An Eye-Popping Discovery in Southeast Asian Assassin Bug Biodiversity

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Physoderes fuliginosa (left), dorsal view; with Physoderes minime (right). Photo by Hwang Wei Song.

Two pop culture characters, Popeye the Sailor and Mini-Me from the Austin Powers comedy movie series, are now linked in eternity in circumstances most unusual – having assassin bugs named after them.

Paraphysoderes popeye and Physoderes minime are two new assassin bug species that were named by LKCNHM Museum Officer Dr. Hwang Wei Song, together with Prof. Christiane Weirauch from the University of California, Riverside, in a recently published European Journal of Taxonomy research article.

The quirky names were given to describe the odd morphology of the bugs — Paraphysoderes popeye has enlarged fore-arms, similar to its namesake, while Physoderes minime looks like a miniature version of a larger known species — Physoderes fuliginosa.

“These names popped up naturally as perfect descriptors of how they look,” said Dr. Hwang, the lead author of the paper.

These two pop-culturally referenced names are among the 15 new assassin bug species named in the monographic piece of work published last week. Not only did the paper reveal the species richness found in the eastern hemisphere, spanning from Madagascar to the Fiji Islands, it also introduced a revised classification of these assassin bugs that more accurately reflects the rich diversity.

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Paraphysoderes popeye, dorsal view. Photo by Hwang Wei Song.

Decade-long Quest

The task of clarifying and sorting out the taxonomy of this group of tiny, “rather unassuming-looking” assassin bugs known as physoderines, has been a long and arduous journey, starting 10 years ago in 2007, when Dr. Hwang began his PhD studies.

It required the consolidation of over 900 assassin bug specimens from various natural history museums across the world for side-by-side comparisons, visiting museums to check on type specimens, and a detailed computational analysis of their characteristics to determine their evolutionary relationships.

The fact that all 15 new species were discovered from specimens in natural history museum collections highlights the value and relevance of such historical collections to better understand our natural environment.

“These physoderine assassin bugs are miniscule, no bigger than a fingernail, well camouflaged in their natural habitat among vegetation and rotting logs, and extremely difficult to find in the wild,” said Dr. Hwang.

“It would have required my entire lifetime, and probably more, to be able to amass the same number of individuals to study, across such varied landscapes, from the foothills of the Western Ghats in India, across the whole of Southeast Asia, to the tip of Papua New Guinea and beyond.”

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Assassin bug Physoderes curculionis in situ. Photo by James Koh.

Dr. Hwang credits the strong support extended to him by the natural history museum curators and the helpful information shared among assassin bug researchers worldwide in helping to solve the many “taxonomic mysteries and riddles” peppered within this group.

Previously, Madagascar was regarded as an exceptional place for physoderine assassin bugs as they have radiated on the island similar to how lemur diversity flourished there, while the rest of the eastern hemisphere was regarded as rather uneventful. The new study shows that much of the diversity in Southeast Asia is still awaiting discovery, with Borneo and Papua New Guinea islands being hotspots for more species yet known.

To wrap the story up, Dr. Hwang did finally get to come face to face with a live physoderine assassin bug when he encountered Physoderes minime during field work in the Philippines late last year, on top of a dormant volcano.

“It was just hanging around on the base of a tree beside the forest trail, on a rather dreary late afternoon,” he said.

But to him, the thrill of the find was indescribable.

“I will never forget that moment.”

Original paper: Hwang, W.S., Weirauch, C. 2017. Uncovering hidden biodiversity: phylogeny and taxonomy of Physoderinae (Reduviidae, Heteroptera), with emphasis on Physoderes Westwood in the Oriental and Australasian regions. European Journal of Taxonomy 341: 1–118.

JOB OPPORTUNITY: Management Assistant Officer, Visitor Services (1 Year contract- renewable)/Casual Visitor Services Officer (6 months contract – renewable)

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) is Singapore’s only natural history museum at the National University of Singapore. We are looking for self-motivated and hands-on individuals to provide assistance to visitors in terms of ticketing and admission services, in order to ensure that the needs of the visitors are appropriately met.

Duties & Responsibilities:

  • Execute ticketing and cashiering duties
  • Assist in crowd control and ushering duties
  • Troubleshoot on ticketing and admission issues
  • Manage the needs of the visitors
  • Provide relevant information to visitors
  • Handle visitors’ enquiries through phone calls and emails
  • Assist in administrative-related matters
  • Assist in events management and emergency procedures
  • Any other duties relevant to operational requirements

Requirements:

Qualification

  • GCE ‘N’ or ‘O’ Levels certification
  • Customer Services certification or relevant
  • Able to comprehend and converse in English language

Years of Experience

  • For Full-time position: At least 2 years of experience in visitor services and ticketing sales

Knowledge & Skills

  • Familiar with tickets purchase system
  • Proficient in using computer and web-based system
  • Confident in handling visitors’ enquiries through phone calls and emails
  • Able to assist in administrative-related matters
  • Willing to learn new skills and undergo trainings
  • Motivated to provide good visitor services
  • Have a pleasant disposition and enjoy interacting with visitors
  • Able to work independently and cooperate with a team in a fast-paced environment

Work Commitments

  • Must be able to work on eve of Public Holidays, Public Holidays, Weekends, and other hours when required
  • Able to work on shift schedules
  • For Part-time positions: Able to commit at least 4 days per week (of which both Saturday and Sunday are included as part of the 4 days per week)

Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

To apply:

Management Assistant Officer, Visitor Services (0067U) https://nuscareers.taleo.net/careersection/jobdetail.ftl?job=0067U&lang=en

Casual/Part-time Visitor Services Officer (0064M)  https://nuscareers.taleo.net/careersection/2/jobdetail.ftl?job=0064M&lang=en

Only shortlisted candidates will be notified.

Application closing date: 25 Aug 2017.

Visiting Scientist Feature: Ms. Emily Hartop

A while back, we hosted Ms. Emily Hartop from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA), who was here to examine recently collected fly specimens.

Ms. Hartop is an entomologist well versed in phorid flies from the genus Megaselia, a large group consisting of around 1,400 known species. Flies from this genus are known to be difficult to identify, as the differences between the various species are subtle.

How do scientists like Ms. Hartop identify and differentiate between the various species then? Well, mainly by examining their…genitalia. Ms. Hartop examines the flies under the microscope, focusing mostly on their genitalia, and draws sketches of what she sees.

“It’s (sketching fly genitalia) what people know me for,” she said.

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Ms. Hartop at her work station in LKCNHM’s research lab. Photo by Clarisse Tan.

During her visit here, Ms. Hartop examined around 2,000 specimens of phorid flies from the genus Megaselia, as well as other genera. The specimens were pre-sorted into various groups based on genetic analysis.

Also, back in Los Angeles, NHMLA launched an initiative called Biodiversity Science: City and Nature (BioSCAN), with the aim to discover the biodiversity in Los Angeles. Under this initiative, Malaise traps were set up in the back yards of citizens living all over the city, and the insects collected were sorted and identified.

After three months of collection, the researchers, which included Ms. Hartop, suspected that they found thirty new species of the genus Megaselia, which was later found to be true. The findings came as a pleasant surprise for the researchers, who did not expect to find so many new species in a large, urbanised city. The findings were later reported in a research paper (click here to read).

Ms. Hartop was also in discussion about holding a BioSCAN project here in Singapore, so keep your eyes peeled! Maybe in time to come, you will see Malaise traps pop up around your neighbourhood!

Next time you’re at St. John’s or the Sisters’ Islands, check out the plants

The following is a guest post by Dr. Chong Kwek Yan, on a recent series of papers in Nature in Singapore that arose from the work of a student that he supervised. Kwek Yan received the NUS Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015 and has since been based at the Centre for Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland. This October, he will be returning to the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS.


Three years ago, early in 2014, Associate Professor Hugh Tan whom I was working for told me an earnest student keen on botany had approached him for a UROPS project, and asked me if I had any ideas. Back then, the plan to establish Singapore’s first marine park around some of the southern islands had just been announced, so I casually suggested that she could map out the natural vegetation on those islands and compile checklists of the islands’ flora, in the same spirit as Teo et al.’s (2011) checklist and map for Pulau Semakau.

Symplocos adenophylla

Symplocos adenophylla, listed as Endangered in the Singapore Red Data Book, found on Big Sister’s Island.

The marine park constitutes the sea around Pulau Subar Darat and Pulau Subar Laut, affectionately called Small Sister’s Island and Big Sister’s Island respectively, as well as the seas off the southwestern coasts of St. John’s Island (also known as Pulau Sakijang Bendera) and Pulau Tekukor. We knew that efforts must have been ongoing to document the marine biodiversity of the islands’ waters and coasts for them to be proposed as part of a marine park, but I thought it might also be useful for the park managers as well as botanically inclined park visitors to know what plants could be found on land. Prof took me seriously and got in contact with Dr. Karenne Tun of the National Biodiversity Centre, whose team was setting up the marine park, and Dr. Tan Koh Siang of the Tropical Marine Science Institute which had a research facility on St. John’s Island. I roped in Alex Yee, who was then a PhD student, to help coach Sherry with making maps.

The rest is (natural) history.

There were working checklists of the flora of these islands from Prof’s earlier expeditions in the 90’s which led to a publication by Koh et al. (2002) in Journal of Biogeography 29: 93–108. These were supplemented by records of collections from each island deposited at the Singapore’s two herbaria. Last and most fun of all, we gathered the young botanists working in Prof’s lab to make several picnic trips to cross-check these lists and map the vegetation and the locations of rare plants on the islands.

Botanists

Trying to look (and stay) cool in the shade along the coast of Small Sister’s Island. From left to right: co-authors Reuben, Wei Wei, Jolyn, Louise, Kwek Yan, Sherry; and Jake Gonzales who was an intern with the Botany Lab. Photograph by Alex Yee.

Sherry got a good grade for her UROPS (I can’t remember exactly what grade but it was a good grade [gosh, that sounds like what a well-known, recently elected official from a certain country would say about his own grades back in school]) and worked hard to turn her report into a series of manuscripts for Nature in Singapore titled “The vascular plant flora and vegetation of the islands associated with Singapore’s first Marine Park”.

There’s not much left to say except to encourage everyone to check these papers out. They contain many nice maps and pictures.

I: The Sisters’ Islands

Hung SMX, Chong KY, Yee ATK, Lim RCJ, Loh JW, Neo L, Seah WW, Tan SY, Teo AXY, Tun K, Tong CHY, Koh KS & Tan HTW (2017) The vascular plant flora and vegetation of the islands associated with Singapore’s first Marine Park (I): The Sisters’ Islands. Nature in Singapore, 10: 7–24. [PDF]

II: Pulau Tekukor

Hung SMX, Chong KY, Yee ATK, Lim RCJ, Loh JW, Neo L, Seah WW, Tan SY & Tan HTW (2017) The vascular plant flora and vegetation of the islands associated with Singapore’s first Marine Park (II): Pulau Tekukor. Nature in Singapore, 10: 25–35. [PDF]

III: St. John’s Island

Hung SMX, Chong KY, Yee ATK, Lim RCJ, Loh JW, Neo L, Seah WW, Tan SY & Tan HTW (2017) The vascular plant flora and vegetation of the islands associated with Singapore’s first Marine Park (III): St. John’s Island. Nature in Singapore, 10: 37–48. [PDF]

Launch of the Biodiversity Library of Southeast Asia

Hello everyone! We have exciting news to share with all of you — we have collaborated with NUS Libraries to launch the Biodiversity Library of Southeast Asia (BLSEA).

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BLSEA is an online resource that allows people all over the world to access digitised versions of biodiversity publications that are focused on Southeast Asia. This includes old publications from the museum, such as the Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, as well as many others.

Singapore rocks!

Yes, literally. This LKCNHM book, A Field Guide to the Geology of Singapore by Oliver and Gupta published earlier this year aims to introduce readers to the geology of Singapore by means of field visits to relevant sites of interest.

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It gives an overview of the plate tectonic evolution of Singapore, its geology, and a travel guide book-like excursion compendium to interesting locations such as Pulau Sajahat, Western Catchment, Sembawang Hot Spring, and even Orchard Road!

If you have ever wondered how Singapore looked like in the Late Triassic Period (200 Ma), then do not miss the artist’s impression of the view from the vicinity of Sentosa looking north towards Bukit Timah complete with dinosaurs (pg. 10).

Oliver GJH & Gupta A (2017) A Field Guide to the Geology of Singapore. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 71 pp. Uploaded 4 January 2017.

Read it here: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/images/pdfs/lkcnhm_ebooks/GeologyGuideSGP.pdf

More about LKCNHM eBooks: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/nhmpublications/lkcnhmebooks

RESULTS OF EXXONMOBIL ENDANGERED SPECIES AND CONSERVATION PROGRAMME DOCUMENTARY MAKING AND POSTER DESIGN COMPETITION 2017

The ExxonMobil Endangered Species and Conservation Programme aims to increase public biodiversity and conservation awareness of Southeast Asian biodiversity. Under this fully sponsored programme, participants attend a customised 3-hour workshop, where they spend the first two hours learning about endangered species and threats that affect their survival. During the last hour, participants are encouraged to spread the message on conservation using new media.

Secondary School Category: Documentary Making Competition

Secondary school participants are encouraged to take positive action and raise awareness of an endangered species by taking part in a documentary making competition.

The following videos showcase the winners of the documentary making competition for 2017.

First place: Pei Hwa Secondary School, Group 12, featuring the Green Turtle. The team members are: Tricia Ong Li Ying, Wong Wei Ting, Idzhar Dandiar B Bahtiar, and Keith Goeh Kai Yee.

Second place: Queensway Secondary School, Group 4, featuring the Green Turtle. The team members are: Huang Shiquan, Low Wei Qing, Sim Qian Hui, Muhammad Dilshad Koestoer, and Alanna Tang Peh San.

Third place: Hua Yi Secondary School, Group 10, featuring the Malayan Tapir. The team members are: Tiffany Won, Chai Georgia, Chong Xin Yue, and Brandon Ng Guan Xiang.

Primary School Category: Poster Design Competition

Primary school participants share what they learnt via a poster making competition. The winners for 2017 are:

TNS Grp 8

First place: Tao Nan School, Group 8, featuring the Proboscis Monkey. The team members are: Sia Zhi Hung, Wu Zhenyuan, and Lucas Lim.

SPS Grp 12

Second Place: Sembawang Primary School, Group 12, featuring the Malayan Tapir. The team members are: Ang Jun En, Edmund Lam Hao Ming, Harris bin Mohd Zailani, and Hein Htet.

Malayan tapir

Third Place:  Geylang Methodist School (Primary), Group 1, featuring the Malayan Tapir. The team members are: Tan Yu Xuan Eason, Teo Jing An, and Wong Jun Xiang.

Congratulations to all the winners!

We hope that these videos and posters will help to shed some light on the importance of protecting and conserving Southeast Asian biodiversity and the environment.

We are also pleased to announce that this programme will continue from 2018-2020. For more information about the ExxonMobil Endangered Species and Conservation Programme for primary and secondary schools, please contact nhmlearning@nus.edu.sg.

 

Egg-citing Easter at the museum

Have an egg-citing time with us this Easter with our Easter Eggy Workshop!

Learn how to make your own Easter egg in this series of workshops in conjunction with Earth Day.

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To register, email: alice.goh@nus.edu.sg

Take part in our Egg-dentifying contest and stand a chance to win interesting prizes too! Contest forms are available at the lobby. See you there!

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HSBC Intertidal Walks

Thank you for your support! All slots have been fully redeemed. Successful registrants will receive a confirmation email soon.

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Missed out on the opportunity to join us for the Marine Open House? Do join us for our intertidal walks instead!

As part of the HSBC Marine Protection Programme, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is organising intertidal guided walks to take students and members of the public to some of our offshore islands and explore some of the biodiversity on our shores! During these guided walks, our nature guides will show participants various forms of life including sea stars, corals, crabs, and anemones! These walks will also include a short coastal clean-up component.

These walks are fully sponsored by HSBC!

Date Time Location Target Group
1 29 April 2017 Saturday 5:45am – 10:00am Kusu Island Public
2 30 April 2017 Sunday 6:15am – 10:30am Kusu Island Public/Schools
3 14 May 2017 Sunday 5:45am – 1:00pm Pulau Semakau Public/Schools
4 15 June 2017 Thursday 6:15am – 11:30am Pulau Hantu Public/Schools
5 15 July 2017 Saturday 5:45am – 1:00pm Pulau Semakau Public/Schools
6 12 August 2017 Saturday 6:00am – 11:15am Pulau Hantu Schools

To enquire, please email nhmlearning@nus.edu.sg with the following details: a) date of the walk you are interested in, b) the number of people you would like to register for, and c) your contact number.

The Outreach and Education Unit will respond to your email within three working days.

Terms and conditions

  • Participants must be at least 13 years of age, physically fit, and able to complete a 2-3 hour slow walk.
  • Participants between 13 to 18 years of age require parental consent to participate in the programme.

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology – New Year, New Blood

With each new year comes new changes, and this year brings in some significant changes in the editorial team of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (RBZ), a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by our Museum.

The Bulletin has a new Managing Editor – Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza (a.k.a. “JC”), who had previously served as Associate Editor for Carcinology since 2013. Dr. Mendoza breaks the news to the community in his first RBZ editorial (read more here).

The previous Managing Editor, Dr. Tan Heok Hui, has taken a new portfolio in the Museum, that of Head of Operations, but is also staying on as an Associate Editor for Ichthyology.

Among his notable achievements during his 6-year term is the publication of five volumes (vols. 59–63) and 11 supplements (nos. 24–34), containing 458 articles and monographs – some of which have gone on to be among the most highly cited in the Bulletin’s history. Dr Tan has also ushered the Bulletin into modernity, publishing its first fully electronic volume (vol. 62) in 2014.

Copy & Production Editor, Mr. Jeremy Yeo, who has efficiently performed administrative, copy-editing and production duties since 2013, has also moved over with Dr. Tan to the Operations department of the museum. We thank them for their service and wish them all the best in this new stage of their careers!

Also joining the editorial team are Dr. Hwang Wei Song, as Assistant Managing Editor and concurrent Associate Editor for Entomology; new Associate Editors, Dr. Evan S. H. Quah (Herpetology) and Dr. Toh Tai Chong (Marine ecology & conservation); and new Copy & Production Editor, Ms. Clarisse Tan. Welcome aboard & good luck!

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(From left) Ms. Clarisse Tan, Dr. Hwang Wei Song, Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza, Dr. Tan Heok Hui, and Mr. Jeremy Yeo. Photo by Cheng Yew Toon.