Morsels For The Mind – 27/12/2013

28 December 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 / views / listens of the week”.

With this week’s holiday season in full force, seasonal offerings are found at the top of each section below.


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

Ten mantas leaping! Twelve days of Christmas - marine bio style. Awesome, seasonal fun, by Alistair Dove.

Presents of being. Non-human animals also bear gifts. Natalie Angier explores the evidence.

Nose so bright. Reindeer snouts glow (thermographically).

Who nose? These nose. Awesome, in infrared. Francie Diep shares the images.

Creature comforts. 12 critter factoids, in two parts (part 1, part 2). Lovely choices by Stuart King.

In our evolved feelings of grief, we are all members of the animal kingdom.” Quote by Virginia Morell from an amazing essay on loss & grief in non-human animals. Beautiful writing.
 Read of the week.

People don't have to embellish other animals; we just have to let them show us who they are.”  Quote from a thought-provoking piece by Marc Bekoff on animal behaviour & welfare.

Wild neighbours. An interesting look at urban wildlife, by Sarah DeWeerdt.

Wild at heart? The introduction of squirrels into city centres. Interesting story by Richard Conniff.

City slickers. How squirrels came to town. Lex Berko on the introduction of non-human urban dwellers.

Forever young. How bonobos stay youthful longer.

The depth of the testes' hiding places varied by as much as 16 inches from one hippo to the next.” Quote from a delightful piece by Elizabeth Preston on why it's nearly impossible to castrate a hippo.

What the flock?! Sheep tend to turn to the left. They don't get left behind!

“A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” Don't give a dog, give an adoption kit. Excellent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking piece by Julie Hecht.

Dogs and dope? Just say no. Marc Lallanilla looks into a controversial topic.

Remarkably rare, amazingly avoidable. Fatal dog bites. Great coverage of the science, by Companion Animal Psychology.

Pool cues. How river otter moms teach the kids to swim. Mind blowing (& a little scary) video via The Kid Should See This.

Watch out. Whale watching has unintended consequences: injured whales. Virginia Morell reports on the travesty.

If you get it right for people, you get it right for lions.” Katya Cengel describes how helping folks protects rare species.

Munching moss. How pikas get by in challenging times. Roberta Kwok explains.

Wonderful waddling waves. How penguin huddles move. Like stop-&-go traffic. Cool!

The old switcheroo. Reptiles changing birthing strategies. Rachel Nuwer on some cool evolutionary history.

Remarkable rarities. Beautiful, rare creatures. Joel Sartore's wonderful photography of endangered species.


Lost & found. Female Mangarahara cichlids rediscovered. Great news, shared by John Platt.

Former glory. Some species were rediscovered this year. Great stories, by Sarah Zielinski.

The belly of the beast. Why some of them are soft. For good reason, as Jackson Landers reveals.

Little shell raisers. The flame scallop, nicely presented by Joseph Jameson-Gould.

Down for the count. Numbering an octopus's suckers. More important than you might think, as Katherine Harmon Courage reveals.

Current affairs. Using animals to help collect more accurate oceanographic data. Great story, by Jed Lipinski.


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

It's getting to look alot like...critters. Festive collection of creepy crawlies, curated by Chris Buddle.

Tour de force. Wonderful exploration of towers made by spiders. Super story, brilliantly told by Nadia Drake.

 Read of the week.

Mitey challenge. Might spider-made tower & fence serve as a mite trap? Cool hypothesis by Phil Torres.

Getting it together. How locusts learn to swarm. Superb story, nicely explained by Mary Bates.

 Read of the week.

Done & dusted. Male moths' sexy feather duster. Bug Girl on a remarkable innovation.

All the right moves. Spiders shudder as foreplay. Joseph Bennington-Castro on an amazing arachnid behaviour.

Good vibrations. Male spiders vibrate to avoid being eaten before sex. Lizzie Wade looks into it.

Bountiful, beautiful bees. Astonishingly amazing photography, by Sam Droege.

Beating the heat. Caterpillar’s climate change.

A meal, fit for a king? Not for monarch butterflies. Our food crops = their demise. Michael Wines explains why.


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

Ruffling feathers. Dinosaur plumage may have been exception, not the rule. Matt Kaplan on a report that is sure to be contentious.

Hooves in the distance. Horse ancestors. Megan Gannon looks into insights on equine evolution based on a new fossil find.

All in the wrist? Evolution of human dexterity.


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

The root of the matter. Exploring plant "intelligence". Excellent review of a contentious topic, by Michael Pollan.
 Read of the week.

Crowning glory. Remarkable biodiversity near the crowns of trees, as reported by Roberta Kwok.

Really lichen this. The beards of trees. Joseph Jameson-Gould on living on the fringes.

Cool as a cucumber. How plants beat the cold.

Terrible trio. Fungus, beetle & nematode symbiosis downs pine trees.


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

Small wonders. Working with microbes for a better future. Great overview by Richard Conniff.

Constant gardeners. Leaf-cutter ants deal with “weedy” fungi.

Enemy of my enemy. Zombie-making-fungus slayers. Tommy Leung on a fascinating case of embedded parasitism.

'Shroom with a spew? Wild fungi can be a gastronomic joy or send you reeling to the loo. Or worse. Cal Flyn on the ups and downs wild mushroom hunting.

Sending out an SOS. How microbes deal with DNA damage. S. E. Gould on some cool molecular machinery.


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)

There are not merely wonderful things under the Christmas tree, but wonders *within* it.

Joining in those reindeer games. How Rudolph inherited the red nose gene variant. Fun genetics explainer by Josh Witten


The gift that keeps giving? Was diabetes susceptibility allele passed on from Neanderthals? Paul Rincon looks at the evidence.

Not dead yet. The end of direct-to-consumer genomics? Um, not so much. Excellent assessment by Razib Khan.

Inside scoop. DNA sequence of human eggs obtained non-invasively. Game changer? Erika Check Hayden looks into it.

Terrifically tiny. Magnificent microscopy.

Inner beauty. Gorgeous colourised x-ray images.


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

Winter wonderland. The snowy north.

The sciencey things I have enjoyed most this holiday season have been Alok Jha's entries in his Guardian Antarctica Expedition journal. The writing is crisp, the stories amazing, & the sharing of how science is done superb. Must reads/views of season.
 Reads of the week follow.

Good planning, though, is invisible: if it works, you don't notice it.” On the longest Antarctic drive, beautifully described by Alok Jha. Read of the week.

It's almost as close to a holy ground as you could get on this trip.” Quote from a super entry in Alok Jha's Antarctic expedition journal. Christmas trek to Mawson's huts. 

 Read of the week.

Cold comfort. Douglas Mawson's century-old Antarctic base camp, frozen in time. Literally. Alok Jha provides a pictorial view.

Frozen in time. Awesome video of Alok Jha's voyage to Mawson's huts in Antarctica. Must view.

 View of the week.

Antarctica is not just cold, windy and wet. It is the extreme of all those things.” Alok Jha on an amazing continent.

 Read of the week.

The most eerie thing about the quiet they were.” Life & death of Adelie penguins, beautifully described by Alok Jha.

 Read of the week.

Alok Jha describes being trapped in the ice. Great reads continue.

 Read of the week.

What's up? Mystery solved in Earth's upper atmosphere.

Terrible beauty. An awful ice storm transformed into awesome art by Tony Round.

Red alert. Tracking “red tide” algae blooms from space. Kate Baggaley takes a look.

The heat of the moment. Gulf Stream thermal image. Awesome.

What lies beneath. Giant aquifer under Greenland's ice.

Can't see the snow for the trees. Snow melts faster in forests than open fields. Jyoti Madhusoodanan explains.

The Arctic is not like Vegas. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” Quote from an excellent piece by Frontier Scientists on the dire implications of Arctic warming.

Lighten up. Astonishing auroras will brighten your day. Russel McLendon has curated a beautiful collection.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

O Tannenbaum. A celestial tree. Sarah Zielinski on a starry wonder.

A sleigh & eight tiny reindeer. In the sky. Phil Plait tracks it.

Real asteroids may not be as poetic as B-612, but they are nevertheless beautiful...” Quote by Matthew Francis  from a great piece on asteroids from his wonderful advent series. Super reads.

You are here. Well, not really. Love this piece on mapping our galaxy. Super read by Matthew Francis. Read of the week.

Ripple, ripple, little star. Ripples of light. Jason Major looks at tiny waves of light.

“This result opens up a new era in astronomy.” Neutrinos from space. Super analysis by Sean Carroll.

Worlds away. An exoplanet with an exomoon? Maybe, just maybe. Alex Witze looks at the evidence.

Colourful character. The sun's hues. Megan Garber shares a stunning video.

Little refrigerator magnet in space.” Lisa Grossman describes a funky asteroid.

Out of this world. Astonishing colours of asteroid Vesta.

Ringing in the New year. Saturn & moons for the holidays.

So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight.  A final, poetic farewell to comet ISON, by Stuart Atkinson.

Orange hue glad to see this? The colour of Titan.

A moon, with a view. Saturn's Iapetus. Amazing.

Spectacular squiggles. On Mars!

Rise, and shine. The 45th anniversary of "Earthrise". One of the most important, amazing photos ever. Wonderful update by NASA.

Home sweet home. 45 yrs ago, one of the most important photos ever was taken. It was amazing, as Phil Plait reveals.

Two for one. Study of astronaut twins to investigate impact of space travel on humans. Clara Moskowitz explores the story.


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

When flying in foggy conditions, a bright red light for a nose won't do a thing.” Because science.  Superb explainer by Kyle Hill.

New gold dream. Smaug has even more of the shiny stuff than we thought. Because science. Rhett Allain breaks it down.


Swirls on film. Soap film makes swirly colours.

Under pressure. Salt makes exotic chemicals with high pressures. Akshat Rathi explains the amazing discovery fantastically.

Packing it in. Semidefinite programming helps to pack particles, shapes, & data. Fascinating find, by Natalie Wolchover

Getting by with a little help from some friends. Evolution of cooperative breeding. Cool discovery, nicely explained by Joseph Bennington-Castro.


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

Lip service. Why we kiss under the mistletoe. Grrl Scientist looks at the tradition.

A kiss is just a kiss? The purpose of kissing. Hmm.

There's no place like home. Place cells & our emotional connection to locations. Amazing story, by Mo Costandi.

 Read of the week.

For better or worse, we are already more similar to nature’s greatest builders than we realise.” Quote by Lee Billings from a brilliant piece on biomimicry in architecture.
 Read of the week.

The power of puppies. A cancer survivor on the role of dogs in her healing. Awesome post by Suleika Jaouad.

 Read of the week.

The firing line. How cooking made humans what they are. Cool hypothesis, beautifully explained by Joe Hanson.

Shocking discoveries. Electroconvulsive therapy selectively eliminates memories. Fascinating story, by Virginia Hughes.

What's in a name? Your name may have deeper implications than you realise. Intriguing story, by Maria Konnikova.

Mind-changing idea. Did the unique, human brain arise from radical re-wiring? Carl Zimmer on a new hypothesis.

Soul survivor? Could quantum theory save the Cartesian notion of soul? Spoiler: nope. Neuro Skeptic tells why.

Now you see it, now you don't. How the brain processes images.

Watch and be amazed. The T. rex illusion. Awesome mind-bender shared by Neetzan Zimmerman.


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

Looking for holiday cheer? You can do no better than Kate Whittington's gorgeous, sciencey, interactive advent art. View of the week.

Eye candy. Best science images of 2013. Really love Robert Gonzalez's awesome curation here. 

View of the week.

Homeward bound. The ways humans express the specialness of home. Wonderful interactive map, by Rose Eveleth.

Pardon or apology? Shouldn't Turing be receiving the latter? Amazing, sad story by David Allen Green.

“In science we sometimes very much want some things to be true.” How to avoid that trap, revealed by Neuro Skeptic.

Exchanging gifts. A forum where real-world problems are posed, & science responds. Frontier Scientists describe a new way of doing science.


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