Morsels For The Mind – 18/04/2014

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

Big bed builders. Chimps are picky when it comes to their nests. Christine Dell'Amore on how they make new ones nightly.

A good night’s sleep. Rachel Nuwer finds that chimps are picky about it.

Dozing dolphins. Joseph Bennington Castro on the marvel of cetacean slumber.

Out of their depth. Whales avoid harassment in shallows.

I admit that hyenas are a bit unusual. Female hyenas rule the clan. Each also sports a pseudopenis.” Quote by Kate Yoshida from a fabulous piece on the myths & amazing realities surrounding hyenas. Read of the week.

Eat, bay, love? Wolves howls are integrated into many aspects of their lives, as  Lance Richardson reports.

Grin & bear it. Of polar bear poo, a sniffer dog named Quinoa, & the climate. Genius assemblage of cool info, by Erin Biba. Read of the week.

A completely different stripe. Over history, tigers were both feared & revered. Sharon Guynup considers why.

On target. Shooting wild horses might be best way to save them. Yes, really. Read this fascinating piece by Warren Cornwall to find out why.

Cougar barred? Not in northeast America. They, & other large mammals, on the rise, as Keith O'Brien explores.

Getting our goat. Goats are smarter than one might think, as researcher Elodie Briefer discovered, and described nicely in this research blog post.

Have you herd? Llamas & camelid relatives make less methane than ruminants. Good for climate? Alex Kirby looks at the evidence.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Sheep-guard dogs hybridise with wolves. They’ve packed it in, do to speak, as Rachel Nuwer reveals.

Problem licked? Why do dogs lick people? Fun hypothesis generation, by Mia Cobb.

Dog on it. “At risk” boys aided by canine companionship. Excellent coverage, by Zazie Todd.

Fido’s food. Best to consider how to feed your dog. Nice review by Julie Hecht, of new book, “Dog Food Logic”.

The kids are alright. Might it be their pets? We’re just beginning to find out... Jason Goldman looks at the current state of research, and questions that should be asked.

Born free. Dying in living rooms. “Pet” cheetahs. Heartbreaking tale, beautifully conveyed by Nick Mitchell.

Pet peeve. Ridiculous obsession with having wild animal “pets”. Sheesh. Lauren Slater on a problem that requires fixing.

Your & my pets are, bluntly speaking, a danger to the planet.” Quote from a sobering & brilliant article, by Adam Welz. Read of the week.

Bat news. Bad news. Spread of bat-killing fungus. John Platt on a disappointing discovery.

Do you give the animals you know names? It may not be the name their mom gave them. Awesome post as usual, by Robert Krulwich.

What the flock?! When groups of birds migrate, it looks astonishing. Amazing visual, shared by Amy Mainzer.

Dangerously distinct. Most endangered, distinctive birds. Great perspective on the top ten, by Bec Crew.

What’s in a name? The “wren babbler”? Not wren. Nor wren babbler. Nor babbler. Excellent post by GrrlScientist, on an interesting research paper about the travails of taxonomy. Read of the week.

Really quite a hoot! Bringing humour & facts to learning about owls. Good fun by ze frank, shared by GrrlScientist. View of the week.

Owl’s well that ends well. Beautiful birds, fantastically photographed by Sean McCann.

When 3-for-1 is a bad deal. Alligator snapping turtles actually three species. ALL at risk. John Platt looks at the numbers.

A bone to pick. Turtles eat bones…& stones! You know that Darren Naish has all the information you might ever want on this interesting topic!

Gator aid. Graphic guide to amazing stuff about alligators, by Brian Switek.

Legless lizards. Geckos, not snakes. Joseph Jameson-Gould looks at some curious critters.

Made in the shade. Mary Bates on chameleons' colour-changing abilities.

Drop dead gorgeous. Venomous critters, photographed by Guido Mocafico, shared by Sarah Gilbert.

Cold call. Frogs’ frigid chirps. A chance discovery while out on a run, leads to a beautiful exploration of the natural world, by Aatish Bhatia. Read of the week.

Catch me if you can. Hunting lionfish makes them wily. They get harder to hunt, explains Dave Levitan.

Pump up the volume? Fish must “speak” louder to be heard above our din. That’s not good, as April Reese explains.

Curious crustacean. Cannibal crayfish. Becky Oskin takes a look.

A “jellywatermelonosaur”? Rebecca Helm shares an awesomely absurd sea slug.

Far from deadwood. Ocean “wood falls” teem with life. Very cool research, nicely described by Sarah Zielinski.

Constructing a lie. How a mermaid was made. Superb look at a fascinating artefact, by Henry Nicholls.

Critters…in…spaaaaace!! Animals that have orbited the planet. Super stuff as usual by the fabulous folks at BuzzHootRoar.


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

There’s a point to it. Novel cave insect females have sharp sex organ. Carrie Arnold looks at the gynosome and its implications.

New member in the club. In curious cave critters, females have novel sex organ, as Michael Marshall reports.

Fascinating females. They harbour a novel, funky sex organ, as Jason Goldman describes.

Of 70hr sex & a spiky, sperm-slurping straw. In a surprise development, Ed Yong has written about novel genitalia! Read of the week.

Let’s talk about sex. But let’s do it so that science advances. Thoughtful, thought-provoking piece, by Annalee Newitz. Read of the week.

You say penis. I say gynosome. Let’s call the whole thing off? Nope. Good scientific debate there, as Ed Yong makes clear.

Hot stuff. Gwen Pearson describes how maggot masses have heated huddles.

Getting their act together. Emily Singer looks at how ants self-organise.

Making tracks. Popularity on the web arises akin to how ants establish paths. Cool analogy, by Joe Dramiga.

Safety in numbers. For ants, death awaits outside nest, as Ed Yong explains.

Royal ruse. Singing like a queen gets caterpillar into ant nest, as Elizabeth Preston explains.

Winging it. Flies’ freakish manoeuvres outwit attackers. Matt Simon on how bugs can bank like bombers. View of the week.

Nothing to fear? Hobo spiders aren’t the killers people thought. Good debunking, featuring Chris Buddle, by Agata Blaszczak-Boxe.

Folks generally swallow 8 spiders a year while they sleep? Spoiler: NO. Good debunking, by Anne Sneed.

Bug the kids! That is, introduce them to invertebrate wonders! Super outreach by Minibeast Mayhem, explained in a nice Q & A with Chris Buddle.


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

You gotta have heart. Ancient crustacean did, as Ashley Yeager reveals.

As if Tiktaalik doesn’t push enough science denial buttons, it’s discovery is also a story about climate change.” Quote by Chris Mooney from a super interview with Neil Shubin on palaeontology, evolution & much more. Read of the week.

Pterrific pterosaurs. Brian Palmer looks at the ancient flying reptiles.

Tremendous tyrannosaurs. There are things we don’t about them. And likely never will, as Helen Thompson describes.

The bees’ knees. Brian Switek on how an embalmed leafcutter bee from 35k yr-old tar pits provides window on the past.

Living fossil? Not sharks. They're well evolved. Geoff Brumfiel looks at the recent evidence.

Time for a change. Rather than evolutionarily stalled, sharks have evolved greatly, as Tanya Lewis explains.

Curious carnivore. It initiated a lineage of huge vegetarians. Jennifer Viegas on an interesting fossil find.

Remarkable reptile. Had bony body tube, as Andy Farke reports.

The life aquatic. Brian Switek on how an ancient sloth became amphibious.

Massive marsupial. Diprotodon was like a rhino-sized wombat. Travis Park describes a remarkable extinct beast.


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

A billion-year-old conversation. Inside plants.  I wrote this.

Inside story. Plants’ “internal dialogue”. I wrote this.

Best of fronds. Ed Yong explains that ferns may have received gene gift from bryophytes.

Gene genie. Nature already swaps genes between organisms. Nothing “unnatural” about it. Nice example, nicely presented by Carl Zimmer.

A cherry on top? Space-travelling cherry pits become early-blossoming trees. So? Super, balanced take on an over-sensationalised discovery, by Mike Lemonick.

This will stick with you. There are cool things in maple syrup. Like “quebecol”!  Interesting look at a common condiment, by Celia Arnaud.

It’s not easy being green. It’s why tapping into plant chemistry is key to protecting them, as Kat McGowan explains.

Roots of a problem. Heavy metals in soil find their way into rice. Need solutions. Excellent investigation of an important food security issue, by Deborah Blum.

Sowing a good idea. “Open Source” seed bank. Dan Charles on plants free of restrictive use.

Hoping to net good results. Field trials of plants engineered to produce fish oils.

Plants produce polymer perfection? They provide good nanotube-mediated DNA delivery, as Cynthia McKelvey reports.

Fantastic flora. Spring splendour. Lovely photography of Lucie van Dongen.


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

Foiling flora. Ed Yong on a microbe that makes “zombie plants”.

Going viral. Hows & whys of making a “superflu” virus. Nice explainer, by Susannah Locke.

Wicked ways. Akshat Rathi on how a harmless microbe evolved to eat flesh.

Pet hypothesis. Is your companion animal bringing good or bad microbes home? Brooke Borel investigates.

Hunting for insights & gathering data. Ed Yong on how hunter-gatherer gut microbes tell interesting tale that extends beyond the WEIRD.

Dinner time! Ed Yong beautifully explains how flies’ gut microbes call other flies for meals.

Dirty little secret? Might a sterile hospital environment be an undesirable thing? Superb read by Brooke Borel, featuring Jonathan Eisen & Jack Gilbert.

Busting bonding. Future antibiotics might target microbes’ sense of each other, as Sarah Williams explains.


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 & epigenetics)

Wonderful wriggling. Proteins at work within your cells. View of the week.

Inside scoop. Animations of molecules within cells. How they are done & what they tell us, explained by Carl Zimmer.

We’re all mixed up. How we are chimaeras. Great explainer.

Like father like son? Virginia Hughes explains that trauma seems to leave a mark in sperm.

It’s all sound & fury, signifying nothing.” Critique of sperm epigenetics work, by Kevin Mitchell.

A mark apart. Neanderthal epigenetics, nicely reported by Ewen Callaway.

Hand-me-down genes. Gemma Tarlach on how epigenetics shaped early human genomes.

Fat chances. How the colour & location of fat impacts health. Fabulous feature, by Brian Owens.

I do not think that word means what you think it does.” On epigenetics. Nice critique, by Alison Meyer.

Poetry in motion. It’s spermatozoa! In a poem! Love this super merger of art & science, by Natalie Sopinka.


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

Hair today, gone tomorrow? Have we reached “peak beard”? Perhaps, as John Bohannon reports.

Hair-raising discovery. Beards only popular when they’re not. Intriguing cultural evolution discovery, nicely described by Bethany Brookshire.

Hairy explanations. Reporting on the “beard study” was flawed. Here’s a superb corrective, by John Hawks.

Quick change artists. Germ plasm accelerates evolution.

Holy hypotheticals. New hypothesis considers evolutionary basis of religion. Outstanding take on the hypothesis, by Barbara King.

Teeing up an interesting idea. Might golf courses aid in conservation? Contentious topic, nicely covered by Jason Goldman.

Sound thinking. The “noise” of nature & what it says about our place in it. Superb article, by Brandon Keim. Read of the week.

Living for the city? Should urban settings accommodate more wildlife? If so, how? Henry Nicholls looks at the answers.

Really love Nash Turley’s graphic lecture summaries in ecology & evolution. They are a great way to document science. Examples follow in the next two morsels.

Space specifies speciation. Relationship between geography & biodiversity, from a lecture by Dolph Schluter, drawn by Nash Turley.

Daphnia dynamics. Little critters show interplay of host & parasite in ecosystem, from a lecture by Meghan Duffy, drawn by Nash Turley.

Goldilocks zone. Parasite load can be “just right”, as Parasite Ecology explains.


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

Beautiful blasts. Five volcanoes do their thing.

Explosive discovery! Robin George Andrews on how to go about using explosions to figure out how volcanoes work.

Written in stone. Brandon Keim looks at a 5.3M year record of deep sea temperatures.

Bad acid trips. History of ocean acidification & extinctions. Nice overview, by Fernanda Castano.

High impact discovery. Might meteorite craters have fostered early life? Hmm. Ian Randall presents the evidence.

Crystal clear. Paul Rincon looks at the imprint of ancient life left in glass made by meteorite impacts.

Renaissance reality check. David Bressan explains how Leonardo da Vinci transformed depictions of the earth’s surface.

A slippery subject. Very sober treatment of impact of gulf oil spill. Great dissection of a fraught matter, by Hannah Waters.

Wave hello. Wave goodbye. Waves, photographed by Pierre Carreau.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

In the red. Scarlet glow of hydrogen-rich nebula.

Beautiful brilliance. The light of a nebula. Ethan Siegel takes a look at it.

Ironing things out. Inward moving shockwave heats iron, giving supernova mysterious glow, as Sarah Scoles explains.

Marvellously mundane. Phil Plait lyrically describes a gorgeous galaxy.

Home away from home? A very Earth-like planet, nicely described by Miriam Kramer.

Even better than the real thing? Could Earth-like planets better Earth for harbouring life? Michael Moyr looks for answers.

Far out! Chances of life on distant exoplanet may be slim, but its discovery is promising, as Bill Andrews explains.

Watered world? Might distant exoplanet harbour conditions for life? Alexandra Witze considers the questions.

Anybody home? Could distant exoplanet harbour life? Hmm. Adam Mann on the evidence for and against - and the promise held therein.

Worlds away. Earth-like planet, 500 light years distant. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee takes a look, with nice related video here.

Round it goes. Mystery object seen in Saturn’s rings.

Goodnight moon. Things folks see on the lunar face. Lovely read by Nadia Drake.


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

A matter of time. How quantum entanglement directs the arrow of time. Brilliant feature, by Natalie Wolchover.

Quirky quarks. Particles can also get together in funky fashion. Fantastic physics, perfectly explained by Jon Butterworth.

If the goo fits…We may better understand the universe by imagining it as a gooey syrup. Cool hypothesis, nicely explained by Amir Aczel.

Making waves. A look at BICEP2 gravity wave results, one month on. Awesome overview, by Richard Easther.

Done & dusted? Dust casts doubts on cosmic gravity wave findings. Interesting look at emerging results, by Maggie McKee.

It’s not easy being green. Green plastic not so green. The reason may surprise you. Great read by Mark Miodownik,

Lingering legacy. BPA toxicity has changed the way we deal with plastics. Amazing feature, by Josie Glausiusz. Read of the week.

Dust in the wind. Not just a song by Kansas. Also some fascinating science! Joe Hanson in the best kind of dust up. View of the week.

Fishy behaviour. Flexi-bodied robo-fish swims like the real thing, as Meghan Rosen finds.


A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-related stories

Think you can only get malaria from mosquitoes? Think again. Amazing story, by Rebecca Kreston. Read of the week.

A spot of trouble. Fully vaccinated patient contracts & transmits measles. Not good. Nsikan Akpan explains why.

Take your best shot. A quiz related to measles vaccination & immunity. Great explainer, by Nsikan Akpan. Read of the week.

Astounding accomplishment. Vagina grown in lab from woman's own cells, functionally transplanted. Amazing application of science, wonderfully reported by Catherine de Lange.

Thanks to tissue engineering I have a normal life. I am enjoying this opportunity doctors have given me.” Quote from amazing piece by Catherine de Lange on woman whose life was dramatically altered by tissue engineering.

Inside job. Restoring thymus organ function within living mice. Stunning application of tissue engineering, nicely reported by Oliver Milman.

Moving discovery. Spinal cord stimulation helps paralysed patients move again. Wow! Amazing application of science, nicely reported by Tanya Lewis.

Supplementary data. Does one really need dietary supplements? Probably not. Talk to doctor. Sage advice, by Tania Browne.

Surgical precision? Operating room checklists less effective than assumed. Jalees Rehman looks at a recent, troubling find.

Full of good cheer? Actually, stadium acoustics can make a cheering crowd tough on your ears. Brian Owens listened to the evidence.

Workers rise up! Prolonged sitting unhealthy, but hard to break sitting culture at office. Alex Hutchinson looks at the science.

Gimme a break? Actually, a break from sitting would be a good thing. It has health benefits, reports Meredith Peddie.


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

Mything the facts. Oxytocin shrouded in myth. Nice debunking, by Joseph Stromberg.

The dope on dope. Weeding out good data from bad in marijuana use brain scan study.  Great critical take, by Maia Szalavitz.

Sometimes more is less. Increasing activity of depression-causing neurons decreases depression, finds Ed Yong.

Walk this way. Nsikan Akpan describes how a fly's moonwalk reveals brain circuitry.

This is possibly the most frustrating brain scanning study ever.” Excellent critique of new research, by Christian Jarrett.

Place place. Genevieve Bookwalter on how a pizzeria hallucination suggests region of brain important for places.

Mind your mind. On cognitive biases, & the challenges they present. Excellent examination of a timely topic, by Athene Donald.

No bore. Why we yawn. Super look at the meaning of yawning, by Maria Konnikova.

Steering our affections. Giving an autonomous car a voice makes folks trust it more, as Elizabeth Preston nicely explains.

Play that funky music, right. We like our tunes with medium syncopation, as Helen Shen explains.

A matter of taste. Lucy Hooker describes how food flavour is altered by stimulating our other senses.

Keeping a breast of affairs? Why babies cry at night.  Nice treatment of current hypotheses by Michaeleen Doucleff, featuring excellent input by Katie Hinde & Holly Dunsworth.

A matter of taste. Laura Sanders looks at how kids acquire food flavour likes & dislikes.

The hunger games. You’re likely to do annoying things to your partner when blood sugar low. Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on the latest problem with being "hangry".


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

Standing on the shoulders of giants. Why the history of science is important. Excellent case made by Jenny Williams.

In the loop. You mightn’t know Cornelius Drebbel, feedback loop inventor. You should. A fantastic blend of science, history, & storytelling by Steve Ashley. Read of the week.

A more natural hue. Franziska Schenk aims to reproduce nature’s colours. Awesome story by Eli Kintisch. Read of the week.

Like many, I adore Gabriel García Márquez’s writing. A wonderful homage by Kathryn Schulz captures the reason why.

Where do we go from here? People’s perspectives on technological advances. Interesting exploration of current views, by Jalees Rehman.

I read the news today. Oh boy. Is there still value in the press release? Super dissection of a timely topic, by Matt Shipman.

An engaging subject. Is public research engagement helpful? Well, it depends, as Steve Joy explains.

The rhythm method.  Virginia Gewin looks at scientists creating connections with people through music.

A walk on the wild side. In search of a vacation full of real nature. Excellent personal account, by Amy Harmon.


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