Morsels For The Mind – 25/04/2014

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

It starts with a dead squirrel. It's more about life than that might suggest. I wrote this.

Marvellous mammals. Amazing animals.

Marmoset misery. Michael Balter takes a look as a primate comforts dying partner. Heart-breaking, but also provides insights into how primate species may experience grief.

Seriously sad. Matt Walker finds that when a marmoset tends to dying partner, it’s heartbreaking.

It all adds up. Sarah Williams explains that monkeys systematically underestimate when doing addition.

Stormy relations. Hurricane alters primates’ parasites. Tommy Leung takes a look at the evidence.

That smarts! Intelligence measured across 36 non-human animal species. Ed Yong describes how to do animal intelligence research right.

If it quacks like a duck… It could be a minke whale, as Susan Milius explains.

A whale of a noise. Mystery undersea “quack” has cetacean origins, as Rebecca Morelle explains.

Yeah! Humpback whales no longer need protection along Canada’s coast! Wait! What?! Emily Chung describes a contentious decision.

Soaking up dinner. Megan Garber describes why dolphins use sponges.

Our own dolphin is suing us!” Quote from amazing, must read by Charles Siebert on non-human animal legal rights. Read of the week.

After the lovin’. Bonobos are de-stressed. Mary Bates on the sex practices of another great ape.

Whole lotta love. Pachyderm sex. Joseph Bennington Castro on amorous action of elephantine proportions. Literally.

Matter of pride. Virginia Morell looks into how cheetahs co-exist with lions.

Cat as cat can. Cheetahs, but not wild dogs, peacefully co-exist with lions, explains Sarah Zielinski.

It’s easier to work with fish than cats.” Studying feline minds. David Grimm on how they are far from purr-fect subjects.

Fuelling bad choices. Illegal charcoal trade kills cheetahs. Astonishing story by Deirdre Leowinata. Read of the week.

Mange range. Impact of mange on big cats near urban centres. Important research, nicely described by Laurel Klein Serieys at Urban Carnivores.

Off target. Folks think they’re using rat poison. Actually they’re using wildlife killer. Martha Groves's piece is an important look at the broader impacts of "benign" actions.

Unnatural behaviour? What does dogs rolling in worms say about nature? I wrote this.

Dog tired. Jason Goldman finds that Disney animations were surprisingly accurate in portrayals of canine sleep disorders.

Watch this space. More needs to be known about animal hoarding. Recent research, expertly described by Zazie Todd, is a start.

Sit. Stay. Elaborate. Why is canine behaviour research frequently oversimplified? Julie Hecht takes a smart look at "dumbing down".

Hunting for answers. How did hunting shape us & our interactions with other species? Steve Bodio looks at dogs, falcons and humans.

Do sheep dream of woolly androids? Just what do non-human animals dream about? Jason Goldman considers some of the possibilities.

Want to dress up in a somewhat disturbing panda costume for employment? Here’s the job you’ve been looking for. View of the week.

Deerly departed. Brian Clark Howard on how mule deer make remarkable journey.

Incredible journey. Virginia Morell looks into the phenomenal migration of mule deer.

A good ribbing. Ed Yong looks at how sloths breathe easily upside down.

Wonderful wildlife. Gorgeous gallery.

Wonderfully weird. Jason Goldman looks at some brilliantly bizarre birds.

Beak district. Darren Naish takes a look at hornbill biology.

Endless love? Albatrosses may be 100% faithful, as Robert Krulwich beautifully describes.

Constructive behaviour. Victoria Gill explains how birds are choosy nest builders.

Meaning of the blues? We don’t know why Galapagos blue-footed boobies aren’t breeding. But it’s not good, as John Platt explains.

World Penguin Day occurred this past week! It should be every day, as this super interactive on super birds by Leah Weiser reveals.

Not so black & white. Penguins are complicate critters. Amazing overview by John Hutchinson. Make sure to check out the penguin stomach stones (gastroliths). Wow!

No castaways. Restoring giant tortoises to their island home. Jeffrey Marlow on an important project on the Galápagos Islands.

Frozen wood frogs. Everyone loves ‘em! Aatish Bhatia wrote a piece about them here. Elizabeth Preston wrote another one here. And one I wrote here.

Youthful appearance. There's a mature salamander that is larva-like, explains Danielle Elliot.

Macabre meals. Cannibal hermit crabs love smell of their dead, as Rachel Nuwer explains.

Super cephalopods! Matt Simon takes a look at amazing cuttlefish.

Cephalopod cycles. Cuttlefish parasite’s astonishing life cycle.

Nice to meat you. Carrie Arnold describes some carnivorous sponges.

Curious carnivores. They’re sponges! Megan Gannon describes some novel animals.

Amazingly ancient. Greg Miller looks at the oldest organisms.


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

What…makes milk for live-born offspring? transmits sleeping sickness? has newly sequenced genome? Jennifer Frazer has the answer for you.

Milking the data. Jessica Morrison on how the milk-yielding, sleeping-sickness-causing tsetse fly has telling genome.

Oh, bee-have! Bee gets its snail shell nest in order.

Little shell raisers. Amazing bees living in snail shells. Gwen Pearson takes a look at these curious critters.

From such great heights. Skydiving ants, with berry-butt-making parasite. Matt Simon continues his exploration of the beautifully bizarre.

Masters of disguise. Anjali Reddy looks at katydids’ cryptic coloration & camouflage.

A bug’s life. Tortoise beetle natural history. Awesome research blogging, by Ted MacRae.

Feeling faint? Carrie Arnold describes how monarch butterflies become paler if meals missed.

Royally duped. Caterpillar mimics ant queen to get ants to care for it. Awesome example of mimicry, beautifully explained by Hilary Hurd.

Getting a kick out of sex. Agata Blaszczak-Boxe finds that beetle males take a kicking.

Origin of the faeces. Annalee Newitz finds that social siblings share their crap.

Back from the brink. John Platt on how weta reintroduction is a conservation success story.

Beetle mania. Cheryl Dybas describes how bark beetles, & deadly microbes they host, changed water cycle.

Once bitten, twice…wait a minute! Was there even a bite?! With spiders it’s rare. Good stuff, by Chris Buddle.

Heigh ho! Heigh ho! It’s off to work…digging up dung beetles! Awesome! Andy Warren digs his research, and we should too!


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

Life under a magnifying glass. Adam Mann takes a look at organisms trapped in 'impact amber' from asteroid strike.

Seeing life through glasses? Might ancient Martian life be recorded in impact crater glass? Jason Major considers the evidence.

Frozen in time? Not sharks, they’ve been evolving like everyone. Alex Riley explains how they are not “living fossils”.

The naked tooth. How dinosaur teeth travel. Brian Switek describes the solution to an intriguing palaeontological puzzle.

Good time to meat. Cougars survived Pleistocene extinction as they eat what they meet. All of it. Rachel Nuwer describes the evidence in support of the hypothesis.

Dirty pool. Charles Choi finds that Neanderthals carried fairly high number of mutations in gene pool.

Nothing to lose one’s head over. Rebecca Morelle explains how genomics reveals that blood stored in gourd unlikely beheaded Louis XVI’s.


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

Turning over a new leaf. Vine mimics host it grown on. Beautiful coverage of an interesting discovery, by Ed Yong. Plants do some amazing things. This said, this one really stretches the limits of credulity. Suspect it may be the plant taps into a heterochronic pathway typical of other vines (e.g., English ivy) that alters leaf morphology. Likely volatile based switch, but could be light quality related, despite the scant data in the paper suggesting the contrary. Regardless, it’s a very cool discovery. Look forward to learning of the mechanistic basis. Read of the week.

♫ I’m just mad about saffron, and saffron’s just… ♫ An amazing spice from crocus flowers! Sarah Shailes' blogging gets a little spicy!

Wiretappers use bugs to spy on conversations. Scientists use bugs to spy on plants' internal communications. I wrote this.

Lava life. Flora on volcanoes. Beautifully botany, captured by QT Luong,

Sow good. Spectacular seeds. Gorgeous photography by Svjetlana Tepavcevic, shared by Joe Hanson.

It stems from this. Moss that stands like a tree.

Across the great divide. Amanda Little on how Pam Ronald & Michael Pollan met to discuss the GMO debate.

Don’t waste another minute. Consider the way we treat food. Awesome reminder from the great folks at MinuteEarth. View of the week.


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

What’s in a name? For fungal taxonomy, a lot of challenges. Brilliant overview, by Susan Milius. Read of the week.

Fighting fire with fire. S. E. Gould on battling bacteria with fungal weapons that came from bacteria.

Kiss of death. Tanya Lewis explains how Strep throat bacteria evolved into deadly flesh-eaters.

In the flesh. Matt Simon explains how flesh-eating Strep bacteria evolved into an epidemic.


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)

Little get together. Erika Check Hayden on a protein that unites sperm & egg.

Rules of attraction. Breanna Draxler on how spermatozoa recognise eggs.

If you can’t take the heat…Activate genes to acclimate. Like coral. Amanda Mascarelli looks at how corals contend with warming waters.

Getting to know Y. Chromosome more than sex switch. Sarah Williams looks into the whys of Y.

The Ys & wherefores. Rina Shaikh-Lesko explains that there is a remarkable retention of gene functions, despite Y chromosome shrinkage.

No need to wonder Y. Josh Fischman explains that the Y chromosome has value beyond sex determination.

Outside in. Human gut has remarkable surface area, as Francie Diep explains.

What exactly is epigenetics & does the reality live up to the hype?” Nice primer by Cath Ennis.

With due cause. Guidelines for assessing genetic variant causality with human disease. Important development, with insights provided by two of the guidelines' architects, Daniel MacArthur & Chris Gunter.


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

Endless forms most alien. Charles Darwin & the search for extraterrestrial life. Superb look at the history of the science, by David Bressan. Read of the week.

Matter of taste. Why some cockroaches find sugar bitter. Evolution! Peter Andrey Smith on the sensing of flavours.

Trials of isles. How sea level has shaped Galapagos diversity. Fascinating science, nicely explained by Henry Nicholls.

Bigger is better? Not when it comes to the wisdom of crowds. Wonderful research from Iain Couzin's group, nicely explained by Carl Zimmer.

Robots get fit. Robots “evolve” different fitness strategies when left to own devices, as Francie Diep explains.


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

Springing ahead. How we are creating an earlier springtime. Not cool. Carl Zimmer looks at recent plant research that is chilling.

Growth industry. Carbon emissions are increasing plant growing season, as Nicola Jones explains.

Not cool. How mega-heatwaves emerge. Hannah Hoag explains how the mechanism has been modelled.

Roots of change. As climate increases permafrost melt, trees stand askew. Brian Clark Howard takes a look.

Far from the calm voice of reason. Climate sceptics “shout” loudest. Dave Levitan on something worth listening to.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

It’s full of stars. Gorgeous galaxies.

Looking up. Jane Lee shares the week's best cosmic curiosities.

Radio star? Nadia Drake describes some mysterious radio bursts from space.

A real bright spot. Nature of superbright supernova. Nadia Drake explains some illuminating research.

Brightening up. Lizzie Gibney on a cosmic magnifying glass.

Star attraction. Christopher Crockett describes how gravity from white dwarf bends light to brighten stellar companion.

What’s up?! The updated periodic table of exoplanets. Awesome way of displaying all the data, by Abel Méndez. View of the week.

Worlds away. Beautiful exoplanets. Awesome pictures, nicely collated by Miklos Vincze. View of the week.

Bright sunshiny day. Ethan Siegel on how the sun makes it so. Super explainer.

Mind the gap. There’s a moon there - amongst Saturn’s rings.

The sky is falling. Making mountains on Iapetus. Carl Engelking on the interesting creation of a moon's geology.

Shine a little light on the matter. Zapping the moon with a laser…for science! Phil Plait describes some cool experiments.

Hit parade. The Earth is frequently struck by asteroids. Colin Schultz finds that it is more frequent than one might think.

No news is good news? Might things be better for humanity in absence of habitable planets? Andrew Snyder-Beattie considers the possibility.

I’m dedicated to finding another Earth because what else can I do?” Quote by Sara Seager from an outstanding profile of an astounding researcher, by Corey Powell. Read of the week.


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

Not so dark? Might pulsars & not dark matter explain positron excess? Interesting alternative hypothesis, nicely explained by Colin Stuart.

Gravity of the situation. Bouncing neutrons shows gravity at work over tiny scales, finds Lizzie Gibney.

Makes your head spin. How fast would you have to whirl to slow down Earth’s rotation? Rhett Allain does some dizzying physics.

Everyone likes rays, man? Not astronauts. Cosmic rays a hazard of space travel, as Adam Mann explains.

Courting success. Physics is the key to realising hoop dreams. Awesome explainer, by Aatish Bhatia.

Before his time? Are medieval bishop’s insights relevant to modern physics? Tom McLeish & Giles Gasper suggest that the answer is yes.

Setting things right. Evelyn Lamb gets the angle on Euclid’s 4th postulate.

Cool argument. Why Icarus should have flown closer to the sun. Good fun, by Kyle Hill.

Crystal clear. Why coal is black & diamonds shiny. Chemistry! Maggie Koerth-Baker looks into it.

Soap in our eyes. Soap is everywhere. Be not afraid. Nice look at chemophobia, by Lab Muffin.

Blending in. How a kitchen blender might help make better graphene. Richard Van Noorden on science you really shouldn't do at home, kids.

Scientists are often taught to be rational & politics is anything but rational.” Quote from interesting read by Zoe Corbyn on George Smoot & his view of life, the universe & particles.


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

Killing pain without doing harm. Quest for painkillers that don’t promote abuse. Excellent insights, perfectly described by Maia Szalavitz. Read of the week.

Patients don’t get the help they need, they often do get a helping of scorn.” Quote by Julie Rehmeyer from incredible two part piece (part one here, part two here) on living with CFS. Read of the week.

Living with Lyme. Insights into an incompletely-characterised disease. Excellent read, by Katherine Harmon.

Caught out. Don’t be deceived by the “I’m not contagious” line. Healthy advice, by Jenny Rohn.

A long way to go. As we acknowledge 30th anniversary of AIDS, where do things stand? Important look at how far we've come and what remains to be done, by Nathalia Holt.

Sound strategy. Gene-therapy-delivering cochlear impact restores hearing. Amazing new medical advance, perfectly explained by Ed Yong.

Age old argument. Frank Swain asks whether it might be possible to live forever.

The big sleep. Might human hibernation be possible? Fascinating exploration of the possibility, by Sheena Faherty.

In it for the long run. Christie Aschwanden on the challenge of developing a calculator to determine running times.

Wherefore art thou, potion? Were Shakespeare’s fictional chemistries based in realty? Claudia Hammond considers the facts in the Bard's fictions.

Poo rules! It can be a lifesaver. Great graphical explainer, with words by Matt Shipman and artwork by Caitlin Atteberry, presented by the fabulous folks at BuzzHootRoar.

Cold comfort? Martta Kelly finds that even frozen faeces work for faecal transplants.

Avoiding crappy advice. The poop on poop. Christopher Wanjek debunks misconceptions.

Immaculate contraception? The science behind the furore over IUDs. Superb, critical take by Maggie Koerth-Baker. Read 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

Conscious decisions. Minds of “vegetative state” patients. Spectacular, must read, by Roger Highfield. Read of the week.

Not criminally responsible. Devastating impact of mental illness. This deeply, deeply affecting piece by Amy Dempsey is a poignant, sensitive, intelligent, and important profile of a devastating case of schizophrenia. Read of the week.

Over the moon? Does the moon influence human behaviour, like other animals? Excellent look at lunar influences, by Cameron Walker. Read of the week.

Nifty neurons. Virginia Hughes describes advances in fine imaging the brain.

Here’s how smart Einstein was — he understood all too well..our obsession with celebrity & special-ness.” Quote from a great piece by Virginia Hughes about Einstein’s brain & our obsession with celebrity. Read of the week.

A helping hand. Gesturing while talking does aid communication. Intriguing research, nicely explained by Jessica Love.

Quantum wizardry or magic quackery?Neuro Skeptic takes a critical look at a new method claiming to diagnose schizophrenia & depression.

Just desserts? Bethany Brookshire explains how rats develop other bad eating habits due to bingeing.

Brian Eno was onto something. Ambient music may provide pain relief, explains Michaela Slinger.

Not the droid you’re looking for. Why don’t we love C-3PO like we do R2-D2? Clive Thompson considers the answers.

WEIRD science? What “science of beards” really tells us. Study takes one in the chin, by Joseph Stromberg.


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

What’s in a name? Of penises, Pluto, & the labels we use. Excellent consideration of science communication, by Jason Goldman.

A case for the dead. Animal specimen collection for museums is crucial. Thought provoking, and important piece, by Terry Wheeler.

Swashbuckling scientists? Pirates were the “original gangsters of natural history”. Awesome look at some amazing history, by Alex Warneke. Read of the week.

Make no mistake about it. Avoiding common errors in science writing. Useful advice, by Akshat Rathi.

Whoever thinks academics don’t like to engage with the public should spend just one day in our office.” Quote by Akshat Rathi from an excellent reflection on how academics can enrich journalism. Read of the week.

Picture this. Susan Ask describes her excellent work with the Urbanimalia project, using drawing as a means to get children to empathise with animals.

Since 1969, how many people have played Hamlet? Since then, one person has played Big Bird. Superb profile of Caroll Spinney, by Dave McGinn.

Out in the open. State of affairs in open access publishing. Super examples & advice, by Stephen Curry.

Great wide open? Balanced critique of an “open science reporting” project, by Sarah Boon.

Cite unseen? How often do academic publications go uncited? Dahlia Remler makes an important, critical assessment.

A thing of beauty. Beautiful science writing derives from the beauty of facts. Excellent advice on writing beautifully, by Ann Finkbeiner. Read of the week.


Leave a Reply

+ 1 = five