Morsels For The Mind – 22/08/2014


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”.

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

"Like all fairy tales, the one about talking apes is partly make-believe." Quote by Jane Hu in a spectacular read on the fraught situation behind the scenes of ape language research. Read of the week.

Wanna be like you? On International Orangutan Day, remember our similarities, their imperilment. Great message, by Carole Jahme.

Big eaters. Becky Kessler on the remarkable feeding habits of minke whales.

Cetacean squeals. Delighted dolphins voice approval, explains Tanya Lewis.

Squeals of delight? Might cetaceans make them? Jane Lee listens in and shares the evidence.

Imagine a world without wild African elephants. That world could be a decade away, as Nicole Skinner explains. Read of the week.

Elephants being hunted to extinction. Why? Poverty & wealth.

91 per day. Every day. The rate that elephants have been slaughtered for past 3 years. Brad Scriber on the dire evidence.

Pachyderm poaching peril peaks. Elephant extinction a very real possibility, reports Laura Geggel.

Agony & ivory. Elephants being killed beyond tipping point. Rebecca Morelle on a sad state of affairs.

Decade or disaster. Sale of ivory must be banned for 10 years. Or elephants are gone. Daniel Cressey on a warning that must be heeded.

Born to be wild. But rarely seen there. Bec Crew presents the New Guinea singing dog.

Seeing eye to eye? People do look like their dogs. It's in the eyes. Intriguing research, nicely contextualised by Jesse Bering.

Dogs days of summer... Want to catch up on canine ethology at season's end? Zazie Todd has prepared the reading list you need.

Leader of the pack? When raised in captive packs, wolves cooperate, dogs form hierarchies, as Virginia Morell reports.

The homecoming. How dogs respond to their person's long absence. Wonderful piece, by Bettina Chang.

Paws for thought. Identifying cheetahs by their footprints. Great story of field research, by Stuart Pimm.

Cool cats. Big & beautiful. Gorgeous images by Vincent Musi.

Bearing arms. Grizzlies can learn to use rudimentary tools. Shannon Quinn looks at the grizzly discovery.

Seal of approval. Robert Boessenecker on the relationship between sea lions & fur seals.

Preying on their minds. Reece Dalais on a parasite that turns voles in kestrel fodder.

That's sweet. How hummingbirds regained a taste for sugar. Ed Yong on one of the most fascinating examples of evolution "rediscovering" that which was lost. Read of the week.

Sweetness follows. Hummingbirds gained a taste for sugar absent in other birds. Laura Sanders on the wonders of evolution.

A matter of taste. How hummingbirds acquired the ability to sense sugar, when other birds can't. Carrie Arnold looks at this remarkable find.

Birds of a feather. 400 newly identified species. Many already endangered. Jia You on a good news, bad news story.

Ripple effect. Movements within a starling murmuration propagate like waves. Cool bit of mathematical biology, nicely explained by Jerry Adler.

A nested development. As humans carve up grasslands, we promote ravens & hurt hawk nesting, explains Elizabeth Preston.

School of hard knocks. How woodpeckers survive head banging. Good fun at Buzz Hoot Roar, with text by Eleanor Spicer Rice and art by Joshua Röpke.

No numb skulls. How woodpecker heads take a beating. Great stuff, by Jason Goldman.

Not cool. Solar array sets birds flying overhead afire. Sheesh.

Shiny, happy magpies? Nope, they aren't fond of glittery stuff.

All that glitters is not gold. And holds no appeal to magpies. They have no love for bling, as Roger Harrabin reports.

Sound parenting. Turtles "talk" with nestlings. Victoria Gill listens in.

Hatching a plot. Turtles talk to each other, even while in the egg. Fascinating biology, nicely described by Jason Bittel.

A telling tail. How lizards regrow theirs. Carl Engelking on the latest evidence,

Quite a tail to tell. Anoles' amazing regenerative capacity explored. Nick Stockton looks at recent studies.

Tight squeeze. Snakes over-grip branches to hang on, as Jonathan Webb explains.

A snake in the grass? No, it's a legless lizard. Quentin Wheeler on a new discovery.

Back to school sales. Not catching sharks nets big ecotourism income, explains Natasha Geiling.

The hang out. Where young whale sharks school. Molly Michelson takes a look.

Something fishy. There was a time when our understanding of sharks was really off base, as Grace Constantino reveals.

No bones about it. Super look at the nature of sharks. Excellent explainer, by Emily Graslie.

The X factor. When X-rayed, sharks sure have it. Cool X-rays, shared by Megan Gambino.

Phenomenally photogenic. Gallery of sharks, curated by Jane Lee.

No bone to pick. Sharks don't have them. Great videos considering the implications, by Emily Graslie & SciShow.

Swimming with sharks. From their point of view. Cool video, via Erin Biba.

The little fin that could. The adipose fin does more than expected. Lovely post, as usual, by Natalie Sopinka.

Gone fishing. Richard Scrase on the value of zebrafish research.

Fabric of life. Velvet worms wondrous lives. Matt Simon continues his look at bizarre creatures.

Star attraction. Brittle stars do funky stuff, as Christopher Mah reveals.

Captive to our actions? Why zoos are needed. Thought provoking perspective, by Dave Hone.

A gain amongst the losses. Extinction Countdown turned 10 years old this week. Thanks to John Platt for the stellar work on highlighting the extent and importance of extinctions in our troubled times.

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

By the dawn of the dead's early light? The US has its very own zombie-ant-making fungus, and Matt Simon has all the details.

The bees knees. "Terroir" has big impact on honey quality, as Kimberly Moynahan explains.

Winging it. Cyborg moth "biobots" reveal flight biomechanics. Matt Shipman on an interesting experimental tool.

The colour of money. Can be informed by insects' structural colours. Awesome biophysics, and its application, beautifully explained by Athene Donald. Read of the week.

Bugs for brunch? Perception of eating insects undergoing metamorphosis. As it should, as Layla Eplett reveals.

Stag party. Cool beetles congregate. Ted MacRae shares an interesting discovery.

Some gall! A wasp larva's jumping gall. Fabulous arthropod, nicely described by Michael Marshall.

Bright lights. Big city. Bigger spiders. Urban living enlarges & boosts numbers of spiders. Nick Stockton expertly explains the research of Lizzy Lowe & her supervisor Dieter Hochuli. They, in turn, describe their urban spider research & its implications. It's worth noting that the original research paper is also very accessible.

Spidey sense is tingling! What might spiders possibly fear? Plenty! Chris Buddle shows you what.

Astonishing arachnids. Harvestmen. James Dunbar has a wonderful video that takes a look at this incredible insects.

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

Velvet underground. 500M fossil points to velvet worm origins. Martin Smith considers the evidence.

"If whales were to mammals what birds were dinosaurs, then camels would have blow-holes & okapis would have fins." Quote by Greg Laden from a superb piece on the remarkably close relationship between birds & dinosaurs. Read of the week.

The original boing boing. A wonderful, ancient ornithodiran hopped right along. Mark Witton has a great profile of the little critter.

Out to sea. Warm waters created marine crocs 5 times. Brian Switek on how it could happen again.

Leaping lizards! Little reptile outlived avian dinosaurs. Stephanie Pappas profiles this cool creature.

Wee, the living. Brian Switek looks at mammalian losses at Cretaceous end.

Hang time. New bone dating reveals how Neanderthals & modern humans hung out together. Really like the Charlotte Stoddart-directed video in this Ewen Callaway piece on Neanderthals. Great stuff. View of the week.

“Shockingly bad science riddled with errors of fact & attribution." Yet published in PNAS. Ridiculous. Quote from a great piece by Robin McKie on the latest publication on Homo floresiensis.

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

Code of conduct. Plants exchange RNA in parasitism. Amazing discovery, nicely explained by Anna Azvolinsky.

A roll in the hay. Douglas Main on how tumbleweed invaded the Americas. A great piece. Read of the week.

Made in the shade. Remarkable piece on the role of tree canopy where coffee is grown, by Nsikan Akpan. Read of the week.

Holding trouble in our palms. The insect devastating coconut plantations. Nsikan Akpan takes a look at it.

Plants on steroids. Barbara Wankerl on how a hormone makes them grow.

Tall order. David Tenenbaum on the constraints on tree height.

Sow what? Ben Guarino on the role of bats & birds in planting rainforests.

Cannot beat this title: "Getting caught with our plants down." Impact of climate on crops.

Sowing discord. Vandana Shiva is lionised for her anti-GMO stance. Should she be? Superb analysis of a complex individual, by Michael Specter. Read of the week.

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

Seal of disapproval? Microbe genomes of 1k year old mummies suggest seals brought TB to Americas. Fascinating find, well explained Carl Zimmer.

TB or not TB? Seals ported ancient tuberculosis to Americas. Ed Yong takes a look at the evidence.

Ancient fates were sealed. Seals likely transmitted TB to pre-Columbian Americans. Mike Lemonick looks at the evidence in support of the hypothesis.

What lies beneath. Remarkable life in Antarctic lakes. Fantastic look at the exploration and discovery, by Douglas Fox. Read of the week.

Top to bottom. Dandruff-causing fungi in deep sea vents. Jennifer Frazer on the widespread distribution of an interesting fungus. Read of the week.

Hold the hype. Healthy scepticism needed in microbiome research. (Like all science). Bill Hanage makes an important case.

Death on the doorstep. Zombie-creator lurks for ants. Megan Gannon on the ghoulish discovery.

Weight for it. Maryn McKenna explains how mice show how antibiotics may induce livestock "growth promotion".

Small is beautiful. Diatoms, desmids & algae. Marvellous microscopy, shared by Graham Matthews.

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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 & epigenetics)

Are you experienced? Maybe you "inherited" it...epigenetically. Good explainer by Susannah Locke. Read of the week.

The nature of things? To understand genetics, nurture is also key. Good reminder, by Claire Haworth.

Imagine a human mutant that could get by on less sleep. Imagine no longer. Maria Konnikova on the sleep mutants amount us.

All for one. Our bodies are genetic mosaics - patchworks of cells. Kat McGowan considers the incredible implications. Read of the week.

Domestic bliss? Domesticated female mice docile compared to wild mice. It's in their genes, as Bethany Brookshire explains.

Teaming up. Sometimes sperm fare better swimming in groups. Super example, perfectly explained by Anne-Marie Hodge.

Minute minder. Master control gene controls body's light-dark cycles.

Code of conduct. Nicola Davis on how DNA barcodes are used to thwart illegal wildlife trafficking.

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

The long & short of it. How the rainforest shaped pygmy stature. Cool genetics, expertly explained by Charles Choi.

Small wonder. Pygmy phenotype evolved multiple times. Michael Balter looks at the evidence.

A little get together. Pygmy phenotype an example of convergent evolution. Carrie Arnold explains some very cool genetics.

Let's talk about sex. How males & females evolved...in algae. Interesting piece on evolutionary mechanisms, by Mike White.

What happens in the field stays in the field? No longer! Super blog on ecology fieldwork, via Fieldwork Blog.

Puny humans. Big nature. Fantastic image gallery, via Bored Panda.

As time goes by. Nature over a year, in time lapse. Lovely time-lapse, by Samuel Orr, via GrrlScientist. View of the week.

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

Whole lotta shaking going on. Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano makes ominous rumblings. Alexandra Witze listens in and considers the implications.

Rocky road ahead? Another volcano is rumbling under Iceland's ice. Excellent look at a geological phenomenon, by Mika McKinnon. Read of the week.

Here comes the rain again. And with it, the smell of showers. Joe Hanson explains where the evocative scent comes from.

Remarkable reefs return. Thought extinct, sponge reefs arise again. Sarah DeWeerdt looks at an intriguing reemergence.

Deep thoughts. Undersea explorer Sylvia Earle on our oceans. Excellent interview of Sylvia Earle by Brian Clark Howard.

Cloudy with a chance of speculation. How do folks predict how the weather will "feel"? Nick Stockton considers how.

Melt your heart. As sea level rises with melting ice, islanders lose their home. Superb story, by Brooke Jarvis. Read of the week.

"In the best of times, this problem would be difficult to resolve. But we are not in the best of times." Quote by Charles Mann from an extraordinary long read on grappling with climate change. Read of the week.

Night light. Gorgeous lit sky. Phenomenal photography by Nicholas Buer, shared by Katie Hosmer. Read of the week.

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Star attractions – the final frontier, space

It starts with a bang. The formation of the universe. Cool video via BBC Future.

Explosive discoveries. Ethan Siegel on the supernovae nobody saw.

A big deal. Elizabeth Gibney on the imprint of primordial monster star.

Blast from the past. Remnants of a ginormous, primordial star that went supernova. Nadia Drake takes a look.

A different kind of beat. Heather Dewar on a black hole's syncopated rhythm.

Colourful cast of characters? Could a planet's hue inform us of life there? Robert Krulwich considers the possibility.

Something to speak highly about? Helium was found on the sun on this week in 1868.

Floats in space. Would float on water. Jonathan Amos considers the latest news on the density of a 10B tonne comet.

Spectacular Saturn. Truly king of the rings. Beautiful image via NASA JPL.

Six-sided surge. Saturn's hexagonal storm. Great video, courtesy of Dennis Overbye. View of the week.

Done & dusted. Dust reveals Saturn's rings are 4.4B years old. Alexandra Witze looks at the evidence.

Stormy weather. On Titan. Amazing images, expertly explained by Phil Plait. View of the week.

Eye in the sky. Beautiful pics from Rosetta, shared by Nadia Drake.

Rise & shine! In the early morning hours this week, two planets sparkled together.

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

Illuminating ideas. Why it's thought that dark matter exists. Excellent feature, by Amanda Yoho.

Having a blast. How scientists documented Chelyabinsk meteor's shock wave. Cool story by Nicholas St. Fleur.

Objects in the mirror closer than they appear? In multiverse, scales may not be fundamental, explains Natalie Wolchover.

It's a breeze. How grass stems wave together. Great illustrative video, via Nicole Sharp.

Spirits in the material world. How the invisible gives rise to the "magical". Fascinating read, by Philip Ball.

A whole new hue. Octopus skin inspires colour-changing sheet. Cool example of biomimicry, perfectly described by Ed Yong.

Melody maker? Computers that compose songs? Yes. Fear it not, says Philip Ball.

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A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-, nutrition-, and exercise-related stories

"Of all the 1,000-plus patients I've taken care of, none have..told physicians which genetic test to order." Quote by Ed Yong from his simply outstanding account of Kim Goodsell's quest to pinpoint the gene responsible for her two conditions. Must read. Read of the week.

Inside job. How parasitic infections might bring better health. Superb read, by Julia Calderone. Read of the work.

Good news. Bad news. There's an animal model for MERS. It's the marmoset. Helen Branswell on an important discovery and its implications.

Relative success? Could drug that saved monkeys from Marburg virus also work on related Ebola? Erika Check Hayden has the answers.

Supplemental data. Might dietary supplement with organic acids treat Parkinson's symptoms? Philip Ball considers the possibility.

Cold comfort? Is cryopreservation a way to cheat death? On people who are prepared to take the gamble, by Rose Eveleth.

Good thing gone bad? Is exercise actually unhealthy for most people? Spoiler: No. Alex Hutchinson expertly dissects what the data do, and do not, say.

Heartening story. Young student's awesome research to avert athletes' heart-related deaths. Henry Roth explains his amazing work.

Known unknowns. 1 in 20 people suffer from a rare disease. Yet research poorly supported. Heather Etchevers on a challenging situation.

Blame game. Reporting on infant health lays too much responsibility on mothers. Virginia Hughes on what is being said, versus what is being done, about that.

A neighbourhood with heart. Knowing the folks in your 'hood can be good for cardiac health, explains James Hamblin.

Resistance is futile? Polio strain can resist vaccine. But overcome by fresh oral immunisation. Ed Yong on the value of vaccination.

Hard to swallow? Is aspirin really the new "apple a day"? Good critical assessment by Hilda Bastian.

Don't take this sitting down. Sitting's counteractive impact on exercise. Smart take, by Alex Hutchinson.

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

Life's gaping mystery. Why do we yawn? David Robson shares the latest thinking on a subject that's far from boring.

Silence is golden. It can benefit your brain. Fascinating read, by Daniel Gross.

Forgotten youth. We must lose childhood memories for our brains to grow. Absolutely brilliant feature, by Ferris Jabr. Read of the week.

Inside voice. Peter Moseley on the nature of the "inner speech" in our brain.

If you can't take the heat... Take a drug that blocks chilli-pepper sensing? Francie Diep looks at the possibility.

Reading minds. Just how close are we to deciphering thought processes? Tom Stafford looks into it.

Sum thing about brains. Switching neuron paths is solution to maths as we develop, explains Helen Shen.

Once more, with feeling? Could brain surgery create "super empathy"? Great critique, by Christian Jarrett.

Sound of silence. The not entirely pleasant sensations of sensory deprivation. Meehan Crist weaves her personal experience with the science.

In the zone. Science of achieving "flow", when an activity feels effortless. Virginia Hughes on a fascinating occurrence.

Waiting on a stranger? Procrastination may arise when we can't imagine our future selves, explains Alisa Opar.

"Let me continue to direct my PMS-fueled "animosity" at this paper." Quote by Kate Clancy from an excellent critique of "PMS will ruin your marriage" paper.

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

If you love your research, set it free. Erin McKiernan looks at the advantages of open access.

Game on! Ladan Cockshut looks at how gaming is making citizen science addictive.

With a little kelp from some friends... Citizen science finds floating forests. Cool project, nicely explained by Bethany Brookshire.

Winning through failure. Scientific progress requires making mistakes. Great lesson, by Bethany Brookshire.

Recipe for success. Testing hypotheses by baking cookies! Mmm. Cookies. Great teaching tool, by Bethany Brookshire.

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