Morsels For The Mind – 11/10/2013

12 October 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 / views of the week”.


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

Right to the point? Evidence suggests that elephants may understand human pointing gestures. Carl Zimmer, Tia Ghose, Victoria Gill, Sarah Zielinski and Jack Flanagan covered this story wonderfully here, here, here, here, and here. Veronique Greenwood, and especially drugmonkey, took a decidedly more sceptical view here and here. All excellent reads.

Just a fluke? Questioning dolphin intelligence. Erik Vance describes an intriguing anthropocentric hypothesis.

False friends. False killer whales chum with dolphins.

Better to burn out than to fade away? Tiny marsupial has such furious sex life that it dies. It literally gets loved to death.

Binturong, it must be right. Fascinating bearcats.

Obsession, for men. And for luring jaguars to camera traps. Well, that makes scents.

Owned or their own? Greg Berns asks if brain scans can shift dogs from being thought of as property to “persons”. Hal Herzog is not convinced, and suggests that over interpreting MRI studies is a problem…for dogs.

Child’s play. Living life with a dog more likely to ensure kids get adequate exercise.

Curious canines. Remarkable dingo behaviour.

Fair game? Folks who trained animals as fairground attractions also trained them as spies. Fascinating bit of history by Tom Vanderbilt.

On the move. Amazing animal migrations, showcased by Joseph Bennington Castro.

Song sung blue. Birds’ calls visualised. Stunning. Must view. View of the week.

Frequent flyers. Swifts likely flew nonstop for 200 days. That’s 6 solid months! Everything’s up in the air for them.

Pops’ songs. Dads have big impact on birdsong.

Unseasoned travellers. Why juvenile birds get jammed up during migrations.

No fibbing. Pinocchio lizard rediscovered after 50 yrs.

Interesting iguanians. Lovely Leiosauridae lizards, beautifully described by Darren Naish.

Time for a change. Fish alters penis when predators near.

Oral fixation. Eggs fertilised in mother fish’s mouth. Trust Sci Curious to bring some curious science!

Terrifically tough teeth. Chiton is mollusc’s key to success.

Hot stuff. Octopus sex at hydrothermal vents. Craig McClain dives into the down and dirty.

Getting a leg up. Octopus inspires robot inventors.

A royal pain. Meet the terrifically tiny kingslayer. Becky Crew reports why this small critter is something to be respected.

Stroke of genius. Jellyfish is most efficient swimmer. Ed Yong interviewed a Dr Fish for this excellent story. The lengths Ed will go, to ensure that the story is just that much more amusing.

Cut it out. Rebecca Helm makes clear why a robotic jellyfish-slicing killing machine is a bad idea.

Hats off! Here’s to the “Tam O’Shanter” sea urchins! Super showcase by Chris Mah.

Copepods & chaetognaths & crustaceans, oh my! Keeping tabs on plankton diversity. Sara Mynott describes a cool citizen science project.


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

Right before our eyes. The colour of evolution, the evolution of colour. Wonderful post by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

Web of intrigue. Nadia Drake weaves a great tale on the brown recluse spider's spectacular silk.  

It stems from this. Twig insect tethers to a twig.

Catchy design. Dragonflies are built to hunt.

Beyond the usual crap. A shield of faeces.

It’s all relative. Social insects’ evolutionary ties, conveyed by Alex Wild.

A nose for value. These ticks know nostrils are a cheap ride. Erika Engelhaupt delivers a great story that’s nothing to sniff at.

What’s eatin’ him? Things learned from a corpse & maggots. Deliciously disgusting by Bug Girl.

Not exactly the bees’ knees. Why autumn honey can smell rank.

It makes scents. The stink bug invasion, and what can be done about it.

Tracking dragons! Well, next best thing, dragonflies. Joe Smith reports on cool citizen science.

Puke paintings. Flies vomit up art. Delightfully disgusting story (and pictures!) by Kate Yandell


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

Get outta this joint! Of cartilage & giant dinosaurs. Nice piece of research blogging by Matt Bonnan.

All limbered up? Collin Van Buren describes the forelimb’s role in dinosaur gait.  

Quite a mouthful. Platybelodon had a spork-like jaw.

Swimming with sharks? Mosasaurs swam *like* them.

Give her a hand! Cave art handprints suggests first artists were mostly women. Awesome discovery beautifully explained by Virginia Hughes.

Garden of Eden? How much did ancient humans manipulate the Amazon? Great long read by Jeff Tollefson.

Helping hand? New evidence suggests it wasn’t just humans that drove Madagascar species to extinction.

Perfectly primed preservation. 4K-year-old human brains were boiled in their own juices.

One for the history, books. Budget cuts nothing new. They destroyed Alexandria’s great library. Interesting bit of humanity’s past from Annalee Newitz.


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

Brilliant blobs. The tiny vesicles that protect plants & make tea & wine tasty. Brilliant piece of science writing by Leigh Cowart. Read of the week.

It’s a gas! How plants communicate. Awesome piece, by the ever-amazing Elizabeth Preston. Read of the week.

Heard it through the grapevine. The things learned by following grapes over a year.

Small spectacles Marvellous microscopy.


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

Cagey thinking. 3D-printed cages reveal microbial colonisation dynamics.

Making tracks. Nice post by Stuart King on slime mould in motion.

“The trick to making a vaccine is to be humble & accept that viruses are smarter than we are.” From an interview in a fab piece by Nathalia Holt on making “Goldilocks vaccines” that are just right.

Very catchy! “Our Modern Plagues”, a new bog by Brooke Borel, launches at Popular Science.


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)

“Even a lazy man wants to know about the world. Ergo, genetics.” Awesome ode to a discipline by Razib Khan.

What’s the big deal? We are walking sources of big data. Emily Singer considers the significant implications here.

X marks the spot? With chromosomes, not so often.

The X factor. The transformative discovery of X-ray crystallography. Enjoyable read by Stephen Curry.

Malicious mutations. Small pedigree studies suggest ties between genes & eating disorders.

Added benefits? Do 3 parents equal 1 disease-free baby? Caution urged over 3-parent IVF.


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

New normal. Soon, extreme weather events will be the norm. Welcome to climate change. Frightening topic, perfectly handled by Virginia Gewin.

What’s in a name? When it’s “supervolcano”, great irritation to volcanologists.

It all got ironed out. How Earth’s core got its iron.

A common future? Australian outback & Canadian boreal forestchance to protect pristine ecosystems.

Soggy sights. Wonders seen after autumn rain.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Lonely planet. Literally. It wanders space sans star. Oddly touching tale told by Megan Garber.

The after life? Does a wet asteroid around a dead star hint at a living past? Interesting find, nicely explained by  Lizzie Wade.

Getting a groove on. Vesta’s planet-like grooves, reported by Phil Plait.

Cloudy, with a chance of diamonds. Glittering forecast for Jupiter & Saturn.

Back in the swim of things. Neptune's lost moon, Naiad. Lisa Grossman reports on the re-discovery.

You are here. Jon Feldschuh’s art imagines the whole universe from Earth.

To infinity & beyond! Great review of Lee Billings’ excellent “Five Billion Years of Solitude”.


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

“A hidden code pointing to a rich and vast cosmos, in which our own universe is but one humble member.” From an awesome piece by Laura Mersini-Houghton on the multiverse. Read of the week.

Fangs for the memories. Could evolution bring back sabre-toothed cats? Brian Switek imagines.

Taking sides. Improbable 12-sided unit, 2D quasicrystal.

Holy Higgs, Batman! Eugenie Samuel Reich explains how “Higgsogenesis” may have created asymmetry of matter & antimatter.

A matter of matter. Explaining the Higgs boson. Fantastic interactive explainer.



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

“In my job aimed at relieving suffering, I experience most of it as a passive bystander.” From a superb piece by Ilana Yurkiewicz on the constraints of hospital work.

Gorilla misogyny? Yeah, not so much. When human concepts of behaviour don’t apply. Important piece by Barbara King.

Sex on the brain. The fraught topic of differences in female & male brains. Masterfully handled by Mo Costandi.

Special delivery. The experience of giving birth. S.E. Gould highlights how every delivery is unique.

Not exactly rocket science. But still good science behind good parenting.

Blinded by the light? Optogenetics raises mouse’s caché as vision model. Is this short-sighted? Monya Baker examines.

You snooze, you lose? Actually, getting an hour’s extra sleep could benefit your health.

Better natured? 3500 respondent study finds nature *does* make folks feel good.

Spreading good news. Peanut butter may help get a whiff of early stage Alzheimer’s.

Check this out! The cost of getting our (divided) attention. Thought-provoking piece by Tom Chatfield.

Buy the numbers? Analysing literature by algorithm. The science of humanities.

Senses working overtime. Using scents & sounds to create novel maps.


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

The final frontier. What does sci-fi starship size tell us about our dreams of space? Superb examination of the limits of our imaginations by Kyle Hill. Read of the week.

“My middle school years were fueled bythe dream of riding a triceratops to school.” From a super post by John Romano, on the power of science fiction to inspire interest in science.

Body of truth. There are never enough whole-body donations. That’s a problem. Superb, thoughtful piece by Brooke Borel.

A winner, prize or not. Wonderful profile of Peter Higgs, written 6 days before Nobel, by Ian Sample.

Game of cat & mouse. Great “behind the scenes” story of Toxoplasma publication by first author Wendy Ingram.

Eye on the prize. As one accrues data, how to avoid being sucked down research rabbit holes? Melonie Fullick shares her experience.

“It’s a waste of money, a waste of time, a waste of people, a waste of animals.” From an amazing interview by Brandon Keim, on the cost of the US government shutdown to biomed research.

Faux pas. Last week, Science Magazine published a report by John Bohannon on a “sting” that used a faux paper to reveal flaws in the review of manuscripts submitted to open access journals. Not only was the “experiment” flawed (it lacked a proper control), but it was a monumental waste of time for editors & reviewers at legit open access journals. It’s the kind of experiment that would not have passed peer review itself, let alone been approved for ethics. If anything, it uncovered only a flaw in peer review, full stop. Great critiques were made by by Curt Rice, Martin Eve, Kausik Datta, John Hawks and Michael Eisen.


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