Morsels For The Mind – 18/10/2013

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

He said. She said. Marmosets seem to take turns “talking”, but it remains to be seen as to whether they can really be considered conversations. Excellent, balanced coverage by Ed Yong.

Alarming find. Chimp alarm calls point to language origins.

Emotional rescue. Bonobos comfort like humans.

Kidding around. Young bonobos develop empathy like young humans. Surprising? Maybe not, but interesting nevertheless.

Milking the situation. Meerkats wet-nurse in exchange for acceptance.

Buzz kill. Bats eat loads of mosquitoes.  Excellent research blogging by Cameron Webb.

Cheep trick. Bat sings like a bird. Brilliant behaviour, perfectly conveyed by  Mary Bates.

Waiting to exhale. Fabulous function of a whale’s blowhole.

The other end of the leash. Using a dog’s activity to report on its human’s health. Amazing idea, conveyed by  Christopher Mims.

“Why the rush to humanize the dog, but not the salmon.” After all, humans aren’t so special. Brilliant piece by Jason Goldman. Speaking of which:

Touching tale. Why touch is important for social bonding in humans & other animals. Another excellent post by Jason Goldman.

Oh brother, where art thou? Cougar cub checks out his “scienced” sibling.

“It was one of those eureka moments—finding something nobody else knows about.” From a super story by  John Platt about a primary school, an egg & a bird thought extinct. Read of the week.

Not so bird brained. Mary Bates beautifully explains how parrots understand cause & effect.  

The 1st annual Feral Cat Awareness Week is coming up. Lots of avian tweets on this one.

Impossible to better this headline: “Maritime moose sex corridor gets $52K from U.S. charity”.

You can tune a piano. But you shouldn’t tuna fish. Superb, personal reflection on tuna by Christie Wilcox.

Get sharp! Fish penis becomes pointier when predators nearby. Fascinating biology by Elizabeth Preston.

Gut feeling. Female lampreys fall for males’ bile. A bizarre love story by Douglas Main.

Completely floored. Pufferfish’s super seafloor circles.

Super-sized salamander. It’s only amazing. Fascinating description by Matt Simon.

As the worm turns. They trap plenty of carbon.

“Wow, this is really interesting,” thought Allen, then “1) I hope it’s not fatal & 2) I hope it’s publishable.” From a delightfully disgusting post by Deborah Blum, on the discovery of a novel nematode in the scientist’s mouth! Speaking of delightfully disgusting:

Unhappy end. Butt-dwelling worm drives beetles to drowning death. Great posts on a special worm & how it offs its hosts, here and here, by  Crystal Ernst.

You can lead a horsehair worm to water. But you might leap in. Fascinating parasite, courtesy of Tommy Leung.

Decomposition dynamics. Gross & fascinating!

Stars of the show. Feather starfish (Crinoids).

Curious carnivore. It’s a sea squirt!

What’s up? Space-born jellyfish have difficulty with orientation on Earth.

Whiz, kids. Law of Urination: all animals pee in 21 seconds +/- 13 seconds. Yes, really.


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

Where weevil lurks. Insect taxonomy leads to paper with fantastically punny title.

Taking the hemlock. How the woolly adelgid is downing iconic tree species.

Facing facts. North Americans about to get stinkbug home invasions, but they won’t be man-faced.


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

Fresh faces. Plesiosaurs also lived in fresh water.

Some nerve! Nervous system of critter from 0.5B yr ago.  

Outside in. Teeth evolved from skin.

Reality bites. Not dinosaur, but still blood in fossil mosquito.

All in the family? There’s a new Homo erectus skull that some suggest may necessitate a rethink of human evolution.  This got good coverage by several excellent writers: Michael Marshall covered it here. Gemma Tarlach covered it here. Brian Switek examined the skull here.  Sid Perkins had a piece here, and Ian Sample wrapped the matter up here.

Icy relations. Ötzi the iceman has living relatives. Cool.

Oh, poop! Digging up the dirt on the past, studying layers of ancient faeces.


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

It stems from this. Evolutionary roots of flowering plants. Superb post by Dan Peppe.

Strength in numbers. Cycads’ social strategy, nicely explained by Jennifer Frazer.

In sync. Worm & beetle work together to parasitise trees.

Petal power? Mammal species declined as flowering plants evolved.

Bigger buzz. Victoria Gill describes the identification of plants that are more bee-friendly.  


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

Comfortably numb? Microbes survive subzero temps.

Waiting for the big one? Next global pandemic will be viral. What will we do? As usual, superb writing by David Quammen.

Known unknown. New type of deadliest substance, botulinum, found. DNA sequence censored.

Fight fire with fire? Could bacteria be turned against themselves to prevent antibiotic resistance?


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)

Code comfort. Using “search & replace” to recode whole genomes. Brilliant science, expertly explained. This post shows why Ed Yong is, quite simply, the best science writer going. Read of the week.

Slice of life. Mammals chop virus RNA as defence.

Taking the sting out. Scorpion genome deals with venom.

The price of knowledge? George Church explores the benefits versus cost of personal genomics.  


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

United they fall? Imagining hybrid species that emerge from climate change.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Completely in the dark. Challenges of understanding the inside of the black hole.

Love story. Following a passion for gravity & black holes. Fantastic post by Matthew Francis.

Interesting angle. An oddly tilted solar system.

No earthly idea? With the exoplanet tally at 1000, where’s the one like Earth? Stuart Clark explores.

It’s full of stars. Super stellar cluster Westerlund 1 is amazing.

Lord of the rings. Saturn as you’ve never seen it. Astonishing image shared Emily Lakdawalla. View of the week

Rock on! Super-cool animations of Phobos & Deimos.

Nice ring to it. Unfreakingbelievable view of Saturn. Incredible candy via Phil Plait.

Far out! Mars in HD curated by  sci-art specialist Megan Gambino.

We live here. Our planet from the ISS. Wow!  View of the week by Bruce Wayne Berry.

Is there anybody out there? The Galileo mission launched 24 yrs ago today. Its search for life resonates today. Based on a brilliant paper by Carl Sagan.


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

“If overwrought speculation bothers you, we recommend you not read this. On the other hand, if you like imagining the dazzling potentialities of quantum theory, godspeed you!” Wonderful quote by Ghost Diary Blog from very enjoyable, speculative piece on quantum entanglement.

A trick of the light. Photons cheat Newton’s third law.  Fascinating physics by Michael Slezak.

Does not compute. A different computational approach is needed to handle big data.  Incredibly timely topic, expertly covered by Jennifer Ouellette.

Light entertainment. A history of photons, & our interactions with them.


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

The rhythm method. How music helps us keep exercising when our body says stop.

Getting the hang of it. Toting babies about like kangaroo joeys has advantages. Intriguing parenting perfectly covered by Virginia Hughes.

As if. Kids lacking empathy don't get sarcasm. Fascinating (seriously).

Better natured. The countryside is great for kids & scientists alike.

That’s fine. Human touch can discriminate scale down to 10 nm. Bradley Voytek carefully handles a touchy subject.

Something for nothing. Placebos reduce pain & up pleasure using similar neural circuits.

Gut reaction. Belly fat might enhance memory loss. Intriguing

Lighten up. Might outdoor illumination protect kids from becoming near-sighted?

Even better than the real thing? No, cookies are not more addictive than coke. Vaughan Bell expertly debunks bad reporting.

Pure thoughts. Sleep clears the brain’s junk.

When sad things collide. Treating mental illness using captive hyenas. Yes, really.

Only human. We *all* make mistakes. We redeem ourselves in how we handle them. Brilliant post by Janet Stemwedel.


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

This week was a tough week for the science communication community. First, Danielle Lee reported how, when she said “No” to a blogging condition, the very strong inference was made that she was an “urban whore”. To makes matters much worse, the Scientific American Blog Network, Dr. Lee’s blogging home, deleted her post on the matter. Unsurprisingly, this invoked a number of posts by people shocked, dismayed and angered by the shameful treatment of Dr. Lee. Some incredibly powerful writing on this subject was found here, here, here, here and here.Eventually Scientific American restored Dr. Lee’s post with an apology. In the interim, some exceptional pieces of writing on the matter followed. Amongst the best were brilliant posts by Tressie McMillan Cottom (here) by David Kroll (here), and by Daniel Lende (here). The case shone a light on matters that are in dire need of attention – as was widely acknowledged across the science communication community. Unfortunately (but, ultimately, perhaps fortunately), the case also catalysed revelations about sexual harassment that struck right at the heart of this same community. This week, three brave women, Monica Byrne, Kathleen Raven, and Hannah Waters, confronted sexual harassment by a leading science community blog manager. Their harrowing stories are here and here. For those who think that words & actions made by men in positions of power and privilege are “harmless”, spend some time with Ripples Of Doubt, then think again. Reads of the week.

Fittingly, in a week when so many women in the science communications community made their voices heard, the week also featured Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate women’s contribution to science. In keeping with this, scientists share tales of women who inspired them here, here, and here. Rebekah Higgit provided an important reminder: “Celebrate individuals, but understand them as they would have understood themselves.”  

Open & shut case? The recent “sting” says more about peer review than open access.   Great piece by Jon Tennant.

Degree of privilege? You don’t need a PhD to love, or share, science. Excellent post by Tania Browne.

“If science wants to claim to aim for objectivity, it needs to look at itself.” Excellent piece by Alice Bell. Speaking of which:

“The power of the science blogging community has always been the community.” Absolutely. As usual, Alice Bell is spot on.

“Serving society…is the conscious passion of everyone who works in a modern university.” “Our universities set out to change the world through our research, & do so time after time.”  Two quotes by Leszek Borysiewicz, from an excellent piece on value of university research.

Let’s finish on three “up” notes:

Small world. Miniature men melded with marine life. Strangely intriguing sci-art via Christie Wilcox.

“Remember science is a story, too – not just a list of facts.” From a super post by Sarah Boon, on the importance of storytelling as part of science.

“Let the local illustrate the global. Science does this.” The power of wonder. Lovely post by  Kim Moynahan.


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