Morsels for the mind – 23/8/2013

24 August 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

Lost and found. Last week a mysterious, very cute new animal was discovered, the olinguito (rhymes with mojito!). It was actually already known through museum collections, but was a mistaken identity. Lots of great coverage, including super pieces by Becky Crew, Beth Mole, Ian Sample, Michael Marshall, Arielle Duhaime-Ross, and Jane O’Brien.

A whale of a chorus. Male cetaceans sing together. This flukey find nicely told by Virginia Morell.

Sad fascination. When a whale gets autopsied. Perfectly covered in a photo essay by Nadia Drake.

Makes scents. Rivals’ odours make pandas randy.

Healthy unhealthy diet. Gemsbok survive by eating poisonous plants.

Secret to a long life? For 40-year-lifespan bats, size matters.

Pet hypothesis. Domesticated ferrets and dogs have similar human-interaction skills. Intriguing research, beautifully explained by Jason Goldman.

Head games. Clash between being a stud and longevity keeps small horned sheep in the mix. Sheep horn size knocks heads with longevity.

No more monkey business? Illegal oil palm producers’ guard dogs deter monkeys’ tool use.

Frequent and long. That’s how tree frogs prefer their wooing. Once again, Elizabeth Preston spins a charming tale around some fascinating science.

Speed kills. So birds know the speed limits. Of human highways! Clever birds. This amazing story, which arose from the ponderings of a bored, commuting scientist, was wonderfully covered by Ed Yong, Adam Becker, and Susan Milius. Reads of the week.

Who gives a hoot? The world’s largest owls do, when it comes to tree size and old growth forest. Important conservation story covered by Emily Underwood and John Platt.

Hits where it hurts. Impact of stress on gonads (in birds).

Lose-lose scenario. Parasitic bird competes with itself.

Winter of discontent. Cold winters bad for adult sparrows, good for young.

In a flap. Amazing comparison of raven versus falcon flight.

A day at the beach. How sea turtle hatchlings find the ocean. Sarah Mynott tracks a tremendous tale.

Seeing is believing. Phenomenal frog eyes.

A whale of a time. Where whale sharks go. Awesome.

Astounding origins. Underwater “crop circles” solved. Spoiler: It’s puffer fish. And it’s delightful.

Outer beauty. Gorgeous sea urchin exoskeleton.


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

Best buzz. Beautiful bees.

Avoiding bad sex. Gender bending and relocated genitalia work for insects.

Don’t bug mom. Beetle mothers eat pestering offspring.

Coming into fashion. How dung beetle clothes revealed some hot biology.

Scudder’s story. Of katydids, insect song, and a not-so-insignificant science journal. Great piece by Piotr Naskrecki.

Fiies on film. Re-capturing the glory of Thomas Hunt Morgan’s fly room.

When a plus becomes a minus. Ferris Jabr explains the troubling mathematics of moving beehives around the countryside.


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

Heading to higher ground. Plants make their way up the mountain as climate warms, but it all ends at the top.

Model behaviour. Plants are ideally suited to be models in genetics. Nice explainer by Sarah Shailes.

Root of the matter? Mysterious fairy circles solved..again. Is it plant competition?

“I am not a gardener.” So she says, and yet Emma Crichton-Miller has written this deeply poetic piece on the incredible resonance of gardens.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Bent out of shape. Ostrich neck suggests we don’t really understand sauropod flexibility.

One big meal. Sharks once dined on dead dinosaurs.

Gone, but not forgotten. Mammals that once ruled. Multituberculates were truly long-term residents of this planet.

Deadly dentition. Terrifying teeth of early eel-like vertebrates.

Appearances can be deceiving. The power and pitfalls of depicting extinct beings.

Would you like a little mustard with that? Neolithic foodies did. They enjoyed a little spice in their food. Garlic mustard to be exact. This spicy story was nicely covered by Mark Peplow, Suzi Gage, and Sid Perkins.


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

Squid pro quo. How microbes provide superpowers to cephalopods in exchange for a place to call home. Fascinating, and, frankly, delightful story by Ed Yong. Read of the week.

Rust never sleeps. The rust pathogen of plants that is. It just keeps evolving.

No sex in ages. Such is the existence of bdelloid rotifers – asexual evolution for millions of years.

Get the balance right. Symbiont manipulates host sex ratio.

Rewinding the tape. When evolution churns out the same innovation, time and again.

Swarming swimmers. Microbes evolve to “hyperswarm”.

Fowl play. Bird species, like ducks, are an evolutionary playground for H7 flu viruses. Bad news.

Virus takes flight? The relationship between MERS, bats and humans still fuzzy. A tough topic tremendously transmitted by Helen Branswell.


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 skinny one. Skin cells used to make egg and sperm, which, in turn, were used to make a mouse pup.

Getting the jump on disease. Jumping gene enhances pathogen resistance.

Gut reaction. Chemical curbs overeating (in mice).

Breath taking. The suffocating poison, carbon monoxide. A superb, surprisingly poignant take on a silent killer.


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

Sky high. A year’s worth of skies. Amazing.

Deficit spending. This week we surpassed the Earth’s annual capacity to produce new resources.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

What you see is what you get? What does the universe really look like? Excellent exposé by Ethan Siegal.

Stupefyingly strange simplicity. Of black holes. Corey Powell explains wonderfully.

Big shape up. Diversity of galactic structures took shape “early”.

Twin spin. A pair of spiral galaxies.

You’re my Venus. You’re my fire. A planet transits the sun. WOW!

Hot stuff. The sun has a flare for the dramatic.

Out of this world. Kepler’s planet searching days may be over, but its amazing legacy will live on. Wonderful ode to the Kepler Space Telescope by Alexis Madrigal.

Completely Sirius. Oldest temple may have been to worship canine star.

Good-day moon. Nice explainer on why we see the moon during daylight, for kids of all ages.

The long, long, long goodbye. Has Voyager 1 finally left the solar system? Watch this space.

Blue moon, you saw me standing alone. But what did I see when there was a blue moon this week? Two great explainers sort it out, here and here.


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

Diamonds are forever. For a quantum paradox. Amazing.

Bottled beauty. Imagine capturing as aurora in a glass globe. That is the wonder of the planeterella. So cool.

Happy coincidence? The statistics and perception of the uncommon. Thought provoking.

Fiery finish? Of black holes and walls of fire. An older, but super piece worth returning to, by Jennifer Ouellette. Relates to the following…

Blunder busting. On Einstein’s “error”, in which he is compared with Scott Pilgrim and Tupac.

Having a ball. Understanding the creation of ball lightning. Physical chemistry puts on a show. Dazzling story by Suzi Gage.

Thinking big. Thought the LHC was huge? Maybe something bigger is needed. Ethan Siegal makes the case.

Small things confuse small minds. Of bacteria and questioning evolution. Excellent piece by Carl Zimmer.

Size matters. Predator age and size shapes ecosystem stability.


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

Minding the mind. Wonderful musings on the workings of consciousness, by Michael Graziano. Read of the week.

“It’s a preventable tragedy.” Indicators of suicide risk are found in the blood. Amazing.

“ a process – a very slippery one.” Virginia Hughes explores our complex brains and the measurement of consciousness.

Seeing things. Language can boost or diminish our vision. Fascinating finds conveyed by Mo Costandi.

In your right mind? Neuro-imaging undermines notions of left- or right-side-of-the-brain personalities.

Music to my eyes? We judge musicians more by how they move than how they sound. Yes, really.

Something eating you? Could be you’re “hangry” – low blood sugar has soured your mood.

Something to be exercised over. The relationship between working out and sleep.

Hidden benefit? Hide and seek might be good for kids brains.

Stressing out. Nematode neurons branch out at times of stress.

Against all odds. Why folks think they’re safer than average.

Better, faster, stronger? Might thinking positive thoughts improve our achievements?

“For the entire time I was writing this, I ‘ve been sat on a fork.” A humorous, but important, take on intelligence by Dean Burnett.

Truth, knowledge, and the psychology way. Addressing the perennial question “Is psychology a science”. Great takes by Neuroskeptic and Vaughan Bell.


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

The other discoveries. Sarah Shailes shares her experience of the things you can learn about yourself while doing a PhD. Superb.

Pregnant pause? Jennifer Rohn finds that pregnancy and doing lab work can proceed together.

“You’re a scientist. And that is a..kick-arse thing to be.” The upsides to being a woman in science. Excellent.

Gaming the system. Folks pitch in on science problems, like genome assembly, using online games. Cool story by Matt Shipman.

Biological blockbusters. Reporting on cool breakthroughs in the life sciences. Great stuff by Karissa Milbury.

The great wide open. More publications may now be Open Access than had been previously thought.

Let’s get along. Science, humanities, anthropology and how Pinker missed the mark. Thoughtful analysis by Jason Antrosio.

“No dream could take the place of the beautiful reality that revolves, oblivious, beneath me.” Lovely, poetic reflection by astronaut Luca Parmitano from the International Space Station.

“We are stardust.” Nice interview with Jacob Berkowitz on our cosmic origins, and astrobiology.

Devastating division. A border seen from space inspires a powerful message from Ron Garan.

Staged fright. Some of those “great” nature photos are posed, cruel, & otherwise unethical.

Kiss me deadly. Nasty chemicals may lurk in lipstick.

What’s in a name? The importance of pseudonyms, by two who know: Scicurious, and Bug Girl.

Thinking inside the box. The greatest threat to basic science. Jim Woodgett nails it.

“He was always my dad first.” Poignant tribute to Tony Pawson, cell biologist, and true genius, by Genna Buck.

“I believe that this progress underscores the importance of giving free rein to human inventiveness.” Tony Pawson, as quoted by Paul Wells in a brilliant piece on Tony Pawson’s legacy, cancer, hockey, and doing science right. Should be required reading for any politician who has any connection with science. That is, all of them. Read of the week.

Finding the right words. Buddhini Samarasinghe makes a compelling case for dismantling the “jargon wall” that impedes scientific communication.

Read all about it! A wonderful interview of Ed Yong by Julie Gould, on science communication. Wonderful from start to finish.

Hey all! Want to do research in one of science’s hottest fields? Wired has suggestions of the top 10 disciplines.

Blogging, it’s for the birds. Literally. Data logs from sensors on birds automatically converted to blog posts. Welcome to the future!


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