Morsels For The Mind – 21/02/2014

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

In hot water. The challenges facing “sea unicorns”, narwhals. Excellent feature by Isabelle Groc.

Elephants never forget…To console their friends. Trunk pats suggest empathy. Awesome research results, nicely explained by Mary Bates.

A trunk for troubles. Virginia Morell opn how elephants console each other.

A trunkful of tenderness. Time to accept that elephants are empathic like us. Virginia Morell makes an extremely compelling and timely case.

Pachyderm peril. Iconic elephant, Torn Ear, killed by poachers. Sad story by Christina Russo, featuring Big Life Foundation.

Dogged determination. Determining what’s happening in the canine brain. Cautious interpretation is urged, as Abby Olena reports.

Spot’s thoughts. Monitoring canine brain activity by fMRI. Cool results reported by Rebecca Morelle,

Sit. Stay. Have your brain scanned. fMRI revealing remarkable things inside canine heads. Virginia Morell takes a look.

“I can hear it in your voice." Dogs detect emotion in human vocalisation. Joseph Stromberg reports on the recent findings.

His master’s voice. Activates his brain. And poses interesting evolutionary questions, as Virginia Hughes reveals.

Leading the high life. Elizabeth Preston on how the Tibetan mastiff lives at altitude.

A breed apart? Canine purebreds - best in show, worst in health? Claire Maldarelli on how some dogs are going to the dogs.

Seeing in another light? Might dogs & cats detect UV radiation? Fascinating possibility, as revealed by Tanya Lewis.

The eyes have it? Dogs & cats may see UV light wavelengths. Amazing discovery, nicely explained by Jennifer Viegas. On Twitter, Ed Yong raised a great point about this study: "Only shows lens doesn’t filter UV! No behaviour." That is, does mere capacity for UV detection qualify as UV vision? Need more research to test that hypothesis.

Madagascar—& the world—will be much poorer without them." We really need to protect lemurs, as Jeremy Hance explains.

Love connection. Emily Chung on how overpasses enable bears to hook up on both sides of the highway.

Tunnel of love? Bears travel under highways for mates. Tanya Lewis on ursine romance.

Prickly situation. Porcupine sex. Fascinating conundrum, nicely described by Jason Bittel.

This week contained World Pangolin Day. Every day should be World Pangolin Day! John Hutchinson shows why.

Stupendous storers. Susan Milius on those amazing packrats.

Music to lactate to. Might cow milk yield be tuneable by musical choice? Anna O'Brien listens in.

Rhythm method.  Jane Jae Lee on how the study of animals keeping beat gives insights into evolution of music.

Can’t be beat? Do animals really have a sense of rhythm? Erik Vance addresses the question.

Getting a lift in life. Denise Chow on how bats alter wing shape in flight to maximise flying efficiency.

A whale for the killing. All to frequently, stranded whales should be euthanised. How to do it humanely? Jason Goldman on a sad, but important, research effort.

Are rhinos keystone species? Yes. Yes they are. Remove them, ruin an ecosystem. Jason Goldman explains.

A head by a whisker? Sea lions ID’d by whiskers could aid conservation. Cool citizen science, nicely explained by John Platt.

The Hawaiian hawk’s protected status has outlasted the organization that sought to remove it.” Quote by John Platt from a super read on the saga of the Hawaiian hawk. Amazing story. Read of the week.

More than humming along. Hummingbirds sing to mates. Stefan Sirucek listens in.

Winging it. Sarah Zielinski on how falcons position feathers for the perfect dive.

Shake your tail feather? How about shake your tail plunger?! It might make you move like a dinosaur! Bethany Brookshire on a funky experiment.

Daffy ducks? No way! Ducks are remarkable! Super new comic by The Black Mudpuppy, featuring Darren Naish's Tetrapod Zoology.

On the move. Amazing animal migrations.

A shore thing. Our plastic is a grim reaper for shorebirds. Important findings, expertly reported by Jason Goldman.

It’s flukey! There are striking fin & wing similarities, as Philip Ball reveals.

Even if they look a bit ugly — a bit like a monster — at a certain point they seem pretty beautiful.” Quote from a great piece by Alexa Keefe, on researching Komodo dragons.

It’s no croc. But the red-eyed crocodile skink is still amazing. Bec Crew shows why.

Branching out. Arboreal monitor lizards. Darren Naish on interesting taxa.

Froggy went a’courting. Purple frog a purple prince in disguise? Mary Bates on an amazing amphibian.

Getting lippy. Frog fights moustache to moustache. Matt Simon continues his look at a curious cast of critters.

No bones about it. How sharks mate. David Shiffman gets into the details.

Not so sweet. Killer starfish threatens Great Barrier Reef. Because sugarcane. Julian Siddle on a dire discovery.

Deep breathing. Sponges don’t need much oxygen, as Colin Barras reports.

Thievery incorporation. Casey Dunn on how the sea slug steals jellyfish sting. View of the week.

All together now. The many ways to be multicellular. Good explainer by Jennifer Frazer.


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

Arthropod awesomeness. Chris Buddle’s picks of super, invertebrate-related links.

Caught in the act. Bugs & spiders doing it, photographed by incomparable Nicky Bay, brought to you by Nadia Drake.

Stream of unconsciousness. Tommy Leung on how zombie crickets become fish prey.

To bee or not to bee? Humans are no bees. Annalee Newitz explains perfectly.

Romantic dinner. Michael Marshall on how the praying mantis makes a meal of her mate.

Preying on their minds. Piotr Naskrecki shares some marvellous mantids.

Fighting fire with acid. Formic acid beats fire ants. Elizabeth Pennisi on a hot topic.

Friendly freeloaders. Laasya Samhita describes how squatters bring benefits.

Dirty rotten scoundrels. Male tricksters win rotting fruit, as Bec Crew reveals.

Dainty diners? Sloppy eaters?  Bullet ants vary in table manners. Jyoti Madhusoodanan shows how.

Amazement flutters by. Giant skipper butterflies. Andy Warren tells why they're his favourites.

Buoyant babies. Ant infants make things float. Literally. Lauren Davis explains.

A little back up. Ants capitalise on their babies’ buoyancy. Build rafts on their backs. Cool story by Beth Skwarecki.

The future is in plastics! Unfortunately, that is the case for some urban bee nests. Elizabeth Preston on a remarkable instance of the impacts of urban life.

Bad buzz. Honeybee trade could transmit disease to wild pollinators. Fred Pearce on some decidedly worrying developments.

Tick talk. Diagnosis of persistent Lyme disease in humans may be aided by…ticks. Rachael Rettner explains how this is the case.

The legacy of taxonomists, and our struggles to make those legacies last.” Beautiful, must read piece by David Maddison. Read of the week.

Here I was, surrounded by a remarkable entomological discovery, but with no way to collect, preserve, or record it.” Quote by Piotr Naskrecki from a fantastic post on finding an entomological wonder. Super read. Read of the week.


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

Getting a head in life. Palaeontologists find “gargantuan” pachyrhinosaur skull. Great discovery, featuring Darla Zelenitsky.

A bone to pick. A critical look at evolution of tissue mineralisation. Excellent post, by Anne Buchanan.

Where’d everybody go? Understanding the most severe extinction. It happened 252M yrs ago. Helen Thompson on how folks are looking back.

Facing facts. How the face evolved.

Cut like a knife. Dimetrodon’s remarkable teeth. Brian Switek takes a look.

Shady business. How different coat hues emerged in animal evolution. Excellent look at some recent research, by Travis Park.

Turning over an old leaf. Fossil leaves flesh out forest existence of ancient apes. This piece by Holly Dunsworth is an example of research blogging at its best. Cool context plus new insights! Read of the week.

The dating game. Analysing the migration of hominins out of Africa. Intriguing find, nicely described by Robin Wylie.

Udderly smitten? Mary Beth Griggs on how, 6000 yrs ago, Britons preferred dairy over seafood.

2000 years after Song of Songs, 700 years before Stephen Tintin Duffy, the Norse said “Kiss Me” in runes. Megan Gannon reports on a love note. Potentially obscure Stephen "Tintin" Duffy reference in this morsel relates to this.  [Earworm warning!]

The Neanderthal man. Ancient genome scientist Svante Pääbo takes us back to our roots. Robin McKie profiles a great scientist.


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

Resistance is futile? Sarah Shailes on how wheat can resist rust fungus if the temperature shifts upward.

Lettuce connect you? Tiny sprouts make a real live wire. An electrical wire! Katia Moskvitch on an electrifying topic.

Phenomenal flora. Exceptional illustrations by Noel Badges Pugh.


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

Imagine a microscale machine that can make electricity one moment & produce fuel the next.” As Jeffrey Marlow reports, it's none other than a microbe.

Two sides to every story. Cat Adams on the death cap mushroom - good for trees, bad for humans.

Viruses of a feather. Avian origin of the 1918 flu. Amazing research, nicely explained by Hannah Hoag.

They came from Joe’s garage? Microbes named after Frank Zappa leap from zits to grapes. Yep. Laura Poppick on a funky find.

Minding the gut? Could your gastro-intestinal microbes be hacked to boost your brain? Cool idea, nicely explained by Frank Swain.

The end game. Don’t treat faecal transplants like a drug. Great advice for FDA by Eric Alm and colleagues.

No companies interested in commercializing these sausages." They’re made with baby poo. But that’s not bad, as Charles Choi explains.

Monkey temples: sanctified sites for worship, interspecies interaction, & virus swapping. Rebecca Kreston weaves a wonderful story here. Read of the week.

Colonies in space. How bacteria make biofilms without gravity. Cool research, nicely described by S.E. Gould.


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)

Going for broke. Ed Yong on how a busted enzyme helped us out. Read of the week.

A change for the better? Editing genomes with CRISPR. Nice review by Susan Young.

Editorial experience. From genome editing to manuscript editing. Chase Beisel describes moving an idea to publication.

These blind mice. See. By virtue of a remarkable injection. Fascinating research, masterly reported by Ed Yong.

Something to remember. Prion proteins hold memories. Beth Skwarecki on a remarkable discovery.

Skeleton crew. The marvels of bone, across the vertebrates. Nice read by Ben Garrod.

Your ear smells. Well, your ear hears, but earwax may smell. And that may say something, as Francie Diep reveals.

Hot shots. Heat-stable vaccines are a big deal for Africa. Excellent news, wonderfully reported by Beth Skwarecki. Read of the week.

Shot at survival. Declan Butler described how meningitis vaccine is beating African heat. And how that's a really good thing.

Painstaking job. Our pain receptor, laid bare. Emily Singer on the significance of this amazing research.

Cool thinking. Add super-bitter compound to antifreeze to deter poisoning. Deborah Blum on new efforts to reduce poison cases.

What does naming babies have to do with naming genes? Sometime the meaning of the name gets lost in translation. I wrote this.

Acid tripped up? The acid-bath method for creating stem cells could get burned. Jalees Rehman on current questions on a remarkable find.

Too good to be true? Remember that simple method to produce stem cells? Well…  David Cyranoski looks at the concerns that have been raised.

She is living proof that extremes can cure as well as kill." Recovery from being frozen. Remarkable story by Kevin Fong.

Life on Mars. Would wreak havoc on your bodyKevin Fong breaks it down for you.

I listen to lots of podcasts. Best segment recently: “The Sports Gene”. David Epstein on CBC's Quirks & Quarks. Listen of the week.

Also really enjoyed Ewen Callaway’s interview of Svante Pääbo, on ancient DNA. Great listen.

Infectious ideas. Just how is “zombification” transmitted? Here’s the science! Good fun, from Kyle Hill at his new blogging home at Discover.

Up in the air? How does oxygen uptake impact athletic performance? Alex Hutchinson on a breathtaking subject.

Strong finish. Why are athletes able to speed up at the end of a race? Alex Hutchinson takes a look.

Read all about it!  Lex Nederbragt describes how Oxford Nanopore has long-read DNA sequencer, but it’s not error free.

Holey baloney? New nanopore DNA sequencing device works, but not up to expectations, as Erika Check Hayden reports.


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

Mushy magma melt. Erik Klemetti on how that presages volcano eruption.

Invisible touch. Before an earthquake, there are unseen, but detectable, warnings, as Robin Wylie reports.

Colour my world. Seeing the sound of ecosystems. This is brilliant. Literally. Excellent report by Kelly Servick. View / listen of the week.

A moving story. How do plants keep up when climate moves >1 metre a day? Excellent post, by Robert Krulwich.

Rockin’ the house. All Olympic curling stones hail from the same place. In Scotland, of course. Michael Easter looks into it.

It isn’t their ghostly beauty that attracts researchers. It is their alarming vulnerability.” Quote by Peter Brannen from a brilliant Aeon Magazine piece on plankton & the future of oceans. Read of the week.

This rocks. Geological “organ pipes”, photographed  by Marco Erman.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

A real bright spot. One brilliant galaxy.

Solar power. Our Sun is remarkable. Carl Engelking shows why.

Tiny treasures. Gorgeous galaxies made small, by Haari Tesla.

Blast it all! Ian O'Neill on how a pulsar crushed billion ton asteroid.

X factor.  Phil Plait shows X-rays pouring out of a galaxy.

Same old story? Is the “oldest star in the universe” really the oldest? Excellent explanation, by Geraint Lewis.

Cloudy visions. Elizabeth Howell on how gas clouds mask black holes.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even black holes. Ethan Siegal explains elegantly.

Hole story. Black holes shred stars. Be sure to see the accompanying video as well.

Gone but not forgotten. Learning lessons from comet ISON. Excellent feature by Alex Witze. Read of the week.

Solar power. Our Sun is remarkable. Carl Engelking shows why.

We live in Carl Sagan’s universe - awesomely vast, deeply humbling.” Superb profile by Joel Achenbach. Read of the week.

“Yet still it moves.” Why Galileo’s words still resonate 450 years after his birth. Dan Vergano makes a great case.


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

No matter how elegant a theory may be, it must match the observational evidence.” Quote by Matthew Francis from a superb piece on the nature of dark energy. Lots of great stuff in here. Read of the week.

Beside ourselves? What you need to know about parallel universes. It gets some folks riled. Max Tegmark explains.

Holes in the theory? The black hole information paradox. Super introduction to the science, by Matt Strassler.

Cosmic cauldron. Lindsay Brownell explains how chemical building blocks for life could be cooked up by cosmic rays.

Compound interest. Chemistry that may have predated “molecules of life”. Excellent feature, by Emily Singer.

A formula for beauty. Beautiful mathematical equations. Excellent look at some interesting maths, by Clara Moskowitz.

To p or not to p? Problems with the p-value. Lies, damn lies & statistics? Excellent critique, by Tom Siegfried.

Shaping up. Akshat Rathi finds that we’re still discovering new shapes. (But it’s still hip to be square.)

A weighty matter. Missing mass found in galaxies. Eugenie Reich takes a look.

Size matters. The scale of things in the universe. Lucky Tran takes a look.

Current affairs. Robots inspired by electric fish. Not so shocking, but very cool research described by Jonathan Amos.

Renoir's reds rejuvenated. Thank you science! Jonathan Amos on a useful melding of art and science.

Everything in turn. Figure skaters are able to do some remarkable moves. Because physics! Deborah King explains beautifully.

Cough please. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man may have had a hernia. Because evolution! Superb story by Laura Crothers. Read of the week.

Living for the city. Miles Becker on how bringing nature to urban environments brings benefits.

♫ When you fall in love ♪♫ Evolution has done its business…Patrick Clarkin on the roots if romance.

In a heartbeat. Things that happen with every beat of your heart. Astonishing. Must view post by xkcd. 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

The genetic you & the neural you aren’t alternatives to the conscious you. They are its foundations.” Quote by Paul Bloom from a thought-provoking post on our existence as “biochemical puppets”. Read of the week.

We cannot reduce the life of a human being to a single number.” Quote from an excellent article by Sara Reardon on fraught issue of IQ & application of death penalty. Read of the week.

Hush little baby. The power of a mother’s lullaby. Babies exit NICU faster. Amazing research find, reported by Kate Gammon.

Forget cat scratch fever. Cat bite depression is worrying. See stories by Douglas Main (here) and Rachel Nuwer (here).

High time for action? Brian Owens on how some research is aiming to blunt marijuana’s psychoactive effects.

All that jazz. Activates language centres in the brain. Fascinating find, shared by Michael Balter.

Hearing things. Musical hallucination creates orchestras when there are none.  Intriguing story by Carl Zimmer, featuring Oliver Sacks.

The mile high club. The trials, tribulations, & rewards of running a mile. Great read by Svati Kirsten Narula.

Of two minds? Neuroscience inspires kids, but they’re not more convinced about neuroplasticity, as Neuro Skeptic reports.

The parent trap? Language acquisition is not as simple as listening to your parents. Superb look at a timely topic, by Dorothy Bishop.

High way danger? What does science tell us about driving while stoned? Interesting look at an emerging concern, by Maggie Koerth-Baker.

Thinking Fast and Slow hasn’t changed the way I think — yet. But it has changed the way I think about how I think.” Quote by Stephen Curry from a great reflection upon reading Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast & Slow”.  Now that you have Stephen Curry’s perspective, here’s what a bunch of other folks think about Daniel Kahneman.

The look of love? This is what FaceBook sees when you fall in love. Remarkable data shared by Robinson Meyer.

Hungry for meaning, I heightened every ripple of insight into a wave.” Quote by Shara Yurkiewicz from a beautiful, poignant piece on diagnosing a brain lesion. Must read. Read of the week.


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

An advanced degree doesn’t mean you have only one career path, & anything else involves ‘quitting’ or ‘failure’.” Quote by Melonie Fullick from an excellent post on making choices in life. Great read. Read of the week.

When did you decide you wanted to be a scientist, & why?" A great look at the answers we provide, by Jon Butterworth.

Truth is stranger than fiction? Not when it’s science fiction! Joe Hanson looks at how fiction becomes truth. Great video - watch out for the "easter eggs". View of the week.

Prime time? Your big breakthrough awaits, or has passed, in your late-30s. Hmm. Olga Khazan on a finding that may be either good news or bad news, depending on how old you are.

'Renaissance scientists'..will be best equipped to bridge the gap between science & society.” Quote by Sheril Kirshenbaum from a thought-provoking piece on the challenges for “science literacy”.

NOT in a million years would I EVER say this.” Katie Hinde on the personal experience of when the press gets the science wrong.

Higgs would struggle to hang on to his academic post today.” Excellent look at modern academia, by Jim Al-Khalili.

How does anyone remember something that is boring?" The real problem for science. Sylvia McLain makes a great case here.

Blundering into brilliance? Ideas with biggest impact may arise by making errors. Ken Weiss makes a compelling case about why that’s a problem.

Risky business? Is doing interdisciplinary academic research a “safe” career route? Sarah Byrne addresses the question.

Good chemistry. Pairs of scientist that are also couples. Interesting stories by Katie Worth.

The doodlings of the species. Rachel Nuwer shows how Darwin’s kids went artistic on dad’s notes. View of the week.


Leave a Reply

2 × five =