Morsels for the mind – 9/8/2013

10 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!


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

This week was shark week. Unfortunately, the week was marred by the scientific equivalent of “jumping the shark”. Faux science packaged as the real deal. It may have reeled in viewers, but the net effect was bad. This topic was perfectly covered by Christie Wilcox, Devon Maloney, John Platt, Darren Naish, Matt Bonnan, and Alex Warneke. As an antidote to the foe of faux, great real shark science was provided by Meghan Balk and Catalina Pimiento, Ed Yong, Craig McLain, and Hannah Waters.

Creature features. Awesome animal superpowers. Who needs comic books when you have nature!

Touching tale. Sea lions feel their way through water. Watch one do it.

Total recall. Dolphins remember podmates for twenty years. They have marvellous memories, at least for social stuff.

The whales’ tale. Import of belugas blocked. A good thing.

The straight goods. On armadillo erections. Because you needed to know.

Sperm meringue, anyone? Let a quail whip one up for you.

A sorted tail. Why do rabbits have white rumps? Gamers find that it’s all about the getaway.

Hot stuff. Pregnant, hibernating bears turn up the heat.

Beating boar-dom. Wild boar moms suppress sibling rivalry.

Hair today, gone tomorrow. The case of the balding moose. Not so funny, actually.

Treasuring treats. Dogs respond best to a food reward when learning.

Facing facts. Dogs show their emotions through subtle facial movements.

Earning new stripes. NASA uses satellites to track zebra migrations.

“A story without any bad guys, but one really tough decision.” Tale of a tiny dolphin and a big problem.

Spotting a difference. Monitoring cheetah social groups could improve breeding success.

Remarkable return. Galápagos giant tortoises back on Pinzón Island.

Gone, but not forgotten. The Eskimo curlew’s flight to extinction.

Seeing is be-grebing. Citizen science finds grebe some thought extirpated.

Enriched environment, better brain. Even fish get the smarts when the place they live has more to occupy their mind.

Boozey bravado? Fish fear robotic predator, unless they’ve had some alcohol.

Don’t bring me down, Bruce. Do sharks have individual personalities?

The whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth. Why sharks don’t get cavities.

Fascinating rhythm. Sharks have daily circadian cycles. Cool story by Bora Zivkovic.

Trickle down effect. In aquatic ecosystems, sharks bring stability.

Terrifically tiny. Most sharks are wee. And adorable.

Claws and effects. Do crabs and lobsters feel pain? Some say yes, but, as Zen Faulkes points out, it’s complicated.

Whimsically weird. Rebecca Helm shares the wonder of the pyrosome – a giant, jet-powered, ocean organism that looks like a wind sock.

Remarkable rhombozoans. Residents of cephalopod renal sacs.

Dazzling diversity discovered. New coral species.



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

Walloping websnappers! In keeping with Spiderman, spiders use their dragline to control flight.

Spectacular spiders. Nadia Drake shares the amazing photography of Nicky Bay.

Bloody hell! What a mosquito’s bite looks like INSIDE your body.

Scale of the problem. Parasitoids might mitigate the damage wrought by scale insects. Rob Dunn does a superb job of delivering this matter of scale.

Winging it. When beetles take flight.

Presents of being. Male scorpionflies woo mates with nuptial gift.


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

It was all the science that led me to see, there are incredible things about the mulberry tree. Of Seuss, science, and the imagination.

Rooting out danger. Plants warn each other of aphid attacks via an underground communication network involving mutualist symbiotic fungi.

Da Vinci code. Leonardo’s model for plant function stands the test of time.

Fake plastic plants? Are all bioplastics a good thing? Excellent analysis by Paige Brown.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Bird-brained. Some dinosaurs had brains ready for flight. Several great writers soared with this story, including Melissa Hogenboom, Mike Lee, Carl Zimmer, and Dave Hone.

Furry fossil finds. A pair of early, mammal-like fossils suggests diversity. And raises some controversy.

How did they do it? Robert Krulwich ponders about dinosaur sex.

Far out, man. Flipping on Cambrian hullicigenids.

Rising from the depths. The evolutionary rise of ray-finned fish.

Mouth almighty. Huge, ancient shark bite suggested by fossil of healed whale rib.

“Bone Thugs-N-Disharmony”. Excellent take on the “dinosaur wars”, with what has to be headline of the week.


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

Going underground. Digging for clues about alien life, in Earth’s depths.

Shaping up. The gorgeous geometry of small organisms.

Marvellous mushroom. The phenomenal fly agaric.

TB or not TB? New molecule shows promise in combating Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection.

Something to rail against. How a railing on a Komodo dragon exhibit became a vector for Salmonella infection.


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)

Cells served. Lab-made meat was served up by press conference. Great coverage of this meaty topic by Alok Jha, Pallab Ghosh, Arielle Duhaime-Ross, and David Biello.

Lacks’ living legacy. NIH secures deal with Henrietta Lacks family over HeLa genome sequence. Fixes longstanding injustice. Brokered by Lacks family and NIH director Francis Collins. Important interview with latter, by Ewen Callaway.

Asking Y. Analysis of Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA origins places common ancestors close together in time. But referring to them as “Adam and Eve” is not good science communication. At all.

Family ties. Human history created surprising relations.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger? Not if it’s hunger.


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

Perfect planetary pulse. Watch as our planet takes a beautiful breath.

A fine balance. In the ocean, relative abundance of nutrients is crucial.

Hot shots. Magma speeds to Earth’s surface, powering volcanoes. Cool story by Rachel Ehrenberg.

Too hot to handle. The growing wildfire threat, and how to deal with it.

Sands of time. Cambyses’ lost army and the physics of sandstorms.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Amazing afterglow. 12 billion year old explosion illuminates invisible galaxy.

Flashy find. Neutron stars’ kilonova explosion. Yow!

Dizzying speed. Black holes spin at 86-90% light speed.

In darkness, light. Stars born in a dark globule.

Galactic gestation. A star is born. Literally.

Couldn’t eat another bite. Old galaxies lose their appetite.

Stars of heavy metal. Hot subdwarfs make clouds of lead.

How a tiger moon got its stripes. Wonderful, Kipling-inspired, just-so story.

Holy hexagon, Batman! Saturn’s stupendous six-sided storm.

Lord of the rings. Spectacular Saturn.

There’s a little black spot on the Sun today. And it’s amazing!

Amazing arcs. Loops of plasma on our Sun, 4 times the size of Earth. Watch and be amazed.

Flipping out. The Sun’s magnetic field is about to flip.

Water, water, everywhere. The search for extraterrestrial H2O.

Shake dog shake. Might Curiosity Rover learn a thing or two from canine Rover?

“A humanoid little creature, merrily exploring another planet on our behalf.” The wonder that is the Curiosity Rover, one year into its mission. Megan Garber delivers a story that is literally and figuratively out of this world. Read of the week.

“Could sell at, or near, sticker price. If not over sticker.” Nice take on Curiosity Rover’s Blue Book value.


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

Not so fast. Amazing camera captures light in motion. Mind. Boggled.

A simple twist of fate. Twisted light can be used to calculate the spin of rotating objects, using a Doppler effect!

Tricking the light fantastic. Magical optics of metamaterials. Now, right before your very eyes!

Next year’s model? A year after the discovery of the Higg’s boson, why are we still stuck on the Standard Model?

Regular irregulars. The amazing history of quasicrystals, by Jennifer Ouellette.

Life’s a beach. Seaside science shows that natural marvels are never on vacation.

Thanks for the memories. How simple video-game creatures evolved a memory. Amazing.

The mean effect. Game theory suggests evolution punishes meanness.


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

Want to become a morning person? Go camping! Yes, really. There’s a good reason why we say “happy campers”!

No direction home? Blame your grid cells.

Get knocked down, get up again. How a (molecular) knock down could battle depression. Excellent piece by Bethany Brookshire.

Stop it! How the brain arrests actions, using counteracting circuits. Amazing.

Breaking the break. How persistent are the positive mental effects of taking a vacation break?

Legends of the fall. On depth perception and toddler tumbles.

Numbers game. Sometimes people, and other animals, chose quantity over quality. It’s a gamble.

Heated arguments. Meta-analysis suggests that elevated temperatures and precipitation escalate human violence. Although there are conflicting opinions on this.

Horns hasten happiness, blue brings blues. Remarkable case of synaesthesia wonderfully covered by Elizabeth Preston.

Flash of insight. Photon-based imaging sheds light on neural circuits.


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

Science is the enemy of the humanities? Steven Pinker says, “Not so much”. Others question Pinker’s premise.

“Scientists have a voice that needs to be heard.” Excellent case for personal science advocacy, by Stephani Page.

Going with the crowd. Challenges and benefits of citizen science.

On a different track. Taking a journey off the tenure stream to pursue adventure in digital scholarship.

Plain to see. Plain language summaries are a wonderful way to convey research. Chris Buddle provides great advice on how to construct them.

Getting the word out. Sharing science via press release. Great advice on how to do it (Part 1, Part 2), by Matt Shipman.

The reviews are in. Even with systematic reviews, things are not necessarily what they seem. Great consideration of systematic reviews by Tania Browne.

“It’s not good enough to repeat myths and legends.” Exploring the truth behind Alfred Russel Wallace’s legacy.

True confessions. How scientists ‘fessed up on Twitter, and its implications. Important story by Athene Donald.

Look what I did! Nobel-winning scientists draw their discoveries. Awesome.

Revenge of the nerds. Kyle Hill compelling argues it’s a good thing to be a nerdy geek.

Back to nature. Nature photography and the impact of humans on the environment.

Better natured. The need for connection between science communication and naturalists.

Imagination takes flight. The symbolic use of birds in film, and elsewhere. This brilliant piece by Brian Thill, takes the reader from CGI renderings to the meaning of freedom. Genius. Must read.

Second helpings. This is what one second looks like on the internet. Look again and be amazed.


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