Morsels for the mind – 31/5/2013

31 May 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!


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

Who is leader of the pack? Are wolves or dogs socially smarter?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright. Just one gene to make it white. The origin of The White Stripes?

Natural born killers? Well, they don’t call orcas killer whales for nothing. It’s what they do.

Dolphin-assisted birthing is now a thing. A really, really stupid thing. Speaking of which…

Lion meat tacos are now a thing. A really, really stupid thing.

Itching for a better understanding? Mice help scratch out the details on itchiness.

Sit. Stay. Read. Do dogs understand our language? Read on.

Lap this up. Comparison of dog, cat and pigeon drinking. Nice.

Building on success. Non-human animals are great architects. Beavers are dam fine engineers.

Spot on! Rare leopards photographed by a camera trap. Amazing.

Life’s rich reward. 10 species that we didn’t know about until last year. Includes a funky monkey, spectacular sponge and more.

A sly recovery. Endangered “dwarf” fox makes a comeback. But that doesn’t mean species are “extinction proof”. In fact, amphibians are disappearing rapidly, alarmingly so. As are the Isle Royale wolves. In fact there are 100 species that we should be really concerned about.

“Extinction, like death, is forever.” An ode to the threatened hooded grebe, which we could lose. Beautiful, must read piece by Alanna Mitchell.

It’s not the size of your playlist that counts, it’s what you do with it. For some birds, knowing lots of songs comes at a cost. When they tune in, they tune out.

This is truly rotten to the core. An atlas of decomposition. It is drop dead gorgeous.

This mortal coil. Most snail shells curl to the right.

This immortal foiled. Nope, lobsters are not immortal. Great corrector.

If you’re a slug, you may not want to hang out in a dog’s stomach. We’re not sure about a human stomach yet though.

This is disarming! Literally. Starfish drop limbs when things get too toasty for comfort.

Fish lice are nasty little suckers. Literally.

Mermaid, shmermaid. We don’t need made up creatures when reality holds so much to ponder.


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

The cicadas are coming! This is the “must watch” video of the week.

In the prime of their lives. How cicadas count to the prime numbers 13 or 17.

Hanging on to the bitter end. Due to our efforts to trap them, cockroaches now taste sugar as bitter, and are repelled by it.

Catching a bad buzz.. Parasitic wasp compromises fruit-fly host’s immunity.

This is berry interesting. A parasite turns its ant hosts into big berry-looking objects that appeal to birds.

That do dung beetles do then they are fed up with all the crap? They prey on ants.

Hey, wasn’t there a mountain there?! Monarch butterfly migration route points to disappeared mountain range.

Keeping their heads up. Ants deal with falling in a tunnel by using antennae like and extra leg.

Let’s dance! That’s what this little spider says.

Following the thread. Spiders can be trained to improve their web.

Working the bugs out. A citizen science effort to digitise an amazing insect collection. It includes samples collected by Darwin!


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

The iced plant commeth. Again and again. Plants are like that – they can bounce back again and again.

All spruced up. Spruce has a lot of junk in the trunk. In its genome that is.

Little shop of horrors. Some plants are a little murderous.

Some plants may be horrible, but others are just gorgeous, especially when they are really tiny.

There’s treasure everywhere! Interesting tree variants might be right in front of us.

There is definitely strength in diversity. It favours plant productivity – just like Darwin proposed!

A moving experience. How plants bend toward light.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Why do dinosaurs fascinate? Because they help us understand what we are. Genius post by Brian Switek.

The early bird catches…a lot of attention. This week’s big palaeontology story was the discovery of a dinosaur that pushes the bird lineage back earlier, but brings Archaeopteryx back into the flock. Beautifully reported by Jon Tennant, Chris Woolston, Ian Sample, Jonathan Amos, Michael Balter, Oliver Knevitt,and Brian Switek. Ed Yong provided an amazing overview of the implications of the fossil and its perch in the avian family tree.

It’s all in the mined. A one-in-a-billion dinosaur dig.

Strange surviving synapsid. An odd beast that made it through a mass extinction.

Not all dinosaurs where big lumbering beasts. Some were little speed demons.

Tooth truth. Ancient teeth can tell us about hominid weaning from milk. Author of the Nature paper tells just how much such experiments really tell us right now.

Fish weren’t the only thing on the menu for spinosaurs. It makes them bad croc mimics.

What happens when you poke a frozen mammoth carcass with a stick? Liquid blood splurts out. Well, maybe.


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

“Refugees from a long lost world.” Considering the prospect of microbes in ancient water.

Now this is very cool. Cold, in fact. A microbe that lives at -15oC.

So nice to come home to. The microbes that reside with us.

Pass it on. The new H7N9 flu virus is readily transmitted between ferrets.


Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others)

Something to chew on. Want fresh breath? Try chewing gum! It all comes down to biochemistry.


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

Well, that’s just warped. The Atlantic coast is curling up like the edge of a rug.

Striking an understanding. How lightning strikes come about.

Imagine a 5 month long earthquake. No need to imagine. One is happening.

Rolling stones make a racket. Especially when they are pebbles on the ocean floor.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Heaven on Earth. When stuff falls from space, religions can be founded. Great story by Jo Marchant.

How things shape, up. Hubble reveals the Ring Nebula’s shape. It is a beautiful eye in the sky.

What goes around comes around. Check out the orbits of exoplanets rotating stars that are relatively close to our sun.

The X-factor. When black-hole-powered jets plow into a galaxy.

Go sliding around the universe. Great interactive site enables you to look at celestial features in different wavelengths of radiation, etc using cool sliders.

Mercury goes out for a spin. Amazing video.

Can we be special in a multiverse? Yes, yes we can.


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

Up and atom. The structure of atoms has been imaged. And it is amazing.

Solid signs. Lightweight dark matter hinted at. There’s light being cast on it.

Getting it all together. Looking at the glue that holds the universe in place.

Ephemera can be extraordinary. Consider clouds and bubbles.

Ready for prime time? A great explainer of the twin primes conjecture.

Getting a leg up. Some folks have feet that were evolved for climbing. 1 in 13 people in fact.

Word up! Mountain dwellers elevate our understanding of human evolution.


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

Finding our happy place. Tracking tweets reveals the geography of emotion. Amazing.

This is your brain on sleep.

Beyond forgetting. The emotional side of Alzheimer’s disease. Superb piece by Virginia Hughes.

Birds of a feather. Songbirds and human babies learn to sing / babble in similar manner. They learn in increments – taking baby steps.

Picture this. How mental illness has been depicted in art tells an important story.

Count on it. The number of neurons in the brain is huge – 86 billion.

Starting the day with special K. Ketamine that is. To battle depression.

Experiencing the world through a child’s eyes. What babies tell us about consciousness.

Made you yawn. Dogs have contagious yawning. Tortoises don’t. Dogs get it from humans. Tortoises don’t even catch yawning from each other, even though they are social learners (which is amazing).

Who do you love? If you’re a mouse, serotonin might influence your sexual preference.


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

Accentuating the negative. Sometimes negative results can be a great positive. Matt Shipman explores the implications in great posts this week, here and here. In keeping with the positive take on negative, F1000 Research will be waiving publication fees for negative results this summer.

Last week there was a call for “more Carl Sagans”. But, Scicurious asks, do we need “big names” when there are so many, many great science communicators – brave travellers – out there? Spoiler: A resounding “No”. There was a chorus of agreement, but this really stood out.

Getting the word out. Here’s how journalists can help scientists tell their stories better.

Science can be so beautiful. Artistic even.

Seeing things in a different light. Art galleries take a page from the biology textbook, and examine artwork under infrared and UV light.

There are different kinds of clever. Some are useful for science, others for humanities.

Weinstein no Einstein? An economist, Weinstein, comes forward with purported unifying physics theory. Folks dubious, particularly about the hype. In terms of the narrative, as Jennifer Ouellette says “This is science, not Good Will Hunting”. There was a great take on the narrative around this story by Zen Faulkes.

“All children have an inner scientist, & we need to get them in touch with their inner scientist.” Great case made in a wonderful piece by Ainissa Ramirez.

“In science, as in innovation, it is not one size fits all.” An excellent call to address gender imbalance.

Who gives a tweet? Researchers do. Like this. And here’s why they should be doing it.

He gave us space. Great profile of Chris Hadfield and his science outreach.


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