist. Fascinating, must read by Will Storr. Read of the week.

“Bad” blood. Phenomenal piece on ugly taboos related to menstruation. Must read, by Rose George. Read of the week

Play it again, Sam. Why we love hearing favourite songs over & over. It's because repetitive sounds work magic in our brain. Superb read by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis - also contains one of the freakiest "sounds illusions" you might ever hear. Read of the week.

Ins & outs of memory. Ed Yong on how Out-of-body experiences make it tough to hold memories in.

Hold the hype. Philip Ball on debunking the neuromyths that are infiltrating education.

In the beginning. Stitching 1st sentences of abstracts from psych papers creates “wisdom”. Awesome work, by Neuro Skeptic.

It’s all in your mind. Deciphering the dialogue between neurons. As Kate Jeffery reveals, it's essential to understanding how the brain works.

Minding the mind. fMRI scans are great, but behaviour tells us more about how minds work. Catherine Loveday makes a compelling case.

Well red. The up side of blushing. Fascinating bit of biology, by Claudia Hammond.

Lighten up! Different wavelengths of light get your brain on the go. Fascinating insights, by Virginia Hughes.

Sounds good. Food flavour influenced by noises accompanying eating, reports Amy Fleming.

Practice makes perfect? Gladwell’s “10k hour rule” may not hold. Douglas Main looks at the evidence.

Just like in the movies? No. Real psychiatry isn’t like that at all. That’s a problem. Excellent piece on the realities of mental health care, by Ilana Yurkiewicz.

A second life. Fate of implants & prosthetics when donated after death. Amazing story, by Frank Swain.

Extreme treatment? Impact of ultramarathon on person with Parkinson’s disease. Amazing.

Looking good! You may run better with positive reinforcement. Alex Hutchinson dashes in with the science.

In the running. NPR tracking 8 marathoners as they prep for Boston. Some remarkable stories. Awesome.

As a runner, vegetarian, & lover of great writing, this story by Christie Aschwanden was a must read.  If only it wasn’t true.

A Shaggy’s dog story. Scooby’s speech disorder gets a name. Good fun & science by Kyle Hill! Zoinks!

How does that make you feel? Freud was a pioneering neuroscientist. Fascinating bit of biography, by Mo Costandi.

Claws & effects. Crayfish research didn’t pay well, so Freud pursued another career. Cool bit of science history, by Zen Faulkes


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

This is not Marie Curie. And yet it is. Wonderful piece of science outreach, shared by Joe Hanson.

Back to nature. We need naturalists more than ever. Are you one? Chris Buddle on how to tell.

Emphasising ability in disability. Integrating folks with disabilities in research. Superb look at the important issue of inclusive participation in research, by Rebecca Tripp.

Tool time! Great roundup of best tools for online science communication by Eleanor Spicer Rice.

Been caught stealing. Some science communications are using images inappropriately. It’s theft. Important, timely issue, perfectly explained by Matt Shipman.

It’s complicated. Sometimes simple cause & effect relationships aren’t. Excellent dissection of science behind the headlines, by Erika Engelhaupt.

“Scientific research is seldom so writer-friendly.”  Then a golden story comes along. Robin Wylie on just such an occurrence -  a story that writes itself.

What goes around comes around? When there’s a mismatch between comments given & those received. Kausik Datta on the frustration of comments, and lack thereof.

What’s the point? Super PowerPoint presentation on evils of PowerPoint, by Rebecca Schuman. View of the week.

A reminder of how complicated, & how intertwined, private & public personas can be.” Megan Garber on “doxing”.

Getting the balance right. Wonderful post on juggling outreach, research & teaching, by Anne Osterrieder.

A pig. A spider. A great story. How one TERRIFIC tale came to be. Andy Wright on the wonderful E.B. White.

Painting a better picture. Women of science in fine art. Fantastic collection, by Maia Weinstock.


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