Morsels for the mind – 6/9/2013

7 September 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

A bone to pick. Some species have genital bones. We don’t. Super story by Brian Switeck. Read of the week.

Good kind of monkey business. Steve Kemper makes the case that we could learn a thing or two about cooperation from Muriquis monkeys.

Alarming discovery. Monkey calls out the details of a threat.

Beautiful dreamer. Only hibernating primate has REM sleep.

Hey, come back! Wolves howl when close pals depart the pack. Fascinating exploration of animal communication, masterfully explained by Jason Goldman.

A matter of pride. Cuddling brings lions together.

Pachyderm perfection. Stupefying, poignant documentation of elephant compassion, and the lack of compassion humans show them, captured in the photography of Michael Nichols, as explained by James Estrin.

Nice tan. How some whales avoid sunburn. It’s not just a fluke.

Surf ‘n cetaceans. Hawaii isn’t just a surfer’s paradise. It’s also home to an amazing diversity of whales.

City slickers. What are the challenges of being an urban dolphin?

Sea squirt. Dolphins spontaneously elaculate.

Got milk? Developing artificial formula for panda cubs. Yes, really.

Grow as you go. Some animals make new body parts.

On the rocks. Melting sea ice forces walruses ashore.

No seal of approval. “Ethics” of seal hunting takes a bludgeoning.

Bird brained? Cockatoos are smarter than toddlers.

Bean there, done that. Coffee crop benefits by birds beating bean-boring beetles.

Follow the leader. Whooping cranes migrate by following older, wiser flock members.

Beyond tweets. Some birds are blogging too.

Quite a mouthful. Marvellously miniature frog is so small that it uses its mouth to detect sound. Wonderful discovery, perfectly shared by Victoria Gill, Ed Yong, and Michael Marshall.

Thumbs up? Frog’s pheromone-injecting digits.

Shrewed behaviour. Trout has a big appetite for shrews. Yow!

Better to burn out than to fade away. When you live in an ephemeral pond. Brilliant.

Today’s special. Restaurant menus indicate fish prevalence, and fisheries trends. A new wave of research, nicely explained by Christie Wilcox.

Current affairs.  Two related electric fish. One AC. One DC. Shocking discovery beautifully conveyed by Chris Palmer & Mary Bates.

Out for a stroll. A “walking” shark. There are important implications about its discovery.

Some like it hot? Surprising sighting of arctic shark in Gulf of Mexico, and the risks for it there.

Diana Nyad’s swim may have been inspirational. But shark attack evasion isn’t why. Because science.

Rays amaze. The superhero-like swimming of mantas, beautifully explained by Craig McClain.

“Our species dubious legacy at sea.” A swordfish with a nose ring. A brilliant, and thought-provoking read by Dan Clem.

A sucker (re)born every minute? How octopuses re-grow their arms. Katherine Harmon will give you a grasp on a cool topic. Speaking of which…

Up in arms. Octopuses perceive pain. In all of their limbs – it’s like each has a “mind” of its own. Katherine Harmon covers a fascinating topic with an important ethical dimension.

Super star. Miniscule, cannibalistic, hermaphrodite starfish. Shared with characteristically stylish flare by Christopher Mah.

In thy foul intestine thou liest? Richard III’s discontent may have been roundworms.


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

“We have no freakin’ clue.” The origins and nature of mysterious, insect watchtower baffles the web – entomologists included.

Now, where was I? How ants keep tabs on their location. Antoine Wystrach follows a fascinating subject.

Lust, for life. Grigs sing for cannibalistic sex. Brilliant post by Piotr Naskrecki.

Pinching predators. Spectacular pseudoscoropions. Excellent post, in an excellent blog by Jake Buehler.

Fan club. Bees band together to make air conditioning. Felicity Muth shares the buzz about some cool cooperation.

Hopped up. Poisonous caterpillars get a jump on life. Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato and Ella Davies nicely explain Chris Darling’s cool discovery.

If you can’t stand the heat…keep more dung beetles around. As Rachel Nuwer explains, dung beetles could offset climate change.

Fearsome foe. The giant water bug. Jennifer Frazer exposes an powerful predator.

Sweet dreams. Mosquitoes smell you better at night.

Science takes flight. Lovely snapshot of fruit fly research, by Alice Roberts.

Hum dynamo. It’s not a hummingbird. It’s an astonishing hawk moth.

Crowning glory. Alex Wild’s gallery of aunt queens.

Bees’ sees. Flowers as bees see them. Eye opening.


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

“The only memory of the bee is a painting made by a dying flower.” Poignantly poetic illustration of evolution and extinction, by xkcd.

Squaring the circle. Jennifer Ouellette considers the hypotheses that explain “fairy circles”.

Cold comfort. Warm arctic leads to explosive algal growth. Not a good thing (but potentially not necessarily a bad thing).


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Meaty matter. Jon Tennant explains how a carnivorous theropod went vegetarian.

Ptremendous pterosaurs. Giraffe-height, 250 kg, 10 metre wingspan wonders once fly on this planet.

A telling tail. Some dinosaurs left traces behind with their tails.


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

Known unknowns. 55 bat viruses sequenced. 50 never seen before. This points to remarkable diversity of viruses, many as yet uncharacterised. Amazing story, wonderfully covered by Rebecca Morelle, Ed Yong, and Carl Zimmer.

A matter of taste. Microbes make flavour to savour. Nice photo feature of the role they play with our food, by Greg Miller.

Dogged by disease. Canine distemper virus wreaks havoc on tiger population.

Better watch out for the skin deep. Amphibians stricken with new skin-eating fungus. John Platt, Melissa Hogenboom, and Andy Coghlan share the lowdown on yet another threat to amphibians. Really bad news.

It’s complicated. Genome analyses reveal complexities of TB antibiotic resistance.


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)

“A cell is a machine for turning experience into biology.” Absolutely genius story about the interplay between your genes and your lifetime experience – how your environment, your friends, family, experiences are recorded in your genes. Gorgeous writing on a fantastic subject, by David Dobbs. Must read. Read of the week.

Oh boy. The tenuous beginnings of being male. Incredible story of women with a Y chromosome, by Ed Yong.

Baby steps. Hundreds of newborns to have genomes sequenced.

Up side of poverty? Poorest Costa Ricans have longest telomeres and greatest longevity.

Must remember this. Polyamines keep fly memory sharp. Some things to remember.

Stop the clock. Molecular switch impedes the adjustment to jet lag.

Pain in the membrane. How spider venom attacks membrane lipids.

Weighty matters. Counteracting effects of calories and exercise. Kyle Hill brings you the science!

Cheating death. Why is it that we live so long nowadays? Laura Helmuth provides answers.


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

Pretend you’ve never heard of global climate change. Ethan Siegel walks you through the evidence in an excellent three part series: one, two & three.

Crappy situation. Sewage and other pollution threaten marine life. Excellent reporting by Nadia Drake.

Cure for the summertime blues? Great Lake goes aquamarine with late summer “whiting”, due to phytoplankton. Unlikely to be an algal bloom. Visible from space. Wow!


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Far out! Spectacular space images captured by Spitzer telescope, compiled by Nadia Drake. Eye popping!

Gorgeous galaxy. Ethan Siegal takes a closer look at Andromeda.

A real bright spot. New supernova espied in spiral galaxy.

Not a big eater. Our nearest black hole doesn’t swallow as much as it chews. There are lots of leftovers.

Flipping out. A star flips its magnetic field. Just like our sun. Colin Schultz covers a topsy-turvy tale.

Stormy weather. On Saturn. Amazing.

Mars’ rocks! Might phosphate in Martian soil have enabled life to take root earlier than on Earth? Simon Redfern, Lisa Grossman, and Annalee Newitz deliver the dirt on a subject that is out of this world (or into this world?).

Perfect fit. Our sun and moon appear the same size, making for dramatic eclipses. Does this occur on other planets?

Heat of the moment. Tom Yulsman exposes a huge solar eruption.


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

How hostile is physics to your fundamental existence? Very. Dave Goldberg examines physics and being.

Here’s the scoop. Athene Donald serves up the science behind what makes ice cream delectable.

Sometimes, you just might find, you get what you knead. Some bread chemistry for you. No loafing about now.

Pachyderms parameterised. Drawing elephants using only a mathematical equation.


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

Brain drain. Poverty saps problem-solving ability. Alok Jha brilliantly covered this important topic. Read of the week.

“The reasons for thinking that animals cannot act morally dissolve before our eyes.” Wonderful consideration of  the morality of animals, by Mark Rowlands.

Cerebral cartography. Mo Costandi elegantly explains how sights, sounds, and touch are mapped onto the brain.

Hold the hype? Actually, as Kevin Mitchell says, the hype might be warranted for optogenetics.

The new normal. Sleep enables us to see distorted faces as “regular”.

Brain gain. Sleep boosts neurons.

Foods ‘n moods. Interplay between probiotics, gut microbes, & our brains. Dana Smith dishes out a fascinating story.

Cute to creepy? Do robots really descend into the “uncanny valley”? Rose Eveleth takes a look.

“He puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes you crave it fortnightly.” On the belief in conspiracy, by Dean Burnett.

Inside stories. Babies learning words in the womb.

Which side are you on? Tom Bennett compellingly argues that we need to debunk neuromyths about brain “sidedness”.


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

No laughing matter. While sometimes used in comic portrayals, the “tortured grad student” is a serious issue that requires equally serious attention. Nash Turley has written an incredibly important post on the subject of graduate student mental health that needs to be talked about at higher education institutions far and wide.

When words get in the way. Great things can be learned from bad science pitches, as Matt Shipman explains.

Sex makes you rich! Wait, what? Evelyn Lamb conducts a super dissection of correlation versus causation.

Against all odds.  Tom Siegfried makes the case that many scientific claims don’t withstand statistical muster.

Question time. What are the big questions that science needs to answer?

What’s the big deal? Samuel Arbesman deconstructs the myths around big data. And Virginia Hughes calls for a science of big science.

“Need to overcome self-interested reasoning that ignores evidence.” Greg Breining, on the value of communicating science.

“Sometimes scientists need to be reminded that ‘fact’ is a word to be handled with care.” Andrew Crumey, on the multiverse, literature & the course of history. Amazing.

Building a better future. LEGO finally makes a female scientist figurine. Maia Weinstock looks at how it stacks up.

Today’s show is brought to you by the letters S, T, E and M. Sesame Street brings STEM to preschoolers.

Crisis, what crisis? Is the STEM crisis merely a myth? Maybe. Maybe not.

“We’re riding a slow, powerful wave that will bear future generations to the stars.” Of course, as we’re living in the space age, as Annalee Newitz beautifully explains.

Universe of knowledge. arXiv visualised with papers as stars clustered into galaxies. Strangely beautiful.

Don’t’ stop believin’? Adam Blankenbicker and Holly Dunsworth provide characteristically wonderful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking insights into science, knowledge and belief. Great reads.

Here be monsters. Remarkable renaissance map, and what it says about the science of that time.

Sea-ing is believing. Eric Kartsenti’s sailing survey of the ocean’s biodiversity. Super profile by Claire Ainsworth.

Out standing in their field. Science in the lab versus the field. Excellent take on where science is done by a high school student.

Reflecting on reflections. Nash Turley writes a beautiful poem inspired by Chris Buddle’s fieldwork.


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