Media

Visiting Scientist Feature: Dr. Jan-Frits Veldkamp

Recently, we hosted Dr. Jan-Frits Veldkamp from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden. Dr. Veldkamp is a botanist with a research focus on the grasses of Southeast Asia, with a career that has spanned over 50 years.

He was here to examine grass specimens in the Singapore University Herbarium (SINU), as part of the research for a book about the herbaceous grasses of Singapore that he is working on, under the Flora of Singapore project by the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

This was Dr. Veldkamp’s second visit this year; he was at the museum for a few days in April for the Flora of Singapore project. This second visit was for him to finish examining all the grass specimens in the SINU, and over the course of his two-week visit, he examined around 1,000 herbaceous grass specimens.

A Whole New World

His interest in botany started after a biology lesson in high school, where he was taught to identify different plants.

“After the lesson, I realised that I could identify the different types of plants that were around me, plants that the average person will not take a second look at,” he said.

“It felt like the world was different,” he added.

A Botanist’s Eye

Dr. Veldkamp keeps a lookout for plants everywhere he goes—during his visit, he spotted an uncommon type of grass (Panicum laxum) while on his way to lunch, at a grass patch near the museum.

The patch of grass, located off a walkway, is nondescript; most people walking by would not even notice it. However, Dr. Veldkamp noticed a few plants located in a far corner, and discovered the uncommon grass growing there. He then collected a few specimens, and deposited them in SINU.

Dr. Veldkamp 2-2.jpg

Dr. Veldkamp examining Panicum laxum grasses near LKCNHM. Photo by Clarisse Tan.

During his visit here, a previously unknown grass specimen in the SINU was also identified by Dr. Veldkamp to be Acroceras tonkinense. This finding greatly excited him, as the last known specimen of the grass found in Singapore is dated all the way back to the year 1822, whereas the newly identified specimen was collected in 1999—a gap of 177 years.

We wish Dr. Veldkamp all the best in his research, and hope to see him again soon.

Visiting Scientist Feature: Dr. Daniel Edison M. Husana

Recently, we hosted Dr. Daniel Edison M. Husana, associate professor from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, who was here to examine freshwater crab specimens in the Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC). Dr. Husana’s research focuses on animals that reside in caves, such as cave crabs and cave fish.

Dr. Husana 1.jpg

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

Adventurous Spirit

Why cave animals (troglobites/stygobites)?

According to Dr. Husana, it is due to a love for adventure that sparked from childhood. Growing up, he has always loved thrill-seeking activities such as climbing mountains, and cave exploration brings about this sense of adventure within him.

“You don’t know what you’re going to find,” said Dr. Husana, “it’s a mystery each time.”

However, fieldwork can be very tough. Dr. Husana said that sometimes, he has to hike for a few hours just to get to the entrance of the cave, before spending another few hours inside. Once, he spent three days inside a cave, sleeping on mats that he placed on the cave floor.

The temperature inside the cave is also cold, and at times, they have to wade in icy cold water or crawl through narrow spaces just to navigate within the cave.

Nonetheless, fieldwork is also rewarding, as there are many discoveries to be found within the cave. Also, the scenery on the hike up can also be very beautiful, with views of nature and waterfalls along the way.

Dr. Husana 3.jpg

Dr. Husana doing fieldwork in a cave. Photo by Daniel Edison M. Husana.

Living in the Dark

Within the cave, however, lies a different view. Deep and dark, there is no way of seeing anything without wearing a headlamp.

As animals residing in caves (e.g., the false spider crab) can be very small, a keen sense of sight is required to be able to spot them.

Due to the darkness within the cave, cave crabs have evolved a heightened sense of smell and touch giving rise to long antennae and walking legs. They also have smaller or missing eyes as they have little to no use of their sight while living in the dark.

As there is hardly any food inside the cave, some cave crabs survive on a diet of guano, or bat faeces, which is rich in organic matter. Incidentally, guano is also a precious commodity for farmers, who use it as fertiliser for their crops.

Dr. Husana 2.jpg

False spider crab, Samarplax principe, discovered from a cave in the Philippines. Photo by Daniel Edison M. Husana.

New Discoveries

Dr. Husana is no stranger to the museum, with this visit being his third. It is, however, his first time visiting the new museum premises.

Dr. Husana was invited by crustacean curator (Dr. JCE Mendoza) to work on Philippine freshwater crab taxonomy, particularly the genus Sundathelphusa. During his month-long stay here funded by a LKCNHM research fellowship, Dr. Husana examined freshwater crab specimens in the ZRC, and compared them to the specimens collected during his fieldwork in the Philippines.

He said that the visit had been fruitful, having discovered a few species that are new to science. He added that he had also gained a better understanding of the freshwater crab fauna of the Philippines as a result of the visit.

We look forward to the results of Dr. Husana’s research, and hope to see him again!

 

Zootaxa paper by Dr. Husana, Dr. Tan Swee Hee from LKCNHM, as well as Dr. Tomoki Kase, on a new genus and species of stygobitic crab found in the Philippines: http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/2011/f/zt03109p059.pdf

Visiting Scientist(s) Feature: Mammalogist Edition

In this feature, we give a short summary of the work of two mammalogists that have visited the museum a while back.

Mr. Lim Tze Tshen

P1060433-5

Mr. Lim at his workstation in the LKCNHM research lab. Photo by Clarisse Tan.

Mr. Lim Tze Tshen is a research associate at the University of Malaysia, focusing on biodiversity conservation and vertebrate palaeontology.

As a palaeontologist, Mr. Lim studies fossils, from common ones such as the fossils of wild pigs, to rare ones like gibbon fossils.

Last year, a gibbon fossil that is estimated to be around half a million years old was found in Peninsula Malaysia. It was initially difficult to identify, but they were able to identify it as a gibbon fossil by comparing one intact tooth present in the fossil with existing gibbon dental records.

But there is another question – what species of gibbon is it?

In order to answer this question, Mr. Lim was here to examine the morphology of gibbon skulls in the Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC), and compare it to the gibbon fossil, in order to identify its species. During his 4-day visit, Mr. Lim examined around 120 gibbon skulls from the ZRC, and found the answer to the mystery. We wish Mr. Lim all the best for his next fossil adventure.

 

Dr. Alexander Balakirev

P1060431

Dr. Balakirev at his workstation in the LKCNHM research lab. Photo by Clarisse Tan.

Dr. Alexander Balakirev is a mammalogist from the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences, with a research focus on small mammals such as treeshrews and rodents.

Why small mammals in particular? Dr. Balakirev jokes that as he does not have the sharp eyesight to peer at tiny insects and extremely good physical endurance to chase after large animals such as wolves, research on small mammals is just the right fit for him.

During his visit here, Dr. Balakirev examined the morphology of over 100 treeshrew specimens from the Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC), as part of his research on treeshrew specimens from Vietnam. Dr. Balakirev mentioned plans to return to do more work on our mammal collection, and we certainly look forward to hosting him again.

 

P.S. Dr. Balakirev, along with two other co-authors, recently published a research paper in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, describing a new species of marmoset rat from southern Vietnam (click here to read).

An Eye-Popping Discovery in Southeast Asian Assassin Bug Biodiversity

Minime_fuliginosa_combined

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.

Paraphysoderes popeye UCR_ENT 52315 m BPBH dorsal

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.”

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.

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.

IMG_3679-2

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!

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.

 

Best Museums in Singapore by TimeOut Singapore

We are stoked to be listed as among the best museums in Singapore by Time Out Singapore!
lkcnhm
 
Here’s what they said about us, “But good things come to those who wait, and we rejoiced when the doors of South-East Asia’s first-ever natural history museum were finally flung open once again”.
 
So come visit the Singapore sperm whale, our three towering Jurassic dinosaur fossils, and learn about the rich biodiversity in Southeast Asia.
 
After that, share what you think after your visit. Do leave us a review on TripAdvisor or our Facebook page. We appreciate the feedback given by our guests.

ST Infographic: Diving into Whale Biology

The Straits Times created an infographic of the Singapore sperm whale that explains more about the way of life of this majestic creature, and what the museum discovered about her.

Sperm whales are one of the most capable divers of all mammals. How do they cope with the pressure, and find their food?

Explore the infographic and check out the exhibit starting 15 Mar 2016 at the museum!

020 20160312 Whale Infographic B F T

Image source: The Straits Times

Split Identity: The Flower Crab is Actually Four

The commonly eaten flower crab or swimming crab actually comprises 4 species.

Portunus Lai et al

These crabs that were all formerly known as Portunus pelagicus are now A) Portunus pelagicus, B) P. segnis, C) P. reticulatus, and D) P. armatus. Photo by Joelle Lai.

This research finding recently featured on The Straits Times was published in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology in 2010 by museum staff Dr Joelle Lai, Prof Peter Ng and Dr Peter Davie of the Queensland Museum.

It shows the importance of biodiversity research and its applications in the management of commercial fisheries, particularly of the concern about over-harvesting.

Read the Straits Times report here: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/a-single-name-for-4-species-of-swimming-crabs

Read the original research paper here:  A Revision of the Portunus pelagicus (Linnaeus, 1758) species complex (Crustacea: Brachyura: Portunidae), with the recognition of four species.

‘Spider ambassador’ out to nurture nature lovers

Spider Ambassador out to nurture nature lovers ST 21092015

Ex-envoy donating massive collection to museum, writing book on local spiders

Mr Joseph Koh’s home contains a creepy-crawly secret – a collection of 12,000 spider specimens, possibly the largest of its kind in South-east Asia.

Meet Singapore’s very own “Spider-Man”. A former career diplomat who last served as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam for six years before retiring in 2012, Mr Koh is a spider expert who has described in journals more than half a dozen spider species that are new to science.

The 66-year-old has been interested in them ever since he was a child. “My father gave me a lot of natural history books,” he said.

“Later on, he also introduced me to macro-photography. This kickstarted what was to be my lifelong hobby, and I have been collecting and photographing spiders since I was an A-level student.”

He is helped by his wife, Mrs Peifen Koh, also 66, who regularly joins him on his spider-collecting field trips, even to the forests of Brunei while he was working there.

Her job was to hit the leaves of a bush or plant with a stick and catch any spiders that fell out by holding an upturned umbrella underneath. However, Mr Koh insists that his wife’s involvement was not out of a love of spiders.

“Once, we were talking to a Bruneian prince about my spider-collecting trips and he was very surprised to learn that my wife often goes along on those trips with me. He asked Peifen if she loves spiders as much as I do, to which she promptly replied, ‘No, Your Highness, I do not love spiders; I love my husband.’ ”

After four decades of gathering spiders in the forests of South-east Asia, Mr Koh is devoting his time to projects to teach future generations of Singaporeans more about appreciating the natural environment.

He has pledged to donate his collection of 12,000 specimens to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. But work must first be done to identify, sort and label the specimens before they can be transferred to the museum in stages.

“I have sorted only about 30 per cent of my collection,” he said.

“Identifying spiders is hard work and takes a lot of time, so I would be happy if I can manage to successfully identify one spider a day.

“This is not a job I can finish in my lifetime.”

Mr Koh has been actively working with young people who have a passion in arachnology, or the study of spiders, to pass on his knowledge and skills.

“It’s more than just about grooming young people to help look after my spider specimens,” he said.

“More importantly, I can help foster their love for nature and they can, in turn, inspire others or help make a difference to Singapore.”

Mr Koh is also working on a new book about the different spider species found on the Republic’s shores, of which he estimates there are 800.

This book, which will be his third, follows a similar volume on Brunei’s spiders, published two years ago.

“I had originally wanted to retire, but the National Parks Board requested that I write this new book, and gave me the perfect reason to do so: Since I had already written a comprehensive book about Brunei’s spiders, why not work on one for Singapore?”

But completing the book might take a while. Mr Koh said that he is still “on Page 1” due to his busy schedule.

One of the things that has been keeping his schedule packed is his involvement in the Friends of Ubin Network, a discussion group involving nature lovers and government officials on how to best preserve and enhance Pulau Ubin’s natural environment.

“In studying spiders in Singapore over the last 40 years, I have never ceased to be amazed by the many unusual and uncommon species on Ubin,” Mr Koh said. “Something can be done not just to preserve and enhance Ubin’s natural heritage, but also to enrich the biodiversity education of our children.

“I don’t really have time to enjoy my retirement; I’m busier than before. But knowing that I can help younger Singaporeans and future generations better appreciate and love nature is what drives me.”

Copyright to The Straits Times