Morsels For The Mind – 15/11/2013

16 November 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 / views of the week”.


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

This week was full of crap. BUT that’s not a bad thing. Check out the stories in the next links…

My dog ate poo. And it was a rather illuminating thing. Hope you find the topic as fascinating as I did.

The scat came back. The history of life is written in poo. Absolutely superb by Eliza Strickland. Read of the week.

Life is a crapshoot. Some species avoid poo, others are all about it. Jason Goldman’s great take on a stinky subject.

Why life isn’t a pile of crap. It’s due to insects & microbes. Sci Curious covers the dirt on this topic.

Half time show. Why are demi-dolphins showing up?  David Shiffman examines the mystery.

The dog days of autumn…Big coverage of the origins of the domestic dog this week.  Here they are:

Go west young dog. Domestic dog origins may have been European, not Middle East or Asia. Ed Yong’s take.

A bone to pick. Ancient fossils suggest controversial origin for domestic dogs - Europe. Nell Greenfieldboyce
’ s take.

Digging in the past. Ancient DNA suggests early domestication of dogs in Europe. Jonathan Amos’s take.

In for a ruff ride? New data support contentious European origin for domestic dogs. Ewen Callaway’s take.

Never cry wolf. Domesticated dogs may have originated from now-extinct wolf species. Elizabeth Pennisi’s take.

Old dogs, new tricks? Ancient DNA points to contentious European origin for dog domestication. Colin Barras’s take.

How do you like them puppies? Domestic dogs may have originated in Europe. Carl Zimmer
’s take.

Barking up the wrong family tree? Did dogs actually originate in Europe? Daniel Zadik’s take.

It was also a big week for the big cats…

High times. Big cats likely originated on the roof of the world. Ed Yong’s coverage of the origins of big cats is pure gold. Showcases his awesome skills as a science writer. Read of the week.

Cats on the rise. Ancestors of big cats likely originated on the Tibetan plateau. Alok Jha’s take.

Cool for cats? Big felines may have diversified in cold mountainous plateau. Kelly Servick’s take.

Pusses’ roots. Origin of big cats. Sid Perkin’s take.

The stuffed legends are made of. Surprisingly poignant history of taxidermy of Jumbo the elephant. Part 3 in an excellent three part series by Henry Nicholls.

Membership has its privileges. Animals’ unexpected penis uses. As usual, Mary Baker brings you the most astonishing stuff from the animal kingdom.

Minding pees & cues. Might microbes in hyena secretions play a communication role? Brian Owens coverage is nothing to sniff at.

This makes scents. Microbes in hyena scent-gland paste may contribute to odour. Beth Skwarecki has beautifully balanced coverage.

Meaty matter. Animals’ frequent diet switch ups. Brian Switek serves up a delectable story.

Pet peeve. Don’t get an octopus. Get a dog. Excellent advice from Katherine Harmon Courage.

A pointed case. We must learn from the extinction of the western black rhino. Superb treatment of this sad story by John Platt. Read of the week.

All day & all of the night. Rare wildcat turns out to be cathemeral - active at any times. Cool story, by Jason Goldman.

A view to a quill. Porcupines are prickly killers. Toby McMaster gets right to the point.

Bloody hell! Leech blood meals could help track “Asian unicorn”, world’s rarest mammal. Ewen Callaway looks into it.

The distemper of our times. Dolphin-killing distemper-like virus outbreak is spreading. Nadia Drake continues her superb coverage of a disheartening topic.

The tooth will out. A living sabertooth? Fascinating find, nicely explained by Brian Switek.

Sound decision. Road noises make birds pick up & leave. Interesting piece by Sarah Zielinski.

It’s hip to be rare. Male guppies that stand out from the crowd get more sex. Sci Curious explains.

Strange animal sex case of the week:

Only a flesh wound? Sea slug sex involves a stab to the head. Ed Yong on the strange-animal-sex beat.

Head games. For sea slugs, sex is a reciprocated headache. Laura Poppick’s take on the bizarre sex story of the week.

Screwing with their heads? For sea slugs, sex is heady subject. Henry Nicholls take on sea slug sex.

Taking a stab at sex? Sea slug fertilisation involves penetration of its head. Kelly Servick covers sea slug sex perfectly.

Death makes scents. And a protein detects it. Elizabeth Preston does her usual superb job of clearly, succinctly explaining the best science.


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

Fuzzy phenomenon. Unbearably cute bunny moth. Nash Turley
 has been sharing the greatest stuff. This is just one example. Gorgeous. View of the week.

Inside job. Researcher lets sand flea burrow inside her foot to find where it has sex. This Gretchen Vogel piece on sand flea sex inside a researcher’s foot is delightfully disgusting. Read of the week.

Decisions, decisions. Experience shapes ants’ choices. Fascinating story, brilliantly conveyed by Felicity Muth. Read of the week.

Homeward bound. Practiced bumblebees take most direct route.  

Two-time trickster. Ant-mimic spider uses double deception of visual & chemical mimicry. Cool story by Alex Theg.

Hold the hype. Brown recluse spider is really not that scary. Nadia Drake provides an outstanding corrective.

Stories in parts. Wonderful three-parter about our segmented friends. Awesome post by Chris Buddle. Speaking of which:

Ah, those charismatic megafauna. Examining bias in taxon diversity & research publications. Chris Buddle dishes the data.

Terrifically tough. It’s the tardigrade!  Stuart King takes his first swing at blogging, and it’s excellent.

How things crop up.  Beetles start fungus farming as larvae. Elizabeth Preston shows again how she is one of the best biology storytellers out there.


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

Butting out? Were head butts really a dinosaur courtship ritual? Jon Tennant helps you get your head around a contentious topic.

Origins of the species? Taxonomical consideration of dinosaurs. Nice history by Fernanda Castano.

Ruffling feathers. Archaeopteryx was evolving flightlessness? Notion has some in a flap, as explained by Matt Kaplan.

Big biting beak. A toothed bird. Cool step in bird evolution, beautifully described by Travis Park.

When awesomes collided. Odobenocetops, the “walrus whale”! As usual, Darren Naish shares the coolest evolutionary novelties, now, sadly, gone.

Gets to the point. The remarkable woolly rhino. Darren Naish on a fuzzy fella from times past.

It belongs in a museum? Not necessarily. Thought provoking piece by Jack Ashby.


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

Cold comfort. How moss survived under glacier for 400 yrs. A cool find if ever there was one, explained by Jennifer Frazer.

It’s not easy being green. And that’s why red phytoplankton evolved. Fernanda Castano on what now resides in the ocean.

Along for the ride. Plants seeds are dispersing by hitch-hiking on cars. Profound implications.

Petal power? How biggest blossoms bloom.

Within a gilded ceilinged cathedral…science. Thoughts from an autumnal oak grove. I hope you enjoy these reflections.


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

In the long run. Evolution’s upward climb in ongoing experiments. Rich Lenski’s awesome work perfectly explained by Carl Zimmer
. Speaking of which:

Time will tell. Pondering the future of long-term evolution experiments. Excellent research blogging by Rich Lenski.

Hijacking a zombie-maker. Amazing fungus. Excellent post by Tommy Leung.

Taming the savage yeast. Master brewers use “experimental evolution” to craft the best drinks. Kevin Liu will help you imbibe in this subject.

Microbial metalhead. Microbe uses rare earth metal. Gabriel Popkin digs deep into this topic.

Twice as nice. Lyme microbe evolves evolvability. Hannah Hoag on an evolving topic.

The quick & the dead. Microbes that live off corpses. Gorgeously gruesome stuff by Erika Engelhaupt.


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)

Infectious ideas? A virus changed our minds. Literally. Fantastic story by Carl Zimmer.
 Read of the week.

Persistence is futile. New antibiotic deals knock-out blow to persistent infection. Intriguing discovery, masterfully explained by Ed Yong.

Fair game. How the gene variant for light coloured skin spread across a sub-continent. Francie Diep covers this perfectly.


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

Cold comfort? Growing Antarctic sea ice is not an entirely good thing. Excellent post by Frontier Scientists.

Shocking discoveries. Searching for lightning’s origins yields striking finds.  Amazing subject with an astonishing photo, by Elizabeth Howell.

A change for the worse? Was Typhoon Haiyan a product of climate change?

Hot stuff. The fires of times past. Great post via the Palaeocast.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

It’s full of stars. 100k to be exact. Wow! View of the week.

X marks the spot. Amazing X-ray views in our universe. View of the week.

Colourful character. Spectacular spectrum of star birth.

Tails of the unexpected. Comet has 6 trails. Andrew Fazekas takes a look.

Light’s out. Star’s disappearance is enlightening. John Matson shines on this one.

A whole other dimension. Mars in 3D. Elizabeth Howell shares the shape of things to come.

Nice ring to it. Spectacular Saturn.  

Done & dusted. Martian avalanche.

From “Club Med” to “The Road”. 4B years of Martian history in one take. Shaunacy Ferro shares NASA’s holiday video.

A weighty matter. Space rock less dense than water. Ron Cowen brings a spacey subject down to earth.

The dead zone. Corpses of human design float in an orbiting graveyard in space. This Kyle Hill piece on the debris of dead satellites is excellent. Great science & imagery combined. Read of the week.

The hit parade? Space junk is bound to collide. That’s not good. Corrinne Burns explains.

A universe apart. The treatment of women who mapped the cosmos disrespected real stars. Natasha Geiling
’s feature on this is excellent. Great read.

Feeling Gravity’s pull. It’s high time we celebrated the role of female astronauts. Helen Keen
 makes the obvious case, but does so fantastically.


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

Accidental tourists? Is our journey through life a grand cosmological coincidence? Awesome read by Tim Maudlin.

Holy Hogwarts, Batman! Functional invisibility cloak a reality. Marit Mitchell lays the subject bare.

When trouble comes round. Spherical electron won’t shape new theoretical physics. Clara Moskowitz  explains.

What are the odds? Heisenberg uncertainty principle & its implications. Great explainer by Alok Jha

Geeks are pretty cool, & theoretical physics has replaced philosophy as a signifier of intellectual prowess.” Quote from Suzanne Moore's super piece on a non-scientist’s take on physics’ Mecca, CERN.

Elements of surprise. The atoms making up your body come from surprising places. Curt Stager delves into some cool chemistry.


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

Like mother, like son. And daughter. Stressed moms pass unique microbes onto kids. (In mice).Cool story by Jessice Griggs.

Like father, like son. And daughter. Paternal fears inherited by offspring. (In mice). Amazing discovery reported from the Society for Neuroscience Conference by Virginia Hughes
. Be sure to check out the ensuing conversation on this topic that has been storified.

Rhyming just like like Doctor Seuss, You *can* explain why tastes run loose. Wonderfully creative piece on the science of taste, by Kyle Hill.

Short ‘n sweet. Tweets becoming. by Neuro Skeptic

Culture club. Big groups of people create more robust cultural complexity. Excellent story by Ed Yong, which he followed up with:

Power to the people. We’re best in large groups. So say we all. Great exploration of two groundbreaking papers, by Ed Yong

Gained in translation. Bilingualism staves off dementia. Excellent read by Barbara King

Just because you’re better than me, doesn’t mean I’m lazy.” Billy Bragg’s lyric is completely relevant to this excellent Dean Burnett

Bad news bared. When it comes to hearing news, we prefer the negative first. Intriguing find, explained by Sci Curious.

Keys to success. Using brain scans to understand what makes a creative pianist. Ian Sample will attune you to this intriguing study.

Wash, rinse, repeat. Sleep is like washing the brain - it flushes out neurotrash. Veronique Greenwood masterfully explains why.

Step into danger. How muggers target victims based on how they walk. Yow! Tom Stafford shares a frightening find.

What’s black & white & read all over? Little Red Riding Hood’s phylogeny. Evolution of a story. Speaking of which:

Hood’s ‘hood. Using evolutionary analysis to trace origins of Little Red Riding Hood. John Bohannon tackles a subject other than open access.


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

Minding p raises Qs. Big questions re: p-value use in scientific literature. Erika Check Hayden on the latest stats problem.

Odds won out? The abuse of “statistical significance” in science. Excellent commentary by Hilda Bastian.

XX factor. Challenges faced by women in the science communications community. Excellent treatment of this important topic by Matt Shipman.

Everything counts in large amounts? University admin should be rewarding online scholarly activity. Yes! Great case made by Ken Weiss.

Life, as we know it. Life sciences get pre-print server: biorxiv. Ewen Callaway delves into it.

Rules don’t apply. Winning at science by being the odd one out. Wonderful post by Dean Burnett.

Billions and billions of miles apart? Two perspectives on Carl Sagan: One by Gretchen Goldman & another by Erin Podolak. Travis Park provided nice balance on these perspectives, with a piece explaining that not everyone thinks Carl Sagan is irrelevant.

Slopes, science, sadness. Touching tribute to a skiing psychologist. Pete Etchells delivers an incredibly poignant piece.

Faith no more. Science is based on natural laws, not assumptions. Superbly provocative piece by Jerry Coyne.

Curious correlations. Of acacias, traffic accidents, & dubious science. Superb piece by Joshua Keating.
 The piece highlights a great critique by James Winters & Sean Roberts on correlations. Here’s why James Winters & Sean Roberts looked at acacia trees: “a bizzare coincidence of two book covers”.

In vino veritas. A glass of wine shows the best vintage of science communication. A superb discussion of science communication by Robert Krulwich.

Life as we know it. Beautiful biological data. Brandon Keim picks some of the best ways that people are conveying biology.

“You can both love science and question it.” Excellent, balanced critique by Gary Marcus.

“For the record, toe fungus is not interesting.” Unless… Great post on science writing by Erik Vance.

This. Is. Awesome. Aatich Bhatia’s superb blog takes on its new home at Wired. Put it on your “must read” list.

Welcome aboard! Chris Buddle joined the SciLogs team! Add Chris’s blog to the “must read” list as well!

“Who wants to share a story that can be misunderstood?” On sharing what you read. Brilliant piece by Annalee Newitz.
 Read of the week.


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