Morsels for the mind – 30/8/2013

31 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

Living for the city. Urban living is changing the brains and behaviours of animals. Absolutely genius reporting on this fascinating story by Brandon Keim, Carl Zimmer and Rachel Nuwer. Reads of the week.

Getting a grip. Thumbs provide us with a means by which to grasp the wonder of evolution.

“Gasp at what evolution has wrought.” On the discovery, and rediscovery, of species.

Doing like they otter. Sea otters sustain ecosystem function even in the face of pollution. Ed Yong and Suzi Gage pull the threads of this story together perfectly.

In the lap of the dogs. Canine slurping is an acrobatic feat. Julie Hecht dishes it up.

Dogged determination. Some dogs are incredibly intelligent. Chaser leaves most of those in the dust. Dan Nosowitz’s feature on the “world’s smartest dog” is a must-read for dog lovers (and those interested in non-human animal smarts).

Howls for pals. Wolves call to maintain social groups. Shout outs to Virginia Morell, Melissa Hogenboom, and Arielle Duhaime-Ross for their coverage of canine calls.

Stroke of genius. Apes swim using strokes not dog paddle. Carrie Arnold, Kelly Servick, and Marc Lallanilla got into the swim of things.

Not so black and white? Is breeding pandas really worth it?

Aloha! Whales call all depths of Hawaii’s seas home.

The right stuff. Finding the right whale breeding ground was no mere fluke.

A noble prize? Orcas shouldn’t be in captivity, but not because they’re “noble”. Excellent case made by Jeffrey Bloomer.

Preventing pachyderm peril. Protecting Africa’s elephants.

Unbearable. Look at the giant anteater’s legs. Now try unseeing the panda.

Drawn in. Amazing drawings of animals.

Fly away home. Whooping cranes rely on social learning to migrate. Wonderful story takes flight through the writing of Jason Goldman and Virginia Morell.

Preying on the mind. How an owl maps out its hunt. Brilliant post by Greg Miller.

Gorgeous gannets. Spectacular seabirds.

Surf’s up! Ducks ride the waves for food.

Songs of the city. Urban living is changing some birds’ tunes.

Caws and effects. Social learning in crows.

Solid survival. Frogs withstand being frozen “frogsicles”. A chilling experience.

Alarming find. Salamanders respond to worm alarm. Fascinating stuff by Anne-Marie Hodge.

Homeward bound. Zoo reintroductions helping bring hellbender back from the brink.

The eyes have it. Damselfish have bigger fake eyes, smaller real eyes when predators lurk. As always, beautifully told tale by Elizabeth Preston.

At arm’s length. Severed octopus arms act on their own.

All the right moves. Deep-sea squid attract prey with feeble but wavy arms. Becky Crew, Daniel Cressey, & Ed Yong dangled this enticing story.

On the trail of the snail. Keeping apace of a vector of deadly dog disease. Interesting story by Matt McGrath.

Developing at a snail’s pace. Because it’s a snail.

Hanging on by a thread. In the mussel’s case, a remarkable thread.


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

The hungry caterpillar…was a voracious carnivore! Great combo of text and GIFs by Robert Gonzalez to convey a captivating tale.

Jump around! An amazing leaping caterpillar. Becky Crew got the hop on this cool story.

Fearsome foe. A cicada-killing wasp. Stunning.

Another leg up. Sometimes antennae do extra work. Mathew Cobb shows what happens when insects go out on a limb.

On a wing and a prayer. Excellent empusid praying mantids. Spectacular stuff by Piotr Naskrecki.

Winging it. Bee flight muscles decoded.

Switching it up. ON/OFF switches underlie dragonfly vision.

Amazing arthropods. Capturing the beauty of insects.

Sounds of summer. And the insects that make them. Gorgeous gallery compiled by Brandon Keim, who points out you can join in on citizen science collection of insect calls using your smartphone.

“Everywhere I travel will have plenty of little alien civilisations.” Awesome interview of Alex Wild by Travis Blair, on the joy of ants.

A design for life. Calvin Bridges wasn’t merely a fantastic fly geneticist, he was also a creative car designer.


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

In a flap. The challenges of finding  delicate flapwort, and why a tricorder would be useful.

Grow with the flow. Gorgeous kelp forest.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Clutch call. The challenge of determining just how many eggs dinosaurs laid.

Getting a head of ourselves. Three skulls led to three species names. Actually just one species.

Big fish story. While scaled back from original estimates, this denizen of the deep from160M years ago was still the largest ever. Robin McKie and Brian Switek share tales of the one that went away.

Dinosaurs of yore. Twenty years on, Jurassic Park continues to inform and misinform.


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

Going retro. The astonishing story of how a retrovirus flew to birds from mammals, fabulously explained by Ed Yong. Read of the week.

My mom made me wear them. You got some of your microbes from your mother, while still in the womb. Jonathan Eisen and Carl Zimmer deliver a great story.

Life in the slow lane. Deep-dwelling microbes are in it for the long run.

A real pain. Microbes hit nervous system.

Fantastic fungus. Horse dung fungus beauty lies within.

All together now. How Ebola virus assembles. Remarkable.

Distemper of our times. Dolphin die-off attributed to virus related to distemper and measles. Amazing coverage of a tough story by Nadia Drake.

Gut reaction. Connection between obesity and metabolic disease may be gut microbes. Veronique Greenwood cuts through the hype on this important story.

“If it hadn’t been for us, cattle & badgers might not have had TB in the first place.” Superb blend of science, policy & opinion on the UK badger cull by Alice Roberts.

Bad shot? Red flag raised over universal influenza virus. Important find, perfectly conveyed (as usual) by Helen Branswell.

A horse, of course. During WWI, biological warfare targeted transportation. Amazing piece of history of science by Annelie Wendeberg.


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)

Thanks for the memories. There’s a protein that helps retain (or lose) memories as you age. It’s something to remember.

Out of Africa? Genetics tracks ancient treks back into the big continent.

Let’s talk. How cells communicate. Nice explainer.

Spinning out parts. Weaving human tissue replacements, spider style.

Fluid dynamics. The “right” salmon sperm is chosen by ovarian fluid.

Not so sweet? The quantity of sugar in some foods is ridiculous. Here’s the science.

Mything the point. Separating science from myth related to high fructose syrup and diabetes. Excellent.


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

Isle of return. Krakatoa erupted 130 years ago this past week.

What do narwhales, dog sleds, and fossilised urine have in common? They all help in monitoring climate change.

Weighty matter. Mapping Earth’s gravity extremes. Jacob Aron hits all the high points on this story.

Blowing its cover. Detecting past volcanic eruptions in the north.

Bright sprite light. Remarkable red lightning.

Stormy weather. 170 years of hurricanes in one amazing image.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

The dawn’s early light. Detecting photons from the dawn of the universe. Alexandra Witze illuminates.

Celestial nursery. Newborn stars.

Belching babies? Young stars get gassy.

Everything’s super. When a supergiant goes supernova. A stellar story by John Matson, in every sense of the word.

Sounds of the stars. Sonic features say something about size.

Years fly past. An exoplanet’s solar orbit occurs in a matter of hours.

Hot stuff. Comet’s explosive impact with the Sun. No mere flash in the pan.

Cold exterior. Titan’s remarkable icy shell.

Kepler is dead. Long live Kepler! Tribute to some amazing hardware, a planet hunter, by Eric Buckler.

Life from Mars? Yeah, maybe not so much. Great take on the hype.

Wow. Just wow. The centre of the Orion Nebula in hi res.


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

A matter of time. And space. And space time. Brilliant piece by Zeeya Merali on the latest hypotheses explaining the dimensions of our universe.

It elementary. There’s a claim of pretty solid evidence for element 115 out there. Ununpentium. Hmm.

Knotty by nature. Liquid crystals tied in knots using mini Möbius strip.

It’s complicated? When it comes to mathematics, it doesn’t have to be. Adam Kucharski makes it all add up.

Fished in? Did guppies really rapidly evolve cognitive skills? Some folks aren’t hooked.


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

“Reality has become a grey scale between the external world and our imaginations.” A fabulously fascinating piece on the relationship between technology & psychosis, by Mike Jay. Read of the week.

Brain gain. This week there was a lot of attention paid to what was “emphatically not a brain in a jar”, but was a cerebral organoid – a teeny tiny brain-like structure – grown from stem cells in culture. There was brainy coverage of the mind-boggling (bottling?) story by James Gallagher, Ed Yong (twice!), Helen Shen, Douglas Heaven, Laura Sanders, and Alok Jha.

Remarkable reflections. An excellent overview of mirror neurons, by Mo Costandi.

Seen in a better light. Great retort to a critique of optogenetics.

Beat surrender. How musical rhythm impacts learning and memory. Rebecca Schwarzlose strikes the right chord with this great piece.

Listen up. Do we really judge musicianship based on sight versus sound? Tom Stafford takes a critical look.

Path of the just? Even thinking about science invokes moral action.

GABA, GABA hey! GABA neurons shape anxiety.

Tears of joy. Why we cry when we’re happy.

Seeing is believing? These images will show you just how tricksy your brain is.

Silly love songs? Might music have been invented for socialising, not wooing? Hmm.

Apparently beards are sexy. Because science. Yes really.


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

Look who’s talking. “Serious” scientists don’t talk to the media? It’s a myth. Important topic, masterfully covered by Matt Shipman. A must read by all scientists. Read of the week.

To trust or not to trust? How do students weigh controversial scientific claims? Balanced consideration by Marie Claire Shanahan.

Well, whaddya know? On the limits of one’s scientific expertise. They’re important.

Off the beaten track. Michael D’Ecclessis and Sarah Boon make great recommendation for alternatives to the stereotypical tenure track route for scientists.

Our lips are sealed? That’s precisely what can spread disease. Brilliant piece on scientific censorship and epidemics, by Maryn McKenna.

Current affairs. BuzzFeed purported to know a thing or two about the ocean. They got it wrong. Christie Wilcox  provided an amazing corrective.

Food for thought. Is it time for scientists to push back against fear-mongering over GMOs? Emily Willingham and David Kroll make compelling cases.

Science is Golden. On a GMO with big benefits, Golden Rice.

Buried treasure. Next big medical breakthrough may occur by using data already gathered.

All’s well. Particle- accelerator-inspired art in an ice well. Cool in every sense.

Fantastic fusions. When music and science collide. Jenny Winder provides great examples in her new column.

Moriarty’s meteoric mathematics. Holmes’ nemesis and asteroid dynamics. Delightful piece on literary figures and science by Jennifer Ouellette.

NASA testing 3D-printing in space because astronauts don’t have enough cool things to do.

Northern exposure. Beautiful, thoughtful reflection on doing fieldwork in the Arctic, by Chris Buddle.

“You’re actually Batman!” Superb profile of bat conservation ecologist Rodrigo Medellin, by Megan Garber.

There’s treasure everywhere! The wise & poignant words of Bill Watterson, illustrated as they should be. Something nice to leave you with…


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