LKCNHM News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Visiting Scientist Feature: Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera

Three years of planning, and multiple expeditions consisting of sitting in the dark depths of the deep sea for around eight hours, enclosed in a small submersible. It took all these extensive efforts (and more) for Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera to become the first person to photograph and capture footage of the legendary giant squid (Architeuthis dux) in its natural habitat, 900 m underwater.

When asked about his feelings upon seeing the giant squid live in front of him for the first time, Dr. Kubodera said that he remembers being really excited while viewing the giant squid in the dark through a camera monitor, and being so eager to see it for himself.

“I really wanted to see it with my own eyes (and not just through the monitor),” he said.

Thus, he asked the pilot of the submersible he was in to switch on its bright lights, despite knowing that there is a risk that the giant squid may be scared off by the lights. However, the squid did not flee, but instead continued to feed on the bait that they used to lure it in, allowing Dr. Kubodera to watch it live for a total of about 23 minutes.

Dr. Kubodera, a zoologist from the National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan, is currently here on a research visit to help identify squid beaks that were found in the stomach of our sperm whale. Over the past few days, he has been working with our Mammal Curator, Mr. Marcus Chua, to identify around 1,800 squid beaks.

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Dr. Kubodera (left) with Mr. Chua (right) in the LKCNHM research lab. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Over the weekend, in conjunction with the launch of our new exhibition “Out of the Water” and book “Whale out of Water”, there will be a public talk by Dr. Kubodera, where he will share his journey towards photographing and filming the giant squid. All seats have been filled as of press time.

The new exhibition features displays and stories on the giant squid, sperm whales as well as other marine creatures. The book “Whale out of Water” documents the journey we took from recovering our sperm whale, to putting her skeleton up for display in the gallery.

We look forward to seeing you here!

We also thank Dr. Kubodera for telling us interesting insights about his giant squid journey, and hope to see him again!

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.

‘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

Media Coverage of the Sperm Whale Found off Jurong Island

Missed the media coverage of our conservation efforts on the sperm whale?

Here is a compilation of the media coverage on the sperm whale so far!

Straits Times 2015-07-11Zaobao 2015-07-12

©Straits Times                                        ©Lianhe Zaobao

ZB 01082015Wanbao 2015-07-15

©Lianhe Zaobao                                                        ©Lianhe Wanbao

Straits Times 2015-07-16Today 01082015 Museum hopes donors will make a whale of a difference

©Straits Times                                                            ©Today

Straits Times 2015-07-15 Wanbao 12072015

©Straits Times                                            ©Lianhe Wanbao

Today 18072015

©Today

Copyright of the articles belong to the respective media outlets.

Online news content:

Dead sperm whale found near Jurong Island

Dead whale could take ‘several weeks’ to dissect: Museum

Dead sperm whale was a female adult: NUS research team

‘Good progress’ in dissecting sperm whale carcass

Whale carcass found in Singapore: S$1m drive for preservation

Museum hopes donors will make a whale of a difference

Dead sperm whale was adult female: Museum

Dead whale could take ‘several weeks’ to dissect: Museum

Carcass of sperm whale found near Jurong Island

Sperm whale found beached at Jurong Island

Dead whale named ‘The Singapore Whale’ by Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Researchers race against time to dissect sperm whale carcass that washed up at Jurong Island

Whale of a find