Visiting Scientist Feature: Dr. Evan Quah

A while back, we hosted Dr. Evan Quah from Universiti Sains Malaysia, who was here to examine snake specimens in the Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC).

Dr. Quah is a herpetologist with a research focus on the systematics and biogeography of Malaysian herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles). He is also an Associate Editor (Herpetology) for the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, a peer-reviewed, open access journal published by LKCNHM. During his visit here, he examined about 60 snake specimens in the ZRC, as part of his ongoing research on snake diversity in Peninsular Malaysia.

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Dr. Quah at his workstation in the LKCNHM research lab. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Childhood Passion

Dr. Quah’s interest in snakes and reptiles began from childhood, where he was “somehow drawn” to the creatures, and even kept reptiles as pets in his home.

His research takes him places far and wide for field work—such as camping out in the Cambodian wilderness for a week looking for snakes.

Due to their speed and ability to camouflage amongst vegetation, snakes are rather difficult to spot, especially to the untrained eye. However, years of experience in the field, as well as a “natural instinct” have made it easier for Dr. Quah to spot snakes while out on field work.

Poisonous Misunderstanding

In general, snakes are commonly perceived to be dangerous animals. However, Dr. Quah asserts that the “highly interesting” creatures are more than just their bad reputation.

“They have no limbs, but yet are capable of living in every single habitat, except for the extreme polar regions,” he said.

Some species of snakes also possess the ability to ‘fly’. In Singapore, Chrysopelea paradisi—also known as the paradise tree snake or flying tree snake—is able to glide from tree to tree by flattening its body and launching in the air like a parachute.

Snakes too play an important role in the ecosystem. They act as a natural form of pest control by preying on harmful insects, as well as pests such as mice and rats.

Unanswered Questions

This is not Dr. Quah’s first visit to the museum, having visited back when the museum was at its old premises. He said that his 8-day visit here was highly fruitful.

However, Dr. Quah also mentioned that while there is plenty of research on snake taxonomy, still not much is known about the behaviour and ecology of snakes in Southeast Asia.

“There are still lots of questions that have yet to be answered,” he said.

We look forward to the interesting findings on snakes that come from Dr. Quah’s research, as well as that from any (current and future) herpetologists!

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