Morsels For The Mind – 21/03/2014

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

‘Til death do them part. Mary Bates takes a look at truly monogamous monkeys.

Gorilla my dreams. Great ape faces.

Aping the apes? What do chimps tell us about human kids’ behavioural sex differences? Barbara King weighs the evidence.

Tooth & consequences. Carl Zimmer looks at roles for narwhals’ sensitive tusk. Fascinating and great read. Read of the week.

A touching tale? Narwhals’ tusks are big sensory organs. What are they used for? Nadia Drake looks at the possibilities.

Pachyderm power. The ancient world was shaped by elephants. Yes, really. Excellent look at the role of amazing animals in history, by Jason Goldman.

It’s easy to forget that nature *is* often red in tooth & claw. A reminder. Orcas & sea lions. Incredible.

Test of character. Can “personality” be measured in dogs? Interesting possibility, nicely examined by Julie Hecht.

A breed apart? What really determines your dog’s behaviour? Hint: it’s you. Lauren Davis describes the evidence.

Stream of consciousness. Dog urine in the snow provides much to ponder. Some thoughts. I wrote this.

So, I’m a sucker for dogs, cycling, running & nature. This has it all. Loved it.

Knowing crap. Field guide to dog poo. Great, useful stuff by Shea Cox, nicely illustrated by Natalya Zahn.

Never cry wolf? Have wolves saved an ecosystem? It’s complicated. Emily Gertz interviews Emma Marris on a tricky conservation issue.

Pet hypothesis. Is wolf conservation aided by wolves’ resemblance to our dogs? Diana Liverman addresses the question.

Completely outfoxed. Poison dingoes. Increase invasive foxes. Undermine ecosystem.  A plan gone awry, by John Platt.

Bringing power to bear. Pandas could help revolutionise biofuel production, finds Robyn Braun.

Unbearable. Nicola Jones finds that Canadian grizzly bear hunt quotas not science-based. Wait! What?! In Canada?!

Here kitty. Ancient bones may push cat domestication origins back 2k years, finds Stephanie Papppas.

Udderly informative! Not all bovines are created equal! Kim Moynahan on how to tell Holsteins from Herefords.

Kinda cute. Beautiful bats. Jaymi Heimbuch has selected a bunch for you.

Going squirrelly. For reals. Handy guide to deciphering squirrel lingo. Awesome stuff, via Buzz Hoot Roar.

Animal artistry. Nadia Drake reveals the beauty of 170-year-old illustrations of critters.

Visions of loveliness. The world seen through animals’ eyes. Very cool visual, in nice piece by Elizabeth Preston. View of the week.

Exit stage lefeaturing Lethal moose malady plays like six act tragedy. Smart & entertaining piece, by Jason Bittel.

Quirky cuteness. Tremendous tarsiers. Nicely described by Rowan Hooper.

Phenomenal flight. A hawk on the wing. Wow! FY! Fluid Dynamics always shares the most amazing videos.

Good little stinkers. Andy Coghlan finds smelly parasite cuckoo chicks help crow hosts.

Winter woes. Marc Silver finds that ongoing cold weather is taking its toll on birds.

Flight of fancy. Cockatoo in 15th century painting causing history rethink. Cool discovery, nicely described by Oliver Milman.

Sex sells. Ella Davies on how peacocks fake sex noises to attract mates.

Pecking order. Did Polynesians or Europeans bring chickens to America first? The hypotheses ruffle feathers, explains Roff Smith.

Canaries in the coal mine? Jennifer Provencher explains how arctic seabirds harbingers of environment woes.

It dawned on them to do it. Mary Bates on why birds sing in the morning.

Gorgeous gatherings. Phenomenal flocks, by Laszlo Novak.

Walk the walk. Darren Naish looks at the amazing evolution of flightless birds.

A step in the right direction. Flightless kakapo has a slight baby boom, explains John Platt.

I was instantly utterly besotted by them.” Meeting takahē. A poignant, lovely description of the experience, by S.E. Smith.

High fliers. How do snakes take flight? Physics! Jennifer Ouellette describes how.

Freshening up. Ed Yong looks at sea snakes’ amazing freshwater drinking habits. Amazing.

Incredible journey. Pythons snake home from far away, as Ed Yong reveals.

Long & winding road. Andy Coghlan describes how pythons find their way home over big distance.

Two better than one? Why snakes have bifurcating penises. Andrew Durso on some intriguing biology. Great stuff. Read of the week.

Eyes on the prize. Jason Goldman shows that turtles’ sideways glance isn’t what it seems.

Lost treasure? Are golden frogs functionally extinct? Status of beautiful toad worrying, as John Platt reveals.

The eyes have it. Oceanic vision. Steve Palumbi & Tony Palumbi on sights to be seen.

A sucker for romance? Deep sea robot & squid may have had amorous encounter. Kim Martini looks at the evidence.

Wonderful worms. Astonishing beauty of bizarre creatures, photographed by Alexander Semenov.

All together now. Rebecca Helm describes a superorganism made of hundreds.

Preying on our minds. Parasites engage in brain control. Super summary of Ed Yong’s TED2014 talk by Ben Lillie.

Shiny happy nature. Sarah Zielinski looks at glittery organisms.

Better, natured. Splendour of the natural world. Gorgeous photo gallery.


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

What’s the big deal? Huge ants break biomass rule, as Elizabeth Preston explains.

Pelican brief. Pelican spiders play it safe, as Susan Milius reveals.

Shed games. Tarantula gets a new skin. Freaky video, shared by Lauren Davis.

The eye’s mind. Look inside insect brains. Awesome images, shared by Jason Goldman.

Up close & personal. Gorgeous insects, photographed by Sam Droege, and shared by Eleanor Imster.

Answers blowing in the wind. Matt Bertone describes grappling with questions of blow fly diversity.

Preys be. Nineteen new species of preying mantis discovered.

Amazing arthropods. Francisca Sconce on spectacular springtails.

House guests. Diversity of arthropods at home. Nancy Brill looks into the research of Michelle Trautwein, Rob Dunn, Matt Bertone & Your Wild Life.

Following the beat. Rapid ID of insects by their wingbeats…using frickin’ laser beams. Physics arXiv Blog describes the approach.

Seen in a bad light. Strange, blind cave critter threatened by cavers’ lamps. Good read, by Roberta Kwok.


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

Pointed arguments. Is torosaurus actually triceratops? Jon Tennant describes a heated debate.

Getting it together. Two fossil finds fit together perfectly. Reveal ancient crocodile skull.

A crested development. Amazing crested dinosaur. Jane O'Brien looks at the latest discovery from the Hell Creek fossils.

Why did the chicken from hell cross the road? Because it’s not a chicken. Nor really from hell. Gemma Tarlach explains.

What in the Hell?! Brian Switek on how the Hell Creek fossils are still revealing novel dinosaurs - like new oviraptor.

No big deal. Ancient giant lizard "Megalania" wasn’t so huge after all. But it was still big, as Brian Switek reveals.

Really stuck out. Colin Barras describes a stick insect that walked with dinosaurs.

Fangs but no fangs. Brian Switek on sabertooth kitten milk teeth.

Here’s the scoop. Ancient porpoise had large lower jaw. For digging in sea floor? Brian Switek looks into it.

Only ourselves to blame? Flightless moa populations were stable 'til humans showed up. Then extinction. Jeff Hecht looks at the evidence.

The way of the dodo. Humans also worked their “magic” on moas. Genetics tells us so, as Virginia Morell reveals.


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

Piecing it together. Why leaf surfaces look like jigsaw puzzles.

Green gulp. Naomi Stewart describes an amazing carnivorous plant.

Coming in from the cold. Jennifer Frazer describes how 1600-year-old moss was revived from permafrost.

Now that’s cool. Becky Oskin finds that moss regrows after being embedded in permafrost for 1600 years.

Spring peaks. Flowering altered by climate in mountain meadows. Amazing, important discovery, beautifully described by Hannah Waters. Read of the week.

Troubles from on high? Becky Oskin on how alpine flowers are blooming longer. Another climate warning?

Unlikely hero? Might invasive water hyacinth aid ecosystem restoration? Garry Hamilton considers a tricky balancing act.

Appearances can be deceiving. Tradeoff between how a strawberry looks & tastes. Ferris Jabr looks at a challenge for the future.

A cut above? Jason Goldman on the significant variation in treatment of urban lawns.

Vegetables souped up. Nanoparticles give plants new powers - better photosynthesis, chemical detection. David Biello looks at potential applications.

Small additions, big differences.Nadia Drake on how loading nanoparticles in plants supercharges photosynthesis.

Root of the problem. Corn rootworm evolves resistance to GM maize. Brandon Keim on the lessons to be learned.

Time for a change. Crop rotation must be used with GM crops. Pest problems otherwise. Brian Owens on an emerging problem that is also an old problem.


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

Embracing the dark side. Katherine Harmon Courage on how your microbes convert dark chocolate into chemical goodness.

In case you needed more reasons to eat it…Chocolate does good stuff with your microbes. George Dvorsky on a tasty topic.

On the clock. Brooke Borel finds even microbes pay attention to the time.

Taking care of the dirty work. Agar from seaweed cleans stone monumentsDouglas Main takes a look.

This is super cool. Literally. On supercooling, microbes, & frozen horses. Brilliant podcast by the folks at Radiolab. Listen of the week.

If a tree falls in a forest…does it decay? Not near Chernobyl. Microbes there took a hit.  Important, fascinating story, by Rachel Nuwer.

Wait a second! Does the “5 second rule” for dropped food really hold? Hmm. Sarah Whitman-Salkin on the evidence.


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)

The drugs don’t work? For anti-alcoholism medication, calcium needed for function. Bethany Brookshire on a fascinating discovery.

Doobie brothers? How about doobie children? Marijuana's active ingredient has epigenetic effects in next generation (in mice). Virginia Hughes has the straight dope on this fascinating subject.

To serve & protect. S.E. Gould on your body’s innate immunity defence system.

A switch for the better. Virus gene switch engineered in E. coli to report on gut environment. Excellent piece by Ed Yong. [Worth noting that I have been taught, and also taught, about lambda phage gene switch countless times. The best explainer of how it works is to be found in 2 paragraphs by Ed Yong in this piece.] Read of the week.

Written all over your face? Could DNA variants predict your mugshot? Sara Reardon looks into it.

“No gene is an island.” The imprint of “environment” on things genetic. Excellent overview, by Emily Willingham.

Not sweating it? Sweat gland role in wound healing, nicely described in an older piece by Jalees Rehman.

To B or not to B? Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on how ocean archaea make Vitamin B.

Ain’t that grand! Emergence of the $1000 human genome sequence. Great story by Erika Check Hayden. Read of the week.

Heart of the matter. A tiny piece of RNA impacts cardiac damage.

Matters of the heart. Should student athletes be screened by EKG? Superb feature by Laura Beil.

It’s a killer rivalling road deaths in UK, skin cancer in US. It’s asbestos. Nic Fleming looks at a lethal legacy. Read of the week.

Something on the side? Importance of properly investigating medicine side effects. Excellent case made by Ben Goldacre.


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

Ripples etched in snow give pause for thought about the arc of time, from deep past to distant future. Some reflections. I wrote this.

Let there be light! Biochemistry explains evolution of firefly glow. Awesome discovery, beautifully explained by John Timmer. Read of the week.

Big fish story. How carp got large.

In it for the long run. Evolution honed us for the marathon. Joe Hanson ran one to show just how it worked.

Shell shock. Humans made conchs shrink. Interesting tale of “natural” selection, by Elizabeth Preston.

Going, going, gone. Exploring extinctions - past & contemporary. Excellent interview with Elizabeth Kolbert, by Emily Gertz.

The big deal. The demise of megafauna. Robin McKie reports on why it remains important today.

Whether or not it’s time to dethrone the selfish gene as the reigning metaphor seems to me slightly irrelevant.” Quote by Kenrick Vezina from a thoughtful consideration of the “Die, Selfish Gene, Die” meme. Good read.

What’s in a name? A lot. Join in efforts to name Earth’s biodiversity. Become a taxonomist. Chris Buddle describes how.

No fame in name game. Terry McGlynn on how taxonomists are under-appreciated. Hug one today!


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

Illuminating discovery. Flashing lights that may foretell of earthquakes, as Brandon Keim reveals.

Fantastic flows. Black, squirting lava. Yow! Erik Klemetti on a truly amazing geological feature.

Deep meaning. Anna Azvolinsky on searching for clues to life’s origins from Earth’s depths.

Deep truths. Jeffrey Marlow describes how folks are grabbing clues to the oceans’ chemical cycling at 1100 m beneath the sea.

Heat at the feet. A fire on Earth has been burning for 6k years. Underground. Sarah Zhang digs into the matter.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Across the universe. Galaxies fly by. Awesome journey through the cosmos, shared by Nadia Drake. View of the week.

The final frontier. Amazing views of the cosmos, shared by George Dvorsky.

The big picture. What makes an astronomical image awesome? Great stuff by Peter Edmonds.

Life behind the mask? Looking for signs of life by masking light from distant stars. Lee Billings on how we looking for fellow denizens in the dark.

Simply smashing! Jason Major reveals the busted comets that swarm their nearby star.

Cosmic calamity. In Orion, planets blasted to oblivion.

Gas blasts in a monkey’s head! In space! Jason Major on a beautiful celestial object.

Spectacular survivor. Star hangs on after companion goes supernova.

There’s shrinkage?! Yep, Mercury is getting smaller, as Nadia Drake explains.

Something to sea. Waves on Titan’s oceans. Amazing discovery, nicely explained by Alex Witze.

Life, Jim, but not as we know it. On Saturn’s moon, Titan, living things would be bizarre, finds Nadia Drake.

Upper crust behaviour. Evidence emerges for plate tectonics on Europa. Emily Lakdawalla looks at that evidence.


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

The BIG story this week was the potential discovery of evidence of cosmic expansion, seen as gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background. The next 15 morsels capture the best coverage of the story, including how the discovery was made:

Gravity of the situation. Gravitational waves in the cosmic background radiation. Amazing discovery, beautifully described by Sean Carroll. Read of the week.

The smoking gun evidence for inflation.” Detection of early expansion of our universe, by Clara Moskowitz.

Implications for this detection stagger the mind.” Gravitational waves from dawn of time. Natalie Wolchover on the big discovery. Read of the week.

Blast from the past.  Matthew Francis looks at the direct evidence of inflation from shortly after Big Bang. A cautious view.

Making waves. Images of gravitational ripples from Big Bang was big news, as Ron Cowen describes.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Neil Turok on cosmic inflation find, invokes Sagan.

Cosmic confirmations. Nadia Drake on the upcoming experiments that may confirm shanks of universe’s inflation.

“What if I believe this because it’s so beautiful?” When one’s theory is validated. Simply awesome. Must view. View of the week.

The moment you let someone know they’re right. About the Big Bang. Super interview with Chao-Lin Kuo, by Megan Garber.

“My role in this process has been to remain calm at all times.” John Kovac on an amazing find, by Ron Cowen.

It all started with tennis.” And ended with seeing echoes of the Big Bang. Super interview of BICEP2 physicist Jamie Bock, by Cynthia Eller.

Great surprises in science don’t just happen–they’re engineered.Adam Mann on the discovery of cosmic inflation, and how it was kept under wraps until this week. Read of the week.

Expanding universe, expanding minds. Adam Mann on how the discovery of inflation has far-reaching implications.

Cosmic connection. Why detection of universe’s inflation matters. Bob McDonald has a thoughtful consideration of the week's big discovery.

The next Big thing? Now that universe inflation’s been seen, what’s next? Brian Koberlein looks at the possibilities.

It’s all relative. Back in the day, Einstein rejected a lot of physics. For good reasons, as Corey Powell reveals.

You’ll put your eye out with that thing! Don’t put your head in the LHC. Seriously. Steven Ross Pomeroy provides the reasons why.

Solid discovery. Waves ripple in crystals. Astonishing find, nicely explained by Jesse Emspak.

Watery weaponry. Undersea vortex rings are like a superpower. Cool video, brought to you by FY! Fluid Dynamics.

Follow the leader. Rhett Allain calculates when he will have 1M Twitter followers. Great fun.

Facing facts. Hal Hodson finds that Facebook is almost as good as us at recognising faces.


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

Senses working overtime. We smell  more than 1 trillion odours. Yes really. Ed Yong makes more sense of scents.

Nothing to sniff at. Humans can sense more than a trillion odours on average. Amazing discovery, nicely described by Sarah Williams.

This is your brain…on everyday chemicals. Potential neurotoxins & implications. Thought-provoking look at an important subject, by James Hamblin.

Deep thoughts. Using deep brain stimulation to reveal neural circuitry. Helen Shen looks into it.

Seeing the light. Self-generated hallucination stimulates the mind’s eye. Fascinating look at meditation, by Rose Eveleth.

The bearable lightness of being.  Katherine Hobson on how mental health can be aided by light box exposure.

All in our heads? Be cautious in assuming differences between male & female brains, says Virginia Hughes.

Cool to be kind. The science of “paying it forward”, by Michael Macy & Milena Tsvetkova.

Not so fast! Is quick thinking all that it’s made out to be? Excellent, as always, by Maria Konnikova

Standard operating procedure? Carina Storrs on the dangers of general anaesthesia.


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

Something far more interesting than “I’m smarter than you.”” What Will Storr finds behind “unscientific” perspectives. Quote from an awesome interview of Will Storr by Ann Finkbeiner. Fascinating. Read of the week.

Lingua Franca, qu’est-ce que c’est? Non-English science communication. Important aspect of sharing science, by Ivan Gonzalez.

The best science doesn't always make the best science writing.” The corollary also true. Robin Wylie on the stories that get told.

If you are an underrepresented scientist, it is important that you are visible.Mónica Feliú-Mójer makes an important case.

Hold on. Real problem is not attracting women to science, but retaining them in it. Important issue, perfectly considered by Athene Donald.

We can be heroes? Maybe. But it’s the science we do collectively that really makes a mark. Great case made  by Janet Stemwedel. Read of the week.

Get the balance right. It’s not mavericks we need, but some high risk / high reward research, says Steven Hill.

Maverick shmaverick. Are “mavericks” needed to push the frontiers of science? Nope. Jenny Rohn makes a compelling case. Read of the week.

Trapped in the web? Might patients’ use of the internet undermine medical research? Suzi Gage addresses an important issue.

The kids are alright. Because superb scientists advocated for their health. Interesting bit of medical history, by Nathalia Holt.

Ship shape. Alexis Rudd on vessels that have taken us on voyages of discovery - from seas to stars.

Picture this. Imagine science communication without art. images, or other graphics. Powerful illustration by Glendon Mellow.

Anurag Agrawal had ridiculous, clickbait go at Open Access. Stephen Curry’s critique of Agrawal’s dreck is superb.

The right equation. Adding citizens to science equals awesome! Great look at citizen science, by Sarah Boon.

Picturing a life ahead. Childhood picture books can shape a lifetime. Awesome look at great parenting and science communication, by John Romano.

Images suitable for framing…thoughts. Simply wonderful, must view pics from Wellcome Images competition. View of the week.

World of wonders. When a scientific lens is applied to life, it’s amazing. Joe Hanson makes his picks of the best pics of the Wellcome Images competition. View of the week.


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