Morsels for the mind – 19/7/2013

20 July 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!


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

“He was an 8-year-old lion, healthy & formidable, commanding respect within a pride.” David Quammen’s absolutely beautiful profile of a remarkable cat.

Marvellous moves. Amazing animal migrations. Speaking of which:

Home away from home. Loons nest in places that reminded them of where they grew up. Speaking of which:

Hopping home. Frogs get back to where they once belonged. Speaking of which:

March of the teeny, tiny adorable penguins. And how one community saved their migration from extirpation.

Terrifying tigers. Mapping community perspectives on big cats yields no surprises, but important nevertheless.

“For now, the story has a happy ending.” Touching tale of a kangaroo’s battle with cancer, expertly conveyed by Jason Gold.

Lamarck’s lethal legacy. Sheesh, you make ONE giraffe gaff, and it sticks with you, like, foreva.

Dam nuisance? Want to keep carbon locked up? Keep beavers where they are.

Survive air that would kill a human, acid pain impervious, don't get cancer. Ah, the naked mole rat.

Living the high life. How the largest tit survives high altitudes.

Gone but not forgotten. Dead guppy dads reproduce posthumously.

Hiding from the heat. Elephants beat high temperatures with a porous hide.

Manatee morbidity mystery. Looking for clues to what is killing the gentle beasts in alarming numbers.

The bees knees? Actually, as running innovations go, the human leg is not so great.

Senses working overtime. Nice summary of what is known about birds’ ability to detect magnetic fields.

No good end. There’s a viper with the head of a snake, and a tail that resembles a spider.

Snakes on a plain. Tracking slithering reptiles in the prairies.

Re rewind, when anoles get mo’ selection! Lizard lookalikes emerge when evolution replays.

Bad bullseye. Fishes’ fake “eyespots” make it hard for predators to take aim.

Strange relations. Tuna more closely related to seahorses than swordfish.

Fuelling up. Sharks feast on fatty seals before migratory travel.

All ironed out. Copper, not iron, allows octopus to survive cold temperatures.

Palace of the brine. The shrine of the Sea Monkey is full of queens. Only 1 in 1000 brine shrimp are male. Brilliant piece by Carl Zimmer on the evolution of sex ratios.

Getting the point. Clam resides only amongst the spikes of sea urchins.

Sponging it up. Glass sponges move into warming Antarctic waters. Hannah Waters brings perspective to a hot story.

Minding his own buzzness. How do you protect a dog who sniffs out bee disease? With a buzzness suit.


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

Putting a hex on things. Does the shape of the bee honeycomb cell come down to good building or physics of self-assembly?

Shake your heads! That’s precisely what this one caterpillar does. It shakes All of its old heads.

Oh poop! Ant youngsters do it only once.

The circle of life. Butterfly biography, all beautifully videoed…on an iPhone! (sickly sweet narration though)

Good vibrations. When bees buzz, they liberate pollen.

Royally messed up. Monarch butterfly populations at their lowest in 20 years.

Napoleonic nasties. Military strategy was the last of the emperor’s concerns. Pests were rife. Annelie Wendeberg continues her excellent series on the history of biological warfare.


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

Getting it together. How plants and microbes partner.

Growing concern. The evolutionary marvel that is weedy plants.

Win some, lose some. Rice twice became a crop, and twice became a weed.

Thwarting alien invaders. Citizen scientists track invasive plant species.

Botanical beauty. Vintage plant anatomy.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

This week’s big fossil find was Nasutoceratops titusi, which means big-nose, horn-face. It’s a whole new ceratopsid genus. Lots of great writers got right to the points: Rebecca Morelle, Josh Howgego, Brian Switek, and Breanna Draxler.

Taking a bite out of life. Tyrannosaurus rex bit a tail, lost a tooth, and missed a meal. The tail tells the tale. Sometimes reality does bite. Some folks saw this as helping to resolve the “debate” over T. rex eating habits – predator versus scavenger. But there is no debate, as perfectly articulated by John Hutchison and Brian Switek.

Yukon gold. Glacier dynamics created northern palaeontological bonanza.

How the heck did so many dinosaurs share a veg diet? They were picky eaters. Brian Switek elegantly elaborates.

Super sucker. Ancient giant turtle likely hoovered up its meals.

Colourful history. Exploring the hues of fossil feathers.

Shades of the past. The colour of dinosaurs.

Fantastic fungal fossils. Did giant mushroom leave a mineral record?

Enjoying the coral reefs of…Indiana?! Tremendous trilobites of the “maritime” Midwest.

Bloody hell! The diets of extinct vampire bats.

Holy crap! Manure has been used as fertiliser for 8000 years. Michael Balter shows how to harvest a great story.


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

Singles’ club. Genome sequences of single cells reveals remarkable complexity of microbes, including those that flesh out the tree of life. Great coverage of these amazing finds by Erika Check Hayden, Rebecca Morelle, and Ed Yong.

More than meets the eye. Mushrooms are just the tip of the iceberg.

Good neighbours. Microbes resist antibiotics together.

Welcome home! How we shape the air-borne microbial diversity in our houses.

It’s their turn. Bacteria turn by flopping flagella.

Going whole hog. How pork creates epidemics. Important.

Half-baked idea. Rubella outbreak illustrates failure of gender-specific immunisation schemes.

Strength in numbers. Swarms of decoy viruses could improve gene therapy.


Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others)

Silence is golden. Chromosome silencing tells tale of Down’s syndrome cell biology. Spectacular work, masterfully explained by Ed Yong.

Something for nothing? Even random pieces of DNA can be shown to have “function”.

Lying in wait. Cryptic mutations e unmasked when the conditions are right.

The nurture of the beast. Nice backgrounder on nature, nurture and epigenetics.

Sweet nothings. Ferris Jabr expertly sifts through the “toxicity” of sugar.

Cuts like a knife? No it’s smarter than that. It specifically detects and cuts out cancer.


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

It’s a scream! A big volcano screeched before erupting. That’s right, a seismic screech. The earth died screaming. And that’s why listening in might be a good way to monitor geological activity.

Banding together. How semi-arid vegetation systems earn their stripes.

Fiery flow. Amazing lava lake. Erik Klemetti reports on truly hot stuff.

Crayon creation? Nope, Earth from space. We live on art.

More troubles when the coast is clear. Coastal damage is limited when ecosystems are intact.

Losing the race. Climate change is outpacing evolution. Extinctions imminent.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Distant world is blue, and there’s nothing I can do. The other blue planet has winds of 7000kph, a temperature of 1000C and rains glass sideways. It’s blue by hue.

Moon boon. Another moon was found around Neptune, taking the total to 14. It’s only 20km in diameter, and has a 23 hour year. It has no name, yet. “Anyone could have discovered it” says its modest discoverer.

Cosmic conception. A massive star is born.

Star qualities. Great guide to neutron stars.

Death in all its glory. A dying star can be painfully gorgeous.

Hitting the jackpot. Gold is made when dead stars collide

Spectacular spiral. Black hole sucks in a gas cloud. Beauty arises. And as it does, great discoveries await.

Home alone. Are celestial wanderers failed stars or sunless planets?

Quite a tail to tell. Our solar system has one. It is a gorgeous tail.

Heat wave. Solar surface has a huge ripple.

Loopy affair. Solar loops are an optical illusion.

“..c’est doux, la nuit, de regarder le ciel.” Touching video of the Little Prince watching the aurora borealis.

“If you love a flower found on a star.” Lovely musing on the Little Prince’s asteroid.

Down to Earth. When considering prospects for life on Mars, we have a great analogy right here at terra firma.

Earth first? As we explore the universe, let’s make sure we don’t trash other planets. Adam Mann’s has written an excellent piece on “space environmentalism”.

53 miles west of Venus. Literally. Driving the solar system along highways in Maine. Beautiful post by Lee Billings.


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

Legends of the fall. The drop of black pitch has finally fallen! It is revealing its liquid qualities. Pitch perfect.

Remarkably rare. Amazing astatine. Masterful musing by Robert Krulwich.

A current affair. How particles go against the flow. Wonderful explanation by Jennifer Ouellette.

The hole story. Could a black hole be created in the laboratory?

Dying for an answer. Death is an evolutionary puzzle.

Running in neutral. Evolution can move forward even in the absence of selection.

Get the balance right? Why and how mammal mothers may determine the sex of their offspring.

The sound of science. Acoustic waves hold objects aloft, and enable them to be manipulated. Hands free chemistry possible! Sound’s cool.

Measure for measure. Defining temperature precisely is a matter of degrees.


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

Hold the hype. When it comes to reporting neuroscience, a little nuance is in order. Bethany Brookshire lays out the straight goods.

Nothing to shy away from. Shyness is something to embrace. It makes us human. Wonderful read by Joe Moran.

Rhythm method. Some music can speed you up. Other music can slow you down.

A sigh is just a sigh? A refreshing look at a topic of exasperation.

Think girls are biologically determined to like pink? Think again.

Sleep on it. If you want to beat anxiety, give it a rest.

Seeing is believing. See the world through a dog’s eyes. It’s not so great (in some ways).

Not so bright. Despite limitations, dogs do use colour over brightness to interpret their world. Fascinating.

Something’s familiar about this. Where does that curious feeling of déjà vu come from?

Something’s familiar about this. Where does that curious feeling of déjà vu come from?

“Suffering, suicide, euthanasia, a dignified death — suddenly, they turned unbearably personal.” Brilliant, poignant, compassionate piece by Robin Henig on seeing someone through to life’s end.


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

“Here was science that asked for a different kind of devotion.” Poetic, touching and important read by Kelly Clancy on love, loss and motivation.

Fantastic fieldnotes. Anne-Marie Hodge shares her experience of tracking animals in the field.

Share and share alike. 9 months into his PhD, Jon Tennant shares his progress report with everyone. Really like this – must be the way of the future.

Join the crowd. Great overview of citizen science.

Striking pose. Taxidermy makes extinct species come to life. Quote of the week: “There is a powerful moment when you come face-to-face with taxidermy.”

“If you follow only one food issue…become a fish nerd.” Erik Vance considers the net effects of ethical eating choices.

In the movie “Up!”, Dug the dog had a canine-to-human communication device. They’re working on a real one.

“It is a pursuit that is as meticulous as it is awe inspiring.” Eric Johnson shares his brilliant perspective on science.

“Loose attitude to relating concepts is the stuff of poetry & rhetoric. It does science no good.” Indeed.

“There are two cultures – farming and everything else.” Beautiful rumination on goats, academia and CP Snow. An absolutely genius post by Anne Buchanan. Read of the week.


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