Morsels for the mind – 22/3/2013

22 March 2013 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest

The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this blog post is residing in a new home. After cutting teeth over the last month at The Aggregator, the kind folks at have provided me with a forum to continue to stretch the #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast concept.  In keeping with this, the new blog home is appropriately entitled Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast. The new home will continue to function as a space to highlight some of the incredible things discovered through Twitter’s natural history museum. Some feathers, fur and fin; some dinosaurs; the sweep of the cosmos; the toils of molecules; the scale of evolution; the workings of the brain; and the behaviours of plants and animals will all make an appearance here. The intention is to provide you with links to take you to the corners of the natural history museum – to look at this exhibit, to listen closely here, to think hard there, to open a drawer or two, and occasionally take a peak behind the scenes – sharing the sense of wonder and considering how it is in turn shared.

Here’s the first instalment of what will be a weekly roundup of the great links that that I normally dish out before breakfast, but can feed your brain anytime: Morsels for the mind, if you will.  Enjoy!


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

Good in the clutch? Is that why the red-billed quelea is so common?

School of hard knocks. Why woodpeckers don’t get brain damage.

Some birds stick around. Others look like a round stick. Amazing camouflage.

Better living through chemistry. Fish makes itself invisible to others using chemicals.

When you live life in the fast lane, you evolve new ways of doing things. Like getting out of the way of traffic. Like swallows.

He was one of two kinds. The amazing story of a hybrid between Asian and African elephants.

Is there anything more beautiful than whales? Sometimes the answer is clearly no.

What the heck? Sea lion pup stranding are dramatically up this year. It’s a worrisome mystery.

The thylacine was a marsupial. But wow, it looked and acted like a dog. Oh, evolution!

Seals have a secret. It’s hidden beneath their head.

Eels have magnetic attraction. They align with the poles.

Male lions actually do hunt with pride. Like females, they are ambush hunters also.

Buy the numbers? Turns out that 21 proposed giant squid species are just one species. Suggests a major genetic bottleneck.

Short courtship and hours of romance. The love life of the octopus.

Such a colourful critter. A baby cephalopod works out its chromophores.


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

How do bees catch a buzz? They rely on flower density.

A monarch’s decline is in the making. The iconic butterfly’s numbers in worryingly decline. What does worrying decline look like, you ask? This.

If Spiderman battled Batman, who would win? These photos of bat-catching spiders might shape your perspective. They are icky but fascinating.

Don’t look at them sideways. They’re amazing crabs.

Different strokes. Some worms prefer sex in a whale carcass. Who are we to judge?

It wins by a nose! The incredible proboscis of the cone snail.


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

Parasitic plants are like botanical Robin Hoods. They steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Say it with flowers. It’s easy to say when it’s an orchid.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Birds got a leg up on evolution. Early in evolution, they had considerable feathers on their legs. This may have helped with flight.

What’s the best way to make tracks in solving a palaeontology mystery? Make use of trace fossils.

A ticket to fly? Was loosing an oviduct the key to birds getting off the ground?

The eyes had it. New scanning technology provides insights into trilobite compound eye cell structure. Stunning.

Apparently the acorn worm hung around long enough until it looked like another species’ phallus. It’s been looking like a penis for 500M years.

A dragon and the little girl who it’s named after. Great story.


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

With deepest sediments. Detritus-consuming microbes reside 11km under the ocean in the Mariana Trench. But well below the ocean floor, in hot water seams, are even funkier microbes.

Dishing up beauty. Gorgeous microbes in petri plates.

Some fungi make critters die to get out. Cordyceps fungi explode from inside their host.

Is there a pandemic in the making? Exploring the potential of a new coronavirus.


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

Bee venom takes the sting out of HIV. It wallops the virus.

The white way to do things. It turns out that white blood cells help in the making of red blood cells.


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

The new gold seam? Earthquakes make new gold deposits in an instant. Amazing.

Thank goodness! Our planet’s magnetic shield protects us from solar radiation.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

This is a complete gas. A fly-by of the formation of a gassy planet. Awesome.

Looking for some light entertainment? These views of the aurora borealis may do it for you.

Earth’s not the only blue planet. Mercury is pretty darn nice too.

What happens when a white dwarf battles a red giant? This.

Smacks of smectite? It’s the clay that suggests Mars was once habitable.


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

It’s nothing like it. It’s it. The Higgs Boson that is. It’s “a” Higgs Boson. But not a god particle.

Catching a wave. Tsunami shows the role that large geological phenomena can have in distributing species.

Well, it’s not a perfect universe after all. Cosmic background radiation suggests an imperfect universe, which is 100M years older than previously thought. New physics may arise. You may want a good backgrounder on the background.


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

What better way to convey a beautiful mind than artistic renderings of neurons?

Annoyed by having to overhear other people’s cell phone calls? Here’s why.

Clock-a-doodle-do! Roosters know when to crow because they have a good circadian clock system.

How do we get it together? Through swarm behaviour of course.

Tune in, tone up. How music shapes our workouts.

What turns dreadful dudes into fantastic fathers? It’s the vomeronasal organ at play (in mice). Nothing to sniff at.


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

“The dead one is beautiful, but the live one is what I want.” Great 2004 piece on the search for the giant squid.

“The best you can do is aim for the truth.” Great advice on writing about science.

Slow and steady wins the race. Sometimes science is less a sprint, more a marathon. Some people are committed to that long term run.

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