Morsels For The Mind – 17/01/2014

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

Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.Sandra Beasley has written a simply spectacular, delightful must read poem that uses capybaras as a unit of measure. Read of the week.

It’s quite the feat to fuel a body the size of a school bus — on kelp no less.” Quote by Matt Simon from a wonderful piece on the Stellers sea cow. Love everything about this post. Read of the week.

Secret to a long life? Slow metabolism. Hal Hodson shares the evidence based on an amazing study of primates.

Minding the dog. Great thinking on dogs’ thinking. Super profile of canine researchers, by Julie Hecht.

In the swim of things. How dogs do the dog paddle. Swimming research done by Dr. Fish(!), nicely described by Medhavi Ambardar.

Stroke of genius. When dog paddling in water, dogs step up their standard trot. Susan Milius looks into it.

A breed apart? Breed has little to do with dog aggression. Test their humans instead. Rachel Casey makes the case.

Beware of dog? Considering risk factors in canine aggression. Excellent description of the research, as usual, by Zazie Todd.

Facing facts. Is our love of dogs to be found in their faces? This & more in a great post by Holly Dunsworth.

Different angle on things. Why do dogs cock their heads when listening? Interesting insights by Dan Nosowitz.

Peed off. Medieval monk leaves lasting curse on cat that whizzed on his manuscript. Lauren Davis shares the text.

Not so black & white. The red panda is the original panda, and it's amazing. Jason Goldman will convince you.

The scale of change. Wolverines take up coastal residence, start eating fish.

“A dingo’s got my baby!” This, & other truths, & lies, about dingoes, by Sarah Zielinski.

Snow survivor. Magnificent muskox. Vincent Munier's portfolio of these arctic marvels is gorgeous.

Deer me! There's a greater risk of death by deer than by cougars or wolves. Astonishing fact, shared by John Laundré.

Super swift sengis. What’s a sengi, you ask? Well, check out these little speed demons. Ella Davies shares a curious critter.

Top-down management. Apex carnivores completely shape their ecosystems. Wow! Rachel Nuwer on an important confirmation.

The mane event. Top predators, like lions, are linchpins in ecosystems. We need them, as Veronique Greenwood reports.

Eyes on the prize? Can trophy hunting & conservation be reconciled? Jason Goldman takes a look at a controversial subject.

A better shot at survival? Might vaccination of great apes against *human* diseases aid conservation? John Platt explores these questions.

Letter perfect. Flying in a V is the best way to go. Ed Yong's writing soars to great heights, literally and figuratively.

Winging it. Vortex created by wing flaps makes V formation best way for ibises to fly.

Air traffic control. How flying in a V makes bird flight shipshape. Helen Thompson explains.

Flying in formation. Birds that travel in a V are doing so efficiently. Susan Milius shows why.

The high life? Living at the top of the forest canopy holds big risks for baby macaws. Nadia Drake on some fascinating birds.

Dead reckoning. Vultures follow death, not the herd. Sarah Zielinski reports.

From billions to nothing. End of the passenger pigeon - testimony to human’s destructive power. Henry Nicholls shares a poignant story.

Getting down. Sara Cole describes how bird skins are prepared for museums.

The big chill. How frogs undergo freeze-thaw cycles. Elizabeth Pennisi shares the discovery, with a cool video.

Oh nothing, just a fish catching a bird in flight & eating it. Ella Davies on some incredible natural history.

No swallowing problem. Fish catches swallows on the fly, eats ‘em.

Eyes on the prise. When crabs grapple with limpets they ensure there is no escape claws. Sara Mynott not only wrote but also illustrated this cool post.

Prey’s on the mind. No-nonsense mantis shrimp. Matt Simon continues his series on remarkable animals.

Twisting by the pool. Octopus sets record for speedy removal of jar lid. Katherine Harmon Courage always has the best stories on the cephalopod beat.

Bloody hell! Leeches make a comeback in medicine. Interesting read by Alex Ossola.

Nothing to sniff at. Sponges also sneeze. Karl Gruber on some surprising biology.

All a board! Craig McClain’s branch of research is wood falls. He’s rooted around for the best puns & pics to show it.

Thinking that’s dead in the water. No, sea floors are not littered with dead animals due to radiation. Craig McClain does some super debunking.

Hidden in plain sight. Egg eater masquerades as egg. Tommy Leung on a fascinating parasite.

When family dinner is family dinner. Liz Langley looks at cannibalistic critters.

Raise a glass. That’s the amount of water needed to conduct a fish census. Douglas Main looks into it.

This past week, I said bioluminesce when I meant biofluoresce. Luminescent Labs has a great explainer so you can avoid that gaff.


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

Smells like queen spirit. Ed Yong describes how ant, wasp, & bee queens use similar chemicals to sterilise workers.

Made in the shade. Ants invade others’ nests to make them slaves. Elizabeth Preston does her usual wonderful job of describing some intriguing natural history.

Getting the drift. Mayfly nymphs survive by drifting. Ben Young Landis shares a delightful animation that shows how.

Family affair. Ant queens mate with sons when males scarce. Patricia Waldron on insect incest.

Early spring. Springtails make appearance as snow fleas. Bug Girl describes a wonderful critter.

A bridge too far? Fire ants have it sussed, as Elizabeth Pennisi reports.

Sharp shooter. Spider fires web like slingshot. Nadia Drake on some stunning arachnids.

This’ll grab ya. Electromagnetism in spider’s web.

Dance, dance sensation. Peacock spider dances for sex. Bug Girl confirms that spiders are an endless source of entertainment.

Would bees? Tracking the bee “internet” using tiny wearable sensors. Important work, nicely explained by Todd Woody.

Stop or go? Weevils attracted to red in one location, green in another. Sometimes biology is just so amazing, as Bethany Brookshire proves.

Catching a buzz. Tracking hive decline using bees fitted with tiny sensors. Oliver Milman on some important research.

What’s eating you? Bugs' eats tend to be other bugs. Nicky Bay's wonderful photography illustrates some gorgeous gruesomeness. Nadia Drake collected and shared the photos. View of the week.

Chilled out? Might incredibly frigid temperatures put a halt to tree-destroying insects? Lisa Foderaro looks at the evidence.

Hi, my name is Jack, & I like insects.Jack Scanlan introduces his new blog at SciLogs. Great stuff!


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

Hips don’t lie. Hip bones tell tale of tetrapod evolution. Carl Zimmer on a fascinating fossil find.

Old hippies. Ancient fish’s pelvis provides clues in evolution of hips. Ian Sample describes how.

Out on a limb. The hind limbs of an ancient fish. Remarkable evolution story, by Charles Choi.

Origin of the species? Just when did placental mammals emerge? Ed Yong on how rocks & clocks disagree.

Hard evidence? Are fossils needed to confirm genetics-based time-of-origin for mammals? Ewen Callaway takes a look at the argument.

The beak district. Dinosaur beaks shaped niches. Jon Tennant on some cool palaeo-sleuthing.

Palaeo diet? Fix yourself a meal of bulbs, fruit, insects & worms. Jia You explains why this would be the case.

Just one of the guys? “Stonehenge Man” looks, well, like he could be hanging out anywhere right now. Sandrine Ceurstemont provides a pic with the story that makes the case.


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

Chemical craftiness. Where plants make tannins, those compounds that make wine wonderful. Wonderfully described by Jennifer Frazer. 
Read of the week.

Silent partners. How plants communicate. Super feature by Daniel Cossins. Read of the week.

Better with age. Old trees put on most mass. Jeff Tollefson on an important find.

This rocks. Plants disguised as stones avoid herbivores.

Across the great divide. Amazing cell division. Maggie Koerth-Baker shares a cellular marvel.

Human beans. How our species has used & is shaping the coffee bush. Sarah Shailes on many people's favourite cuppa.

Small act, big consequences. Thief steals tiny, extinct-in-wild water lily. An disheartening story, by John Platt.

The anti-GMO movement is an anti-empirical movement.” On Nathanael Johnson & GMO stakes. Thought provoking piece by Michael Eisen.


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

Little get-together. How slime moulds stick. Stuart King explains it perfectly.

Share & share alike. Ocean microbes pass packets of nutrients around. Brian Doctrow plumbs the depths of this story.

What lies beneath. Symbiotic fungi inhabiting plant roots are big carbon sinks.

Caught in the act. Wendy Gibson describes her discovery of troublesome trypanosome sex.

Bad gut reaction. Microbe mismatch paves way to stomach cancer. Ed Yong has the inside scoop on a stunning story.

Awesome arrangements. Diatoms as designs. Superb pictures shared by Christopher Mah.


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)

Interesting sequence of events. Mick Watson looks into Illumina's new $1000 human-genome-sequencing technology.

The $1000 human genome sequence is here. You just need $10M for the sequencer to do it. Matthew Herper examines the implications of the new technology.

Code comfort? Is a $1000 decoding of human genomes a reality? Erika Check Hayden provides great insights.

Risky business? Just what are the risks of personal genetics? Great take by Virginia Hughes.

Even after he was bitten, Budden seemed more concerned for the snake’s safety than his own.” Quote by Ed Yong from an awesome story about collection of snake venom & its remarkable shelf life. Read of the week.

Everything old is new again? Decades-old venom still active, pointing to new drug source. Christie Wilcox on the shelf-life of deadly venom, and the value it holds. Read of the week.

That stings. How a single mutation made scorpion venom. Jeremy Coles describes how.

Anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it.” Quote by Wang Jun, BGI Director, on cloning & genomics of non-human animals, from an interview with David Shukman. Yow.

Nicked Taq dough. Taq polymerase garnered loads of money, but its source, Yellowstone Park, saw none. Eva Amsen on some intriguing history.

Getting the job done. How catalysts, particularly enzymes, encourage reactions, nicely explained by S.E. Gould.

Hit me with your best shot. Maryn McKenna shows that a single immunisation for all flus may be within sight.

Not so sweet. Sugar is a really bad thing to eat. Lindsay Kobayashi provides the evidence.

Fit bits. How various kinds of exercise can improve your fitness. Excellent overview by Catherine de Lange.

In the long run. Ultramarathoners get more durable with age. Rose Eveleth shares the evidence.

Lotus for the liver? Nope, yoga will not “cleanse” your detoxing organ. Excellent critique by Nicole Schrokit.


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

Plight of the Concord. How climate has changed the observations Thoreau made in his hometown.

Coming in, from the cold. Frontier Scientists look at the wonders that are frost quakes & hoar frost.

Cool chasm. Gigantic gorge blanketed by Antarctic ice.Robert Gonzalez looks at what lies beneath.

Down the sink? Where has the heat from global warming gone? Oceans? Jeff Tollefson looks into it.

Nice to see hue. The beautiful iridescence of clouds. Phil Plait on his passion for the mists above.

Shocking shaper. Lightning sculpts mountains. Don Boroughs on a flashy find.

Silence is golden. Rachel Nuwer goes in search of a true treasure: A place free of human noise, here on Earth. Read of the week.

Whole lotta shakin’ going on. Shifting ground may enable GPS prediction of volcanic eruptions, as Alex Witze reports.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Sometimes things that are down to Earth are out of this world. From icy branches to solar systems.

Star struck. Gorgeous timelapse by Nicholas Buer. View of the week.

The hole story. Light is being cast on our knowledge of black holes. Super feature by Ron Cowen.

Getting outta here. Speedy rogue stars accelerate out of our galaxy by a mystery force. Jia You describes a freaky find.

A real bright spot. Galaxy works like a lens to magnify intensity of distant supernova. Andrew Grant looks at it.

When a red giant eats a corpse. Sometimes reality really trumps fiction. Alex Witze provides the evidence.

Ends with a bang. A supernova-ready star. Phil Plait illuminates.

Bright sunshiny day. Exoplanet orbits near Sun-like star. Phil Plait takes a look.

There’s a little black spot on the sun today. (Actually it’s a gigantic spot, as Phil Plait reveals.)

Topsy turvy. Sun’s magnetic poles flip.

Venus waves back. Waves of clouds on gassy planet.

Making tracks. Rover’s treading about Mars. Love this photograph and its origins, shared by Adam Mann.

The view from there. Wonderful collection of images from Mars. We live in the future.


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

“Reality is blurry, & we just have to get used to that fact.” On physics of reality. Brilliant post, as usual, by Aatish Bhatia. Read of the week.

You’re a braid in spacetime—indeed, one of the most elaborate braids known.” Quote by Max Tegmark from a brilliant piece on the way life is woven in spacetime. Read of the week.

Theoretically speaking. Great reflection on the difficulties of deriving new theories, by Matthew Francis.

Back to the Future. Again & again & again &… Bill Andrews on the remarkable cloning ability of time travel.

More Marty McFlys than you could hope for. Time travel would clone the traveller, and Charles Choi explains why.

Solid? Liquid? Gas? Just what does happen to water in space? Great explainer by Ethan Siegel.

Sometimes, warmer water can freeze faster than colder water. Why? Well, here's the answer you're looking for, nicely provided by Ethan Siegel.

A weighty matter. Nice consideration of the speed, that’s right, the speed, of gravity. Ethan Siegel explains it perfectly.

Out for a spin. How we know the Earth moves. Another great explainer courtesy of Ethan Siegel.

Not so fast. You can't travel at the speed of light. Bummer. Nice explainer though, by Alok Jha.

Back on the chain, gang. Physics explains magic chain of events. Cool explanation of a viral video, covered by Lizzie Gibney.

Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire! Ball lightning. It’s real & finally been seen. Duncan Geere on an illuminating discovery.

Whole new dimension. Graphene goes 3D, with new possibilities for physics. Eugenie Reich explores.

It all adds up. A “tuple” of number theorists & other collective nouns for mathematics, by Evelyn Lamb.

Monkey business. Robosimian is a robot that goes ape. Megan Garber shares insights into this new technology.

Fascinating flyer. Jellyfish-like ornithopter is one curious contraption. Philip Ball describes it perfectly.

What does the future hold? This infographic will carry you 100 quintillion years from now. Hmm. View of the week.


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

If the spread of toast is a social contagion, then Carrelli was its perfect vector.” Quote by John Gravois from a wonderful piece on artisanal toast, mental health & the ties between us. Read of the week.

Branching out. Neurons do it the right way.

Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind? Nsikan Akpan looks into wiping away painful memories in mice.

A mug for the mind? Can coffee boost memory? Virginia Hughes takes a look at a new study (that has weak stats).

Comes with perks? Might coffee boost memory? Bethany Brookshire says not to place too much weight in a recent study. It's got stats problems.

Wasted days & unwasted nights. Sleep enables us to throw out the neural waste. Maria Konnikova describes how.

Everything’s relative. Well, insofar as how the brain maps numbers is concerned. Emily Reas explains.

On the same wavelength? The challenges of scanning 2 (or more) brains at once. Neuro Skeptic describes why this is a problem.

High praise? Actually, rewarding with praise can have a serious downside. Maria Konnikova provides superb insights into a surprising find.

Walking the talk. Toddlers’ vocabulary takes off when they get a move on. Laura Sanders explains.

Heavy thoughts. Our brains get heavier when we’re thinking. Laura Sanders weighs in.

Not getting over it. Behaviour thresholds can prevent groups from acting together. Lou Woodley describes how this occurs.

A matter of choice. Philip Ball describes how sometime things that seem irrationally chosen are actually rational.

Buy the numbers? Could a higher CBD:THC ratio make cannabis a better drug? Thought-provoking post by Dana Smith.

Darwin knew homeopathy was bunk. Why does this pseudoscience still have hold on some? Nick Allum considers why.

Designer drugs. Mind altering substances as art. Joseph Flaherty on the artistry of chemistry.


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

Science is the foundation of the future.” Neil Young on CBC Radio's Q. Great listen for all, essential for Canadians. Listen of the week.

I have little sense of being the finished article. What I am & what I know is incomplete.” Quote by Stephen Curry from a genius, must read reflection on being a middle-aged scientist. As a scientist of the same vintage, I share everything Stephen Curry has expressed so perfectly & eloquently: The sense of incompletion. The sense of still being an impostor. The sense of the fleeting nature of any contribution. The desire to make a contribution of significance. Very grateful to Stephen Curry for capturing current thoughts & feelings so perfectly. Read of the week.

If you are critical of scientists for choosing to communicate with the public, you are part of the funding problem.” Get the word out. Science communication benefits public support of science funding. Important piece by Matt Shipman. Read of the week.

Stale science? Irene Pepperberg, Alan Alda, Richard Dawkins & others on scientific ideas due for “retirement”. Read of the week.

Having cancer is bad enough w/out idiots attacking you for sharing your experience. Perfect analysis by Megan Garber.

Can we talk? Moving fraught discourse on science topics in a positive direction. Excellent perspective by Alistair Dove.

The core of academic freedom is the ability to publish ideas at all.” Thoughtful and thought-provoking piece by Steven Hill.

To blog or not to blog? Excellent, scholarly review of academic blogging, by Deborah Lupton.

Working in…the rainforest requires an adventurous spirit, patience, & the ability to improvise.” Quote by Nadia Drake from amazing notes on fieldwork in the Amazon. Must read, cliffhanger. 
Read of the week.

I worry that she’s been fed a false image of what “success” in science looks like.” Quote by Dr. Isis from a brilliant, must read reply to Bethany Brookshire, on science, ideas & happiness. Read of the week.

An inclusive, humane workplace…will lead to the most rigorous, world-changing scientific discoveries.” Quote by Kate Clancy from an excellent critique of the way science is done, & how it must change.

Instrumental behaviour. Images of female scientists w/ scientific equipment has struck a chord. Rebekah Higgitt on how her awesome Pinterest board of women using scientific instruments brought pleasure to many.

Feeling your pain. Amy Savage provides fascinating insights into the life of a "standardised patient": someone who acts out medical conditions for med students.

Taking heat. Epidemiologists stumble across heat maps, rename them “quilt plots”, & get paper out of it. Yes really. Sheesh.


2 Responses to “Morsels For The Mind – 17/01/2014”

    • Malcolm Campbell Reply | Permalink

      Thank you for the kind feedback, Maddie! I hope that it was useful! Please check back every week for a new edition!

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