Morsels For The Mind – 28/03/2014

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

The first four morsels this week are spectacular pieces by Mark Deeble, on his experience in Tsavo with elephants. Read all his posts. Reads of the week.

I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, & I hate that he knows.” Genius post, by Mark Deeble.

Making scents of it all. The odour of petrichor, & evocation of savannah. Incredible post, by Mark Deeble.

Agony & ivory. The beauty of elephants, & our impact in them. Brilliant read, by Mark Deeble.

There are many different ways to kill an elephant.” All of them foul. Stunning read, by Mark Deeble.

Playing to win.  Mary Bates expertly describes how play helps primate brains grow.

Great plan for great apes. John Platt on an action agenda for gorilla conservation that holds much promise.

Have you herd? Elephant density does not improve ecotourism. And works against ecology. Roberta Kwok on a surprising find.

Seeing things? Do non-human animals see the same optical illusions we do? Intriguing possibility considered by Laura Kelley.

Depth of experience. Beaked whale dives to almost 3 km, reveals Henry Nicholls.

How low can you go? For these deep diving whales, the answer is “exceedingly low”, as Jane Lee finds.

Perfume purr-fection. Big cats like their scents from big name perfumieres. Yes, really, as Bec Crew reveals.

Creature comforts? Careful snuggling with pets - you might catch something. Rebecca Kreston looks at the evidence.

Pet peeve. Our prescriptions are poisoning companion animals. Important article, by Deborah Blum.

Channeling behaviour? Could DogTV television channel enrich lives of lonely canines? Julie Hecht takes a look.

Gone to the dogs. Understanding canine (& other animal) health can aid human medicine, as Lizzie Crouch reveals.

Curious canine copulation. How dogs “do it”. Fascinating bit of biology, by Jason Bittel.

For your viewing pleasure. Carin Bondar's new video series brings science to sex, as Anaiis Flox reveals.

Bearably sweet. Henry Nicholls on how pandas have a taste for sugar.

Making traffic bearable. How to design roadways to accommodate koala safety. Good lessons learned, as Jason Goldman reveals.

Hoofing it. Darren Naish on remarkably fleet footed pronghorns.

Going squirrelly. How the fox squirrel invaded the west. Great story by Jason Goldman.

Get outta here! Bethany Brookshire reveals that bats warn others to back off.

You should’t juggle hibernating squirrels. But you could do it without waking them, as John Metcalfe finds.

Of mice and men. Erika Check Hayden on how some medical research on mice has been a big waste.

Mickey Mouse science. Disney created the lemming suicide myth. Excellent debunking by Annalee Newitz

What’s that, Flipper? New software translates dolphin & primate “speech”. Yes, really. Hal Hodson on real life Dr. Doolittle.

By gosh or by golly. Spectacular flight of a goshawk. Must view.

Phenomenal falcons. Red-throated caracaras. Sean McCann on some beautiful birds.

Tremendous tunesmiths. Hummingbird song in slo-mo. Amazing biology, shared by Kim Moynahan. View of the week.

Breath taking. How birds breathe is amazing, as Eldon Greij reveals.

It’s complicated. Sarah Zielinski on how gender ratios mess up bird relationships.

Contraception & conception. How frog pants led to understanding fertilisation. Fun stuff by Katie Burke & Bethann Merkle.

Poisoning the kids…for their own well-being. Sarah Zielinski on some phenomenal frogs.

Under the sea. Turtles & sharks. Gorgeous photoessay, by Thomas Peschak.

Look. Don’t touch. Poking, prodding, & petting sharks is just wrong. Important issue, perfectly considered by David Shiffman.

Making piece. Oarfish break up as a defence. Matt Simon continues his look at bizarre critters.

Taking a stand. Tripod fish has fins for “standing”. Bec Crew on a curious critter.

A fresh start. Phenomenal freshwater fish, beautifully pictured by Michel Roggo.

Betta test sight. Spectacular Siamese fighting fish.

Phenomenal flatworms. Ah, Platyhelminthes. Joseph Jameson-Gould shares a gallery of beauty.

Clutch call. Octopus parasite shifts egg production by season. Tony Leung describes a remarkable relationship.

Animal or vegetable? Sea anemone genome has hallmarks of both.

Devilishly cute? A parasitic worm. Francie Diep on a face only a mother could love. Maybe.

What the shell? Nadia Drake on awesome snail species that are disappearing as fast as they’re discovered.

A laughing matter? Do animals experience a sense of humour? Intriguing question, considered by Peter McGraw & Joel Warner.

Just kidding? When animals act like people in kids stories, we mess up kids’ understanding of biology. Jason Goldman explains the evidence.

Are insects animals? Of course, but they don’t figure prominently when folks think about animals. This Zazie Smith post about how people think about animals is fascinating.


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

Hard to beat. James Gorman on how flies do calculus with wing beats.

Buzz kill? If you could kill all mosquitoes, would you? Should you? A real head-scratcher. Superb podcast, by Radiolab, featuring David Quammen. Listen of the week.

When life sucks…and it’s a good thing. Feeding mosquitoes your own blood…for science. Great story, by Ed Yong.

Magnificent mimic. Spider? No. Moth. Simply amazing mimicry, shared by Carly Brooke.

Nothing to sniff at. Dragonflies’ hidden sense of smell. Nsikan Akpan's story is nothing to sniff at.

Mighty munch. Behind beetles big bite. Victoria Gill looks into it.

This makes scents. Arachnid odour-generating leg glands. Chris Buddle describes some amazing arthropod anatomy.

Tremendous tolerance. Tardigrades are robust critters, as Matt Simon reveals.

Oh, behave! Linking particular neurons to particular behaviours in fly larvae. Cool piece of work, nicely described by Kate Yandell.

Anger management. The control of aggression in fruit flies. Fascinating biology, nicely explained by Jason Goldman.

The enemy of my enemy… Invasive crustacean kept in check by its persistent parasite, as Tony Leung reveals.

Sowing a better future. Gwen Pearson on planting a garden for pollinators, especially bees.

Root for the underdog! Dare you not to cheer for this upended wood louse. Awesome video, shared by Rose Eveleth.

Hips don’t lie. Tell tale of weevil locomotion.


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

Can you dig it?! Why palaeontology is important. Oh, and awesome! Jon Tennant makes a perfect case.

Fantastic fossil fern features. Jurassic chromosomes! Simply spectacular discovery, nicely explained by John Timmer. Read of the week.

Fern, golly! Stunning fossil plant cell preservation. Tia Ghose shares an astonishing palaeobotanical find.

Tremendous Tyrannosaurs. They ruled for 100M years. Brian Switek reviews the fearsome beasts.

Happy reunion. Two pieces of fossil turtle leg bone reunited create big story. Awesome discovery, wonderfully described by Brian Switek.

Boning up on things. Gigantic turtle leg fossil parts reunited. Amazing story on many levels, by Jonathan Amos.

A sort of homecoming. Cockroach deemed invasive resided there 49M years ago, as Rachel Nuwer reveals.

On the right track? Did an ancient spider leave fossil footprints behind? Cool find, wonderfully explained by Nadia Drake.

Sound solution. The emergence of echolocation in whale evolution. Excellent post on an amazing discovery, by Travis Park.

Taking a ribbing. Mammoths with extra ribs. Wasn't good for mammoths, as Beth Skwarecki expertly reveals.

Hand it to them. Did men or women make palaeolithic handprint cave paintings? Greg Laden considers the evidence at hand.

They chose…poorly? Some folks think they’ve found the Holy Grail. Yes, really.  It belongs on a museum.

Done & dusted. Beer brewed from yeast from fossil dust. Yep.  Kalliopi Monoyios on a new brew, created by Lost Rhino Brewing & Paleo Quest.


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

That’s what fronds are for. A cycad makes its first cone. Cool find, nicely described by Tim Entwisle.

Roots of a solution. Breeding cassava to feed more people. Marissa Fessenden on the potentially profound impact of plant breeding.

Phenomenal flowers. Beautiful blooms, photographed by Andrew Zuckerman.


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

This will mess with your mind. In the best way. Genius TED Talk by Ed Yong on parasites that alter host brains. Seriously, please do yourself a favour & set aside 14 mins to view this. It’s pure gold. View of the week.

The drugs don’t work. Drug-resistant malaria & the battle against it. Amazing, must read, by Ed Yong. Read of the week.

The kids are alright? Serious drug-resistant infections in children on the rise. Maryn McKenna on an important issue.

Gonorrhea grapples. Nsikan Akpan on the microbe that has hooks for transmission.

Resurrecting a giant. Huge, ancient virus revived from suspended animation. Cool discovery. Great explanation by S.E. Gould

When sex goes viral. Ed Yong on how a sexually-transmitted virus makes crickets amorous.

Love sick. Jalees Rehman on how a virus ramps up cricket mating.

All together now! Bacteria engineered to do extraordinary things when they aggregate. Cool bit of synthetic biology, beautifully described by Nadia Drake.


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)

It all started with a quagga. A snippet of ancient equine DNA changed science. Brilliant review of the discoveries made using ancient DNA, by Ewen Callaway. Read of the week.

Sexual preference is one of the most strongly genetically determined behavioural traits...” Quote by Kevin Mitchell from a superb consideration of the genetics of sexual preference. Read of the week.

Have you herd? Vaccination & value of herd immunity. Excellent (comic) explainer, by Parasite Ecology.

Missing the shot. Global cost of people not being vaccinated.  Important post by Michaeleen Doucleff, with an outstanding illustrative gif.

Piecing life together. Ewen Callaway on how undergrads have helped build an edited, synthetic, yeast chromosome.

Write on! Heavily edited, functional, synthetic yeast chromosome written from scratch. Awesome piece of research, expertly described by Ed Yong.

Take a stand. Doing desk work while standing seems to have benefits, as Joseph Stromberg explains.

Oh, the irony. Homeopathic product recalled. It contained real medicine. Super critique, by Steven Novella.

Up close & personal. Life under a microscope. Beautiful.


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

Madam, I’m Adam. Nope. There was no “first human”. Super explainer, by Joe Hanson.

"Spring can really hang you up the most." So crooned Ella Fitzgerald. But she probably didn't know about birch trees and wood frogs, which embrace spring's icy grip. I wrote this.

Word to the wise. Holly Dunsworth on wisdom teeth and evolution. Great stuff.

Everything’s gone green? Sometimes urban greening isn’t great. Thought provoking find, nicely explained by Roberta Kwok.

Water works. It makes remarkable biology, as Elizabeth Pennisi reveals.

Ripples in snow. Microbe evolution. Gravitational waves. What kind of fool tries to connect such things? This kind. I wrote this.


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

Reef or madness. The Great Barrier Reef. Brilliant, must read by Oliver Milman, Christian Bennett, & Mike Bowers. Read of the week.

Rocky road. The history of mapping geological features. Interesting post, by David Bressan.

The Earth is exhausting. Literally. It’s venting carbon dioxide all the time, as Robin Wylie reveals.

What’s up? Paintings of the sky hold record of what was in the air. Emily Gertz on another value of art.

Spring sprung. In some places, the seasons have moved on…beautifully. Lovely ode to the emerging spring, by Sarah Boon.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Across the universe. Remarkable size of the cosmos. Awesome animated explainer, by Beakus. View of the week.

One giant amount giants. Our galaxy.

Surprise! Space holds some spectacularly surprising stuff. Nadia Drake discovers astronomers’ picks of the most surprising.

Smashing outcome! In 4 billion years the Milky Way & Andromeda will collide, but our Sun will survive. Nadia Drake is very reassuring!

Our days are numbered. The expanding Sun will make Earth uninhabitable in 1B years, as Astroquizzical explains.

A star is born. Actually, many are born & nurtured in a gorgeous nebula. Awesome picture of the cosmos, shared by Nadia Drake.

Galaxies galore. Galactic pile on.

‘Round they go. Stars’ clockwise orbits at 90km/s. Phil Plait spins a great story.

Spectacular spiral. Resides in Virgo Cluster. Ethan Siegel takes a long look.

It’s got flare. The Sun’s powerful blasts, shared by Lizzie Gibney.

Plume with a view. Eruptions on Io & Venus. Erik Klemetti looks into them.

An asteroid with a side of rings. Jonathan Amos on some delectable disks.

A little lord of the rings. Tiny asteroid has its own ring system, as Lizzie Gibney reveals.

Ring of truth to it. Nicola Jenner describes a rocky asteroid travelling with its own ring system.

Asteroid with bling. Adam Mann beautifully describes a ringed wonder.

Way out there. Alexandra Witze on a dwarf planet at solar system’s edge.

Here be monsters? Might a distant “super Earth” be lurking distantly in our Solar System? Ian Sample considers the evidence.

Distant relations? Nicola Jenner on how a new planet suggests existence of “super-Earth” in outer reaches of Solar System.

Far out! Jonathan Amos describes a new dwarf planet that has a huge orbit around Sun.

Think Pluto is lonely? It’s got nothing on the distant orbit of this new dwarf planet, as Michael Wall reveals.

‘Round they go? Are other undiscovered planets orbiting sun like newly discovered distant dwarf world? Stuart Clark takes a look.

Explosive discovery. Irene Klotz looks at the recent volcanic activity on Venus.

Is there anybody out there? Where to look for life on Mars. Peter Grindrod on how they're deciding where to search.


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

It comes naturally. Nature may look unnatural sometimes. It isn’t. Superb look at the cosmos, by Sean Carroll. Read of the week.

Touched by time. We are awash in the remnants of the Big Bang. Wonderful, beautiful description, by Brian Koberlein. Read of the week.

The incredible being of lightness. How photons work is phenomenal. This Matthew Francis piece will blow your mind. Read of the week.

Holey moley! The term “black hole” had a curious origin, 50 years ago, as Tom Siegfried describes.

Ripple effect. Gravitational waves create ripples of excitement for physics. Ian Sample gets the views of folks in the know.

Making waves. Gravitational waves create tides of change in physics, as Ron Cowen reveals.

Path of least resistance. Light, animals, & the speediest route. Brilliant comparison of how nature takes the easy route, by Aatish Bhatia. Read of the week.

In pools, the p is not silent. Urine & chlorine make for bad chemistry, as Julie Beck describes.

Unknown known. Rare earth elements are ubiquitous, yet few are aware of them. Justin Rowlatt on a rarely discussed, and important, topic. Read of the week.

Buy the numbers? If kaiju emergence really followed math, Pacific Rim would have been, oh, 25 min long. Kyle Hill finds thing just add up. Great fun.

Dance, dance revolution. How to hack a Kinect to create an awesome dance video. Cool home project, by Aatish Bhatia.


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

I once had a friend who was almost suffocated by cheesecake.” Quote from a brilliant piece by Tania Browne on cancer, cheesecake & the stigma of mental illness. Read of the week.

Err conditioning? The good & bad of Skinner’s behaviourist thinking. Thought-provoking look at the famous psychologist, by George Dvorsky.

All in your head. Inside your brain. Carl Zimmer shares the "wow!".

Gut reaction. Virginia Hughes finds that the effect of weight-loss surgery might be due to bile acids & microbes.

Getting the inside scoop. Brain scanning studies shouldn’t be dismissed. Thought-provoking & compelling case, by Matt Wall.

Sex sells. The sexiest part of the brain is, well, the sexiest, as Christian Jarrett reveals.

This rocks! People convinced that their hands are made of stone. Elizabeth Preston on our perception of self.

About face. Face-blind folks still discriminate other objects. Foils expertise hypothesis, as Andreas von Bubnoff reveals.

Read all about it! “Spritzing” is the latest thing in speed reading. Here’s the science, by Dana Smith.

Not so smart. Does taking “smart pills” really make you smarter? What do you think? Camilla d'Angelo has a smart take on this.

Helping hands. Remarkable story of a double hand transplant, by Rose Eveleth. Read of the week.

Everything’s connected. The seamless integration of work & life. A good thing? Krystal D'Costa gives it some thought.

Bah, humbug! Want to ruin a classic children’s story? Bring modern medicine into the mix. Elizabeth Preston does the killjoy thing.


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

An end in sight. Scientist losing his vision aims to shed light on TB. This Brendan Borrell piece is a powerful, poignant read, and accompanied by an exceptional animation. Read / view of the week.

A force of nature. Jane Goodall turns 80 next week. She is a wonder. Super homage for an amazing person, by Barbara King.

Leading the wild life. Wonderful profile of teenage wildlife photographer Will Nicholls, by Victoria Gill.

Going natural. Advantages of natural history for science & society are plentiful. Superb review, by Terry Wheeler and colleagues.

In this week’s Cosmos, Robert Hooke was depicted harshly. Was this fair? Hmm. He was complicated, as Alisdair Wilkins describes.

Letter perfect. Wonderful exchange between Benzer, Monod, Jacob & Lwoff on Nobel Prize. Great fun, shared by Matthew Cobb.

Some like it hot? The “sexing up” of science. Is this a good thing? Dean Burnett bring the humour to a serious issue. Great stuff.

Getting it write. How to generate a news story based on a scientific paper. Great advice by Ian Sample.

Class act. What happens when science communication is brought into the classroom? Matt Shipman takes a look.

Letter perfect? When it comes to capturing a researcher’s worth, the h-index gets an F. Compelling case, by Stacy Konkiel.

The show must go on? Narratives of why people leave, or stay in, PhD programs. Crucial consideration, by Inger Mewburn.

Making it big time? Flex in science work schedule may not be all it’s cracked up to be, as Sarah Shailes finds.

Worried for the big academic publishers? Yeah, not so much. Sheesh. Alex Holcombe on how any worries may be misplaced.

Mainstreaming magic. Government support of “alternative” placebo-based medicine. Hannah Hoag & Kasra Hassani look at misleading policy.


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