Morsels for the mind – 20/9/2013

21 September 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 of the week”.


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

Getting an earful. Whale’s turbulent lives recorded in earwax. It’s a whale of a tale of pollutants and stress. Beautifully told by Ed Yong, Olive Heffernan, Grrl Scientist, and Megan Gannon. Reads of the week.

Whale of a tale. The life of a white cetacean, wonderfully conveyed by Hannah Waters.

Star search? Do whales use celestial patterns to navigate? Intriguing hypothesis.

How many digits do you think this adorable panda has on his paw? The answer.

Have you herd? Elephants discern tiger & leopard growls and act appropriately. Ed Yong trumpeted this interesting tale.

Monkey business. The “Ikea Monkey” verdict, law, & animal welfare. Incredible story, perfectly covered by Kim Moynahan.

See Spot. See Spot run. See Spot contentedly socialise with a robot. An amazing story of how dogs interact with robots. It says as much about robots as dogs. Perfectly covered by Shaunacy Ferro and Jason Goldman.

Cool for cats. Even after clearance from body, toxoplasma leaves mice unafraid of feline odour. A truly remarkable story, masterfully shared by Eliot Barford, George Dvorsky, and Melissa Hogenboom.

“Tigers are just a big domestic cat.” Or something like that. So says genome.

Of a different stripe? Nice dissection of the novelty, or not, of the tiger genome, by Razib Khan.

Where’s the beef? Here. Disturbing beauty of feedlots seen via satellite, shared by Brandon Keim.

He is the walrus. A curious piece of museum taxidermy. Super story by Henry Nicholls.

Jelly belly. Leatherbacks eat 16 cucumbers worth of jellyfish daily.

Matter of time. Small animals see world in slo-mo.

No worries. Big-brained birds less stressed.

Hold on. The astounding capabilities of gecko feet.

A bad bunch. Banana cultivation loading caimans with pesticides.

And then he croaked. The frog & the rocket. A parable.

All hopped up. Curious history of frogs & space travel. Jason Goldman reports on one giant leap for amphibian-kind.

Blob’s your uncle. The blobfish is alright, & we should treat it as such. Love this defence of the blobfish by Colin Schultz.

Butting in. Pearlfish reside in sea cucumber behinds.

Lying lovers. Guppies practice deceptive sex. Anne-Marie Hodge shares the riddle of some tricksy fishes.

Note worthy find. Goldfish tell Bach & Stravinsky apart, but don’t prefer one more. Douglas Main reports.

Good schooling. For fish, swimming together is innate.

Mischief maker. Mimic fish a rabble rouser. Interesting story by Sarah Jane Alger.

Fishing for answers. How the zebrafish is transforming research.

Jumpstarting a living. Mary Bates reveals why guppies leap.

Surfin’ safari. Jennifer Frazer homes in on the tiny critters of the intertidal zone.

Left dangling. What does a slow moving squid use its limp limbs for? It’s somewhat of a mystery, shared by Craig McClain.

Ballsy move. Female squid flash fake testes for disguise. Elizabeth Preston beautifully describes a real gender bender.

Deep inner beauty. Snail from far underground is tremendously translucent. Laura Poppick gets to the depths of this story.

Worming their way into your life. Nematodes residing in your home by Holly Bik.

Now you see it, now you don’t. Bobbit worm dines on fish. In one big gulp. Matt Simon reports on one scary ocean dweller.

Wanna see something *really* scary? Sea monsters. Real-life ocean dwellers that are more frightening than fiction, as revealed by Andrew Thaler.

Ageing, gracefully. A face through life. Astonishing.


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

All geared up. A bug with cogs in its legs! Yes, really. A story that got really got the wheels of the mind turning, due to wonderful writing by Philip Ball, Susan Milius and Ed Yong.

Life *is* lonely at the top. But you’re less likely to be eaten there. Outstanding research blogging by Chris Buddle.

Crappy existence. Caterpillar employs poo-mimicry. Crystal Ernst restarts her blog on a high note!

Risky business. Ants avoid it on the road to royalty.

Gutsy move. Insect vomits microbes to outwit plants.

Not so crap. Termite faeces fight disease.

A breath of fresh air. Marianne Alleyne brilliantly describes how termite mounds can help us design buildings that breathe.

Genital jam. Bug Girl describes how insects make music with nether parts.

Who’s hurting woo? Parasite-infected females less picky about courtship. In crickets. Interesting find, perfectly reported by Felicity Muth.

Bugged by bugs? Even entomologists can get creeped out by their beloved subjects, as Elizabeth Preston shows.

Best before date? Honey doesn’t need one. Here’s why.

Heads for honey. Beautiful bee faces.

A bug’s life. Insects, up close & personal. Amazing.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Knock knock. Who’s there? Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs who? Dinosaurs who can’t turn doorknobs. Fantastic research blogging by Matt Bonnan.

Winging it. Flight path of dinosaurs.

Unflappable flyer. Microraptor was a glider. Cool story by Alyssa Botelho.

Time for change. At the dawn of the Cambrian, evolution was about 4x faster. Fascinating discovery reported by Kelly Servick.

Rising tide lifts all boats…& hastened pace of evolution. At least it did in the Cambrian.

Trapped in a fiction. DNA doesn’t endure enough in amber to hope for Jurassic Park.

Mammoth undertaking. Genetic clues to iconic pachyderm extinction. Pallab Ghosh expertly relates the latest evidence that it may not have been humans responsible for mammoths’ demise.


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

Leafing through life. Perfect plant parts. Rob Dunn turns over some leaves, old and new.

Bust a move. Horsetail ferns’ projectile spores. Victoria Gill explores an explosive subject.

Lichen it. Remarkable symbiosis.

Rise of the mutants. Crop scientists fight rust disease with new mutations.

Questions in store. Surprising links between plant carbon storage, herbivores & carnivores. Interesting discovery reported by Arielle Duhaime-Ross.

Explosive beauty. Flowers, liquid nitrogen, & a bullet blast do art make. Joseph Stromberg beautiful handles a fragile subject.


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

Inside scoop. The variation in microbes that reside in our guts.

Mind control. Matt Simon shows how fungus makes ant zombies.

Painful discovery. Microbe menace succeeds by stimulating pain receptors.

Pigging out? Increased risk of antibiotic-resistant infections associated with pig feedlots.


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)

Piecing it together. Are we mosaics of cells with different genomes? Carl Zimmer provides the intriguing answer. Read of the week.

Recipe for humanity? Making a human from scratch. Kyle Hill provides every mad scientists with what they need to know.

Out of this world? Might comets colliding have generated amino acids to build life?

A pain in the glass. Michael Balter describes how the molecule behind “corked” wine plugs up your sense of smell.

Whole other dimension. 3D structure of HIV conspirator could shape better anti-HIV drugs.


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

Before the goldrush. Just where did gold come from? Excellent feature by William Kremer.

That’s how it swings. Earth’s rotation beautifully captured by Foucault’s pendulum. Beautiful post by Matthew Francis.

Water, water everywhere? Our relationship with water captured by Edward Burtynsky, and shared by Megan Gambino.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

We’ve been dwarfed! Dwarf galaxy took a swing though ours.

They get a round. Some extrasolar system planets have surprising origins.

A flock of seagulls? Actually, a flock of stars. In the belly of The Whale. Gorgeous.

Dead or alive? The dead comet that wasn’t.

Stupendous storm. A tempest on Saturn.

Keep an eye on the sky. Aurora in 3D. Charles Choi reports on a phenomenal way to visualise the beauty of auroras.

Hold on! Later this year a human-made device is going to *ride* a comet. Awesome story by Jonathan Amos.

From such great heights. The monumental achievement that is Voyager 1. An excellent ode to an amazing piece of technology by Stuart Clark.

Out of this world. Might “ruins” of alien civilisations be seen in space? Could we see alien “astroengineering”. Intriguing hypothesis raised by Paul Gilster.


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

“For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity.” Zeeya Merali explores the likelihood that a 4D star’s collapse into a black hole spawned our universe. Fascinating. Read of the week.

“Caught in the landscape, Out of touch with reality.” Bohemian Gravity. Genius. Must view, a capella, physics-meets-Queen masterpiece by Timothy Blaise. View of the week.

“My field is really about ideas above anything else.” Mail Suri’s awesome ode to loving mathematics.

Pop stars? Did our universe emerge like a bubble popping into existence in boiling water?

Borne out of chaos. How chaos theory went from obscurity 50 years ago to changing everything. Brilliant piece by Tom Siegfried.

Shaping up. Might amplituhedron geometry give us a better angle on quantum physics? Interesting hypothesis reported by Nathalie Walchover.

A trick of the light. Taking inspiration from photosynthesis to make fuel from sunshine. Annalee Newitz’s first piece in The New Yorker is as awesomely illuminating as the rest of her work.

Turning over a new leaf. Silicon crafted into paper for bendy electronics.

Shocking discovery. Alok Jha describes how Maxwell's electromagnetic equations have powered the planet.

A light switch. Graphene converts photons to electrical signals. Illuminating story by Mark Peplow.

Resistance is futile? Evolution shows that the path of least resistance is the path to innovation.


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

Fault lines. The new Radiolab episode on laying blame & showing mercy is phenomenal. Listen of the week.

The inside track. Human babies expect animals to have innards. Surprised when they don’t.  Fascinating discovery, reported by Virginia Hughes and Tia Ghose, respectively.

Face time. How our brains identify faces over our lifetimes. Fascinating research reported by Virginia Hughes.

Minding the mind. Animated history of brain science. Excellent video by Asa Lucander.

Sweet dreams are made of this. Dreaming doesn’t require imagination.

Some nerve. Jennifer Anniston likely resides somewhere in your brain. In a neuron. Jennifer Ouellette helps understand where celebrities really live.

Staring death in the face. And having coffee & cake. Life at a death café. Interesting concept shared by Clare Frances Davies.


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

Think you love science? Make sure to show the love. Brilliant perspective by John Skylar. Read of the week.

No alternatives? For STEM careers, we need to redefine “alternative”. Sci Curious is spot on here.

Stem the tide? Do we really need more STEM-trained grads? Zen Faulkes provides a thought-provoking answer.

Engineering a better future. Corrinne Burns calls for engineers to promote their discipline.

Marvellous mutualism. Heather Doran makes the compelling case that public engagement benefits academics & their audience.

Who gives a tweet? Undergrads. In field courses. Because communication. A superb example of science communication by Chris Buddle.

An eye for awesome. Super interview of phenomenal nature photographer Nicky Bay, by Becky Crew.

“Coffee, dogs, & exercise.” David Quammen’s ritual for success.

Northern exposure. Sarah Boon perfectly captures the challenges & rewards of arctic research.


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