News

Harryplax severus and the Twenty-year-old Secret

A secret that evaded detection for almost 20 years has finally been uncovered with the discovery of Harryplax severus.

Sorry to disappoint all the ‘Potterheads’ out there, but this is not a synopsis of a new Harry Potter spin-off. Rather, it is a tale of how a new species of crab was discovered by LKCNHM researchers, Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza and Prof. Peter K. L. Ng, almost twenty years since it was initially collected.

Harryplax_severus_frontal_male paratype PR.jpgFrontal view; male paratype of Harryplax severus.

The new crab species (also in a new genus) was described in a scientific article, which was published in the journal Zookeys and made available to the public last Tuesday (24 Jan. 2017, local time). [see: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.647.11455]

Seaside Exploration

The crab was found in the late 1990’s in the coral reef rubble on the Pacific island of Guam by Harry Conley, a former US marine. Mr. Conley started to frequent this western Pacific island in the 1980’s in search of seashells, but his forays into the reefs yielded not only seashells, but also crabs and other creatures, which formed a sizeable personal collection.

After Harry Conley’s death in 2002, his crab collection was presented to Prof. Ng by Dr. Gustav Paulay (then with the University of Guam) for further study. Many of these specimens were eventually shown to be new or rare species, with several resulting scientific publications.

Two small specimens, however, were somehow overlooked and would remain in the collection of the LKCNHM until they were re-examined in early 2015 by the museum’s crustacean curator, Dr. Mendoza. Together with Prof. Ng, they determined that the crabs belonged to a new genus and species based on several unique characteristics in their anatomy.

harryplax_severus_male-paratype-prDorsal view; male paratype of Harryplax severus.

This tiny crab (7.62 mm long by 5.08 mm wide) has adaptations such as small eyes, well-developed antennae, and long, slender legs, which help it feel quite at home in the dark cavities amidst the reef rubble.

Potterhead’s Wish

Why the name Harryplax severus, then?

Well, the genus name, Harryplax, was primarily chosen in honour of the crab’s original collector, Mr. Harry Conley, whose collection of ‘critters’ found in the rubble beds of Guam have contributed greatly to the field of marine science.

The name also alludes to a famous pop culture namesake, Harry Potter, the main protagonist of the fantasy novel series by J. K. Rowling, whose magical skills are likened to Mr. Conley’s ability to find rare and fascinating creatures.

The species name, severus (Latin for ‘harsh’, ‘rough’ and ‘rigorous’), highlights the tough and strenuous steps undertaken to collect the crab. Furthermore, it alludes to yet another namesake from the Harry Potter series, Professor Severus Snape, a character described by Dr. Mendoza as “notorious and misunderstood”. Just like how Professor Snape managed to conceal one of the most important secrets in the story, the new species of crab has also been able to evade discovery for almost 20 years since its initial collection.

peter_jc_lkcnhmLKCNHM Researchers; Prof. Peter Ng (left) and Dr. Mendoza (right).

A self-confessed ‘Potterhead’, Dr. Mendoza could not pass up the opportunity to name the new discovery after characters from the popular series, a move gamely accepted by Prof. Ng, who knew Mr. Conley personally and felt that he would have appreciated the connection.

We look forward to more interesting discoveries by Dr. Mendoza and Prof. Ng in the future!

Original article:

Mendoza JCE, Ng PKL (2017) Harryplax severus, a new genus and species of an unusual coral rubble-inhabiting crab from Guam (Crustacea, Brachyura, Christmaplacidae). Zookeys, 647: 23–35.

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.

[Research highlight] Molluscs for Sale: Assessment of Freshwater Gastropods and Bivalves in the Ornamental Pet Trade

Did you know that a large number of snails and clams come into Singapore via the ornamental pet trade?

NUS Phd student, Ng Ting Hui, and researchers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore found a total of 59 species of snails and bivalves had been brought into Singapore via the pet and ornamental animal and plant trade from 2008 to 2014.

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Shells of the 59 species of molluscs found from the ornamental pet trade in Singapore. Photos by Ng Ting Hui and Chan Sow-Yan.

Some of these are known or potentially invasive species which may cause harm to species that are native to Singapore, or to the environment. This study provides an important baseline and reference for future monitoring, and points the direction towards a more sustainable ornamental pet trade.

The findings of the research was featured on the Straits Times by Carolyn Khew on 4 Nov 2016.

Original paper:
Ng, T. H., Tan, S. K., Wong, W. H., Meier, R., Chan, S-Y., Tan, H. H., Yeo, D. C. J. 2016. Molluscs for Sale: Assessment of Freshwater Gastropods and Bivalves in the Ornamental Pet Trade. PLoS ONE 11(8): e0161130. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161130

LKCNHM on the News: Great travel deals ignite wanderlust

The 42nd edition of the MATTA Fair in Kuala Lumpur featured a total of 1,212 booths by more than 900 exhibitors.

The Singapore Tourism Board marked its return to the fair after a three-year hiatus with a wide range of exciting travel packages.

“We’re taking the opportunity to introduce the latest attractions at the fair due to recent developments in Singapore,” said Singapore Tourism Board International Group Malaysia area director Serene Woon.

“Among them are the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which is also featuring three sets of dinosaur fossils, and the National Gallery Singapore, the largest venue for South-East Asian art.

“The idea is not only to offer families a fun holiday, but also an enriching experience for the children so that they learn something as well,” she explained.

Read more here: http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/09/07/great-travel-deals-ignite-wanderlust-matta-fair-records-about-110000-visitors-and-rm220mil-in-sales/

Copyright of Star Media Group Berhad

 

 

Visit from old friends: the Orchards

We begin this month with another crustacean themed post — a report on the visit of Max and Beverly Orchard on their first visit to our new building!

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The Orchards during their recent visit. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Max was the Chief Ranger of Christmas Island National Park prior to retirement, and author of ‘Crabs of Christmas Island‘. Given his fondness of crabs, it was only natural that he and Prof. Peter Ng forged a strong collaboration. The Orchards have been a focal part of the Museum’s expeditions to Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands from 2010 to 2012, culminating in a supplement in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology highlighting the Biodiversity and Management Challenges of both islands. It yielded many new discoveries of crustacean species both on land and out at sea. See more examples from our old blog here.

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The Christmas Island/Cocos Keeling 2012 Team. From left: J.C. Mendoza, Tan Siong Kiat, Naruse Tohru, Joelle Lai, Tan Heok Hui, Peter Ng, Leo Tan, Fujita Yoshihisa with Christmas Islands Parks Officer, Max Orchard (third from right).

Amongst the discoveries in the anchialine caves on Christmas Island, were two new species, named Orcovita orchardorum  and Orcovita hicksi. These two crabs were the first record Orcovita in the Indian Ocean and Australia.

It was a good afternoon of catching up, and planning future research trips to Christmas Island. We miss Christmas Island very much, and hope to be back soon!

Orcovita orchardorum was named in honour of the Orchards who have been dedicated their lives spearheading conservation initiatives to safeguard the island’s unique biodiversity.

red crab Max orchard

Christmas Island’s world famous red crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis). Photo by Max Orchard.

Scientist Feature: The Malaysian Cave Rat Mystery

Ms Islahuda Hani Sahak & Mr Mohammad Amin Abdul Aziz

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Husband and wife team during their visit to LKCNHM. Photo by Chia Han Shen.

What do rats and mice have in common with guinea pigs and hamsters?

They belong to a group of animals known as rodents. Rodents contain some of the biggest families within the animal kingdom.

In this edition we feature PhD candidate from the University of Malaya (UM), Ms Islahuda Hani Sahak, who is working to identify rodent skulls in Malaysian caves. She hails from the Department of Geology, Faculty of Science at UM.

Assisting her in this trip is Mr Mohammad Amin Abdul Aziz, who is her husband, and also a trained geologist. For this research trip, the goal is to investigate differences between collected skulls to aid in species recognition.

This study is the first comprehensive survey in Malaysia of how the Muridae fossil group plays an important ecological role in the Quarternary geological time period.

Understanding the paleo-environment

Their visit to Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in April 2016 involved comparisons between full-bodied specimens found in our collection and Ms Islahuda’s rodent skull fragments.

This is a bonus as Ms Islahuda often only has dentition to go by, as it is rare to get a complete skull of fossilised rodents with their teeth intact. Differences are often minute as there are many similarities in morphology (form).

They are now one step closer to determining the identities of their subjects. Ms Islahuda managed to narrow it down to four confirmed genera: Niviventer, Rattus, Maxomys and Chiropodomys. On an even better note, she has established one of the species as the Indomalayan pencil-tailed tree mouse (Chiropodomys glirodes).

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Often Ms Islahuda only has dentition to work with such as this isolated tooth sample. Photo by Ms Islahuda.

There are many aspects that both Mr Aziz and Ms Islahuda find interesting about rodents. For example, the skulls of rodents can be used to determine their age and even their diet, which gives insights to how each species differs and how adaptable they can be.

Ms Islahuda explains that geologists try to reconstruct the paleo-environment to get a glimpse of what life was like millions of years ago. Clues such as fossilised remains of animals found in river sediments often indicate what living conditions were like millions of years ago. Rodents are the perfect study subjects as they do not migrate and live in specialised regions.

Raising the flag for environmental conservation

Their reasons for conducting this research are based on a conservation mantra.

They hope to raise awareness of cave fossil conservation by creating an environmental value for cave ecosystems to protect them from threats such as the construction of temples and collection of bat guano or poop for plant fertiliser.

They attempt to educate people in appreciating this often-misunderstood group of animals. Pest such as brown rats and house mice are only a tiny minority within rodents which cause harm to humans. On the other hand, hundreds of other species play important roles in their ecosystems around the world.

For example, did you know that jungle rats such as the Rajah’s spiny rat – found in our region – help in the seed dispersal of trees which promote the health of the forest? Rodents are also the favourite prey for animals such as snakes and owls!

This was Ms Islahuda’s and Mr Aziz’s first visit to LKCNHM. As part of their investigation they will also head to the natural history museums in Indonesia, Thailand, China and London to seek more answers in solving the identities of their specimens.

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Specimens of Malaysian House rats from LKCNHM. Photo by Ms Islahuda.

LKCNHM is honoured to host researchers and regional experts who contribute to our knowledge and understanding of Southeast Asian biodiversity. These scientists play an integral part in spearheading environmental conservation initiatives that protect native ecosystems.

We wish Ms Islahuda and Mr Aziz success as they continue in their search to determine the mysteries of the elusive rodents of Peninsular Malaysian caves.

Whale of a time at the Museum

Willy’s Tale

False Killer Whale porpoising

False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens). Source: Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California, Public Domain, U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The whale theme continues at the museum this week!

On 13 April 2016, we received a donation of the remains of a false killer whale from Underwater World Singapore (UWS). We are thankful for this generous donation and the support from UWS.

While news of the Singapore sperm whale has dominated the press since last July, little is known about Willy, the false killer whale that was stranded in Singapore more than two decades ago.

On 23 January 1994, two men who went crab hunting off Tuas spotted the whale, which they initially mistook for a shark. They alerted Underwater World Singapore (UWS) and the animal was identified as a false killer whale by UWS divers despatched to the site.

Screenshot of Newspaper article on Willy

The Straits Times article about Willy’s stranding back in January 27 1994. 

News of the whale stranding spread and captured the nation’s imagination. The whale was dubbed ‘Willy’ by the press after the highly popular 1990s film “Free Willy”, a stirring story about a boy who befriends a killer whale or orca called Willy—which was captured from the wild—and sets him free.

Rescue attempts to move the whale into deeper waters spanned a week but were ultimately unsuccessful. Willy later went missing on 29 January 1994 and was found dead the next day by some fishermen. The UWS then collected the body to conduct a post-mortem and solve some of the mysteries surrounding her arrival and death.

Autopsy and Preservation at Underwater World

As the autopsy was underway, it turned out that Willy was an old adult female, and not a young adult male as first presumed. The cause of death was also identified as a combination of infectious injuries, old age and severe trauma as a result of being trapped in the bay.

Separated from her group, with numerous puncture wounds on the left side of her body, these were probable factors that caused Willy to seek shelter at Tuas. Willy was also found with an empty stomach, indicating that she was highly stressed at that point in time.

Willy’s body was later buried at Lorong Halus in Tampines. Her lower jaw with ten intact teeth was salvaged and preserved and used as an educational display at UWS.

Willy's remains

Willy’s remains consisting of ten teeth and a lower jaw. Photo by Jeremy Yeo.

Significant donation

What does this represent for us at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM)?

The donation represents another important and key addition to the mammal collection at LKCNHM. With the accession of this false killer whale specimen found locally, the mammal collection has been further expanded and we believe, would add to our knowledge of cetaceans in Singapore waters.

We hope that the evidence of the wonderful marine life in our waters will further serve as a reminder for future generations to treasure the rich marine biodiversity that surrounds our little red dot.

For more information on the story of Willy, you can find it at the Nature Society Singapore’s newsletter, The Pangolin, Volume 7, 1994.

Sketch of False Killer Whale Skull

Sketch of Pseudorca crassidens head. 1866. Source: Recent memoirs on the Cetacea. Author: W.W.

Swimming Ashore

Oceanic Inspirations

Whale Picture on Lawn

The wooden whale on the lawn near LKCNHM. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Have you visited us recently?  For those who have, you may have noticed a whale sculpture on the lawn near the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) signage just before you enter the museum.

Ever wondered what the story is behind the sculpture?   

When news of the dead sperm whale emerged last July, a team from LKCNHM was dispatched to salvage its remains. The sperm whale came to be known as Jubilee as she was found on Singapore’s golden jubilee year, SG50.The carcass of the female sperm whale from Jurong Island was to trigger a flurry of actions ranging from tributes, features and pledges of support for the whale to become a major exhibit within LKCNHM. 

Older generations of visitors to the old National Museum may remember the awesome baleen whale exhibit hanging from the ceiling.This whale was stranded at Malacca in June 1892 and was given to Malaysia in 1974. When the new natural history museum was mooted,  there were plans to bring the whale back to Singapore. But in an ironic twist of fate, news of Jubilee’s stranding was to change the course of Singapore’s natural history forever.  

Aileen

Sculptor Ms Aileen Toh with her masterpiece during the repository on 11 April 2016. Photo by Chia Han Shen.

Upon hearing the news, Aileen Toh, a self-taught wood sculptor from the Sculpture Society of Singapore (SSS) decided to craft a beautiful and fitting tribute to Jubilee.  Ms Toh constructed a whale sculpture titled “Swim Ashore” using recycled wood from an old saga tree in Fort Canning Park. Her source of inspiration and admiration for the whale came from a sense of intrigue. As she pondered, “why would a large sea creature be found in the shallow waters of Jurong Island”, let alone Singapore?

Asked to describe what feelings she expresses when she sculpts. She says it depends on what she wants to raise awareness for. Ms Toh loves to sculpt things related to our natural environment. With “Swim Ashore”, she hopes to inspire people to be “loving and protecting the environment so that sea creatures have a lovely habitat to live in”.

Constructing the Whale

This collaboration between the National Parks Board (NParks) and SSS took place at the Wood Sculpture Symposium 2016 from 21 – 25 January 2016, where sculptors participated in transforming dead trees into beautiful sculptures. In nature nothing goes to waste, and that is where the beauty of nature lies.

Working tirelessly from 9-5, Ms Toh put in more than 40 hours of work into the creation of the sculpture, including preparing the wood block from a 30 m Saga tree that was removed from Fort Canning as it was old, termite infested, and posed a risk to park users. 

It was an arduous task, but she was thankfully supported by dedicated NParks staff, SSS members, students, and volunteers.   

Ms Toh was grateful that “NParks could arrange for people to assist in separating parts from the larger chunks of wood”. A strenuous effort that required manpower to firstly turn over the whale and a larger chain saw to “carve out the belly”.  A final coat of lacquer was painted to protect the sculpture from the elements and to give it a shiny finish.

At the end of the symposium, Ms Toh was happy for all the support that she received from sculpture students and for NPark’s support during the event. But that was not to be the end or the final resting place for the wooden whale. The guest of honour at the Symposium, Paul Tan, deputy CEO of the National Arts Council, then made the suggestion that the sculpture should be offered to LKCNHM.

 

The Move to LKCNHM

Preparations for the move then were made after Ms Toh contacted Professor Peter Ng, the head of LKCNHM, to donate her artwork to the museum. It was a mammoth task, but made light thanks to the movers from Rhema.  Heavy machinery such as the lorry crane was used to seamlessly and safely move the wooden whale to its new home . The sculpture was unveiled on the lawn of the LKCNHM on 19 February 2016.

Ms Toh still has a sense of excitement, and is “glad and honoured to have her masterpiece in the museum” alongside Jubilee. Delightedly, she exclaims “the museum is the best place this sculpture can be placed at”.

Although the whale was placed on the museum’s lawn, concerns were later raised that termites could destroy the sculpture and that the wood would decompose faster if it were left on the soil. A decision was made to move the model once more, this time onto the paved walkway. This provided Ms Toh a chance to trim, sand, and varnish the belly.

 

On 11 April 2016, the same team from Rhema helped out with the repository of the whale. The move took 5.5 hours of reshuffling and adjustments as it was at risk of being damaged should people mishandle it. The solution was to set cement to adhere and hold the sculpture to prevent further movement.

Despite the difficulties that beset the wooden whale, Toh’s message remains the same.  The sculpture’s plaque captures the undeterred optimism for us to appreciate and protect the fragile marine biological environment. “How did a deep sea creature end up near our offshore island? In my opinion, the marine biological environment and human activities are closely related. Ergo, the causes of their death are food for thought.”

Scientist Feature: Dr Tohru Naruse

 

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Dr Tohru Naruse at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM). Photo by Chia Han Shen. 

 

“Crabby” Research

When we think crustaceans, we think chilli or black pepper crab and how to satisfy our palates. There are, however, some who think crabs not to fill their appetites but to feed their curiosity.

Ever heard of tree-climbing crabs? Ever wondered just how many crustacean species there are?

Much of what we know about marine biodiversity and oceanic life come from the life work of scientists such as Dr Tohru Naruse, an Associate Professor from the Tropical Biosphere Research Center at the University of the Ryukyus, Japan.

Dr Naruse is a specialist in the study of brachyurans. Brachyurans are a suborder of crustaceans that are referred to as true crabs. These crabs—characterised by a short tail and a reduced abdomen—are amongst Dr Naruse’s passion.

His current project at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) to document and examine crabs of the genus Labuanium (Family Sesarmidae) is evidence of this. These nocturnal tree-climbing crab species which consume plant and animal matter are found in mangrove forests all over Southeast Asia. To date 13 species have been discovered and described.

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Labuanium trapezoideum (H.Milne Edwards, 1837), a tree-climbing crab specimen being examined by Dr Naruse. Photo by Dr Tohru Naruse.

Dr Naruse’s first visit to Singapore was the day before 11 Sept 2001. Since then, he has been a frequent and well-known visitor to LKCNHM with at least a visit once a year.

His collaboration with the head of LKCNHM, Professor Peter Ng—also an expert in crab taxonomy and biology—has borne much fruit.

This included a 6-month stay studying brachyurans in the museum’s collection, and later as a research fellow at the Department of Biological Sciences from October 2006 to December 2008.

Boyhood Passion

Dr Naruse’s interest in nature stems from a boyhood passion. In his youth, he explored the picturesque mountains and rivers that surrounded his home in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, on the main island of Honshu, Japan. Here, he would encounter a myriad of insects, freshwater shrimps and fish.

It was only later in his university days that he would discover a genuine passion and deeper appreciation of brachyurans. As an undergraduate student about twenty years ago, Dr Naruse became interested in life found in freshwater and coral reef environments—particularly the crabs and prawns—as he waded through the islands collecting specimens.

Okinawa, an island in Japan’s south, is a tropical island that hosts Pacific coral reefs and is one of the nation’s hotspots for biodiversity. The proximity of the sea to the University of the Ryukyus made it an ideal oceanic research lab right at the doorstep of the university for Dr Naruse.

An independent researcher with the University of the Ryukyus, he enjoys collecting crab specimens from scuba diving around Okinawan waters. More importantly, he enjoys lending his expertise on crab specimens in both Japanese and international partnerships.

When asked about what he liked about the museum he said he “enjoys the company of international researchers” that the museum draws. This builds ties with them and “encourages the exchange of knowledge, information and data collection methods”.

In comparison to crustacean specimens collected from the Ryukyus and the surrounding Japanese maritime waters, Dr Naruse observes that there is “more diversity with crustaceans in Southeast Asia and discoveries in more tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean”.

His most memorable discovery was on an expedition to Christmas Island, Australia, where Professor Ng invited him to join the team from LKCNHM. There the team found a totally new species of crab, Christmaplax mirabillis. The finding on 15 February 2012 led to the team classifying this cave-dwelling species under a new family and genus. It is these finds that inspire Dr Naruse to continue with his research in brachyurans.

Research in brachyurans has taken him to places such as mesophotic zones, which are middle oceanic zones that have low light penetration. This zone ranges from 30-100 m below the ocean surface. Meso means middle and photic means light in Greek.

This research is conducted through technological advances in rebreathers and special diving equipment. With these technological breakthroughs, the opportunities to further understand the deeper depths of the oceans and the inhabitants of these zones have now been opened.

These avenues have made scientific exploration and research all the more tantalising. What exciting discoveries await Dr Naruse! Time can only tell. But what is clear is that this would not be the last time we see him at LKCNHM. We look forward to his return and whetting our appetite with his invaluable contribution in crab research.

 

Spot us in the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Science Annual Report 2014/2015!

The museum is proud to be prominently featured in the NUS Faculty of Science Annual Report 2014/2015. You can see photographs taken in and around the museum across the report, including our mural of specimens that was used as the backdrop of the Deanery Team.

Read the report here, or download it here.

002 20160111 FOS Annual Report 1 F T