LKCNHM 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.

‘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

What’s that animal called in Hokkien?

What's That Animal Called in Hokkien - ST 15062015

WHAT’S in a name? Plenty, when compiling a list of animals in Hokkien.

What started out as a hobby for two curators at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum has evolved into a labour of love that documents, for the first time, Hokkien animal names as they are used here.

Called Minnan (Hokkien) Animal Names Used In Singapore, the 58-page directory was published as an e-book on the museum’s website earlier this month, and can be downloaded for free.

Apart from common translations like kau (dog), the directory of more than 300 animal names, complete with photos, lists some less-heard-of ones, such as hai tur (literally translated as sea pig, which refers to the dolphin) and even mythical creatures like the hong (phoenix).

Its main aim is to document Hokkien animal names and their pronunciations as they are used in Singapore, said Mr Tan Siong Kiat, 41, one of the two men behind the project. The other is Mr Kelvin Lim, 48.

“The translations were compiled from memory, experience, and from Hokkien speakers who are mainly the older members of our families and social circles,” said Mr Tan.

The names are not simply direct translations from Mandarin. Rather, they are colloquial names used by ancestors to refer to animals, and both men stressed that the list is “neither comprehensive nor authoritative” .

For example, the tapir, a herbivorous mammal that people seldom encounter, does not appear to have a Hokkien name yet, although the curators admit it is possible that they just “have not met or talked to anybody who knows”.

“People have come forward to tell us (animal) names that have been omitted,” said Mr Tan, and more names will be added, should there be a second edition of the book.

The directory could be a resource for those keen on learning more about Hokkien, although it is not a guide on how to speak it, the writers said.

Nature lovers and guides who talk to older folk may also find it useful.

“Our grandmothers wouldn’t understand us if we tried to talk to them about interesting animals using their English names,” noted Mr Tan.

The directory had its beginnings in mid-2013, when a volunteer at the museum, then called Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, wanted to learn more about Hokkien, said Mr Tan.

So Mr Tan and Mr Lim, both native Hokkien speakers, started conversing with her in Hokkien. These conversations sparked the idea to compile a list of Hokkien animal names.

Said Mr Tan: “Singlish now seems to be the lingua franca for young Singaporeans.

“We hope the book will be useful for those of Hokkien descent who are interested in discovering their roots.”

Undergraduate Sean Yap, 23, a volunteer guide at the museum as well as with Naked Hermit Crabs, which holds nature tours for the public, believes the directory will help him connect with his audience.

“When guiding, we try to be as conversational and colloquial as possible, and it really helps when you can connect with the people and how they view wildlife,” he said.

Businessman Michael Jow, 39, the moderator of the Facebook group, Revival of Non-Mandarin Chinese Vernaculars in Singapore, said that the directory is useful.

Mr Jow, who is also the leader of the Singapore Hokkien Meetup Group, said that the directory gives students a good background, with its list of “colloquial terms used by our ancestors”.

The directory is available at lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/images/pdfs/lkcnhm_ebooks/singapore_minnan_animal_names.pdf

LKCNHM Now Open to the Public!

We’re open to the public starting today!

An orderly queue stretched out across our atrium this morning and we welcomed our first excited visitors to the museum at 10:00 am.

0

Under gasps of “wow, that’s cool!”, and people looking in wonder at the exhibits and dinosaurs, we hope all our visitors would enjoy the LKCNHM galleries and leave with a deeper appreciation of biodiversity and our natural heritage.

0 stamps

PS. For today only: the friendly team from Singapore Post are here until 6:00 pm with special commemorative LKCNHM cachets in our atrium. You can bring your LKCNHM first day covers here to get them stamped or purchase them on the spot.

1 1/2-hour tickets: New museum explains why

20150421 ST

By Audrey Tan

A walk through Singapore’s first and only natural history museum is meant to be a serene experience, much like taking a walk in a lush forest.

That is why the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which opens to the public next Tuesday, is barring selfie sticks and flash photography. It is also selling tickets for 11/2-hour slots and not daily passes allowing guests entry at any time they choose.

“We calculated that the whole gallery experience will be between one and 11/2 hours, so we calibrated the slots on that basis,” museum head Peter Ng told The Straits Times. “Because of the initial interest, we did not want this place to be ‘free for all’ – because then guests would not get the same experience.”

There are six such sessions a day, with the first at 10am and the last at 5.30pm. Each slot can take about 200 people, and tickets must be pre-booked through ticketing agent Sistic and will not be available for sale on site.

Tickets cost $20 per adult and $12 per child, but Singaporeans and permanent residents enjoy discounted rates of $15 per adult and $8 for a child. As of 6pm yesterday, 1,818 tickets had been sold for visits from April 28 to May 31.

Professor Ng stressed that guests would not be turned away the minute their time runs out. The time limit is an administrative guideline for selling tickets, to control the crowd in the 2,000 sq m exhibition space, he added.

Visitors to the museum, which is located within the National University of Singapore campus in Kent Ridge, can browse a treasure trove of 2,000 artefacts in its biodiversity and heritage galleries.

They include the genuine fossils of three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, which are among the largest creatures to roam the earth 150 million years ago.

The $46 million museum building was funded through philanthropic gifts, with the Lee Foundation donating $25 million.

In response to netizens who ask why the museum is charging an admission fee when most other museums here do not, Prof Ng said it was because it is not an institution under the National Heritage Board. The statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth runs six museums here, including the National Museum of Singapore, to which Singaporeans and permanent residents enjoy free admission.

“The museum needs to be financially independent. The endowments and donations have been able to subsidise a large chunk of operating costs, but not fully. We therefore need ticketing to offset some of those costs,” Prof Ng said.

Mr Muhammad Hafiz’zan Shah, 30, a veterinary nurse, noted that there are other museums with a similar policy, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which issues one-hour passes from March to August. He said: “Having a limited timeframe will definitely help with overcrowding and crowd control.”

Sunday Times

Make a date with the dinos

The creatures are waiting. Over 2,000 specimens to be exact, ranging from majestic dinosaur fossils to a bird in the collection of famed British naturalist Alfred Wallace, will be on show to the public on April 28 at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Chang Ai-Lien takes a look inside, and checks out the book which tells its story.

Early days

The idea of setting up a museum in Singapore goes back to 1823, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution. Formally established as the Raffles Library and Museum in 1878, Singapore’s natural history museum began life in Stamford Road in 1887, exhibiting preserved animal specimens from South-east Asia. Over the years, it became known as the Raffles Museum and National Museum – which had collections of natural history, anthropology and art.

In 1972, after it split from the National Museum, it was often referred to as the Raffles Collection or the Raffles Natural History Collection. After it became ensconced in the Department of Zoology at the National University of Singapore, it became known as the Zoological Reference Collection and, from 1998, formed the core of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

Now it has found a permanent home at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, where the displays, such as this one which includes crocodiles, and a Komodo dragon skeleton, are designed to evoke excitement and interest in the diversity of life. Rather than cluttering the displays with text, the researchers behind it created a special app that allows visitors to get details on each exhibit using their smartphones.

Source: Of Whales And Dinosaurs

The whale that got away

In 1892, the museum acquired a 42-foot (12.8m) skeleton of an Indian fin whale which died after being stranded near Malacca. Lack of space at the museum prevented the skeleton from being properly mounted for display, and it remained in storage for the next 15 years. In 1907, the skeleton was finally mounted. Missing bones – a scapula, the “hands”, and several vertebrae and ribs – were modelled out of wood and plaster of paris and the whole skeleton “was suspended by steel ropes from the ceiling”. When unveiled, it was undoubtedly “the most striking exhibit in the Zoological gallery”. The museum now had on display a specimen of the world’s largest creature in its galleries.

In May 1974, after the National Museum gave up its natural history collection to the Science Centre, the whale was taken down, dismantled into three pieces and sent by truck as a gift to the Muzium Negara (National Museum) in Kuala Lumpur.

Source: Of Whales And Dinosaurs

Dino delights

Three dinosaurs will be the highlight of the museum.

Skeletons of the three diplodocid sauropods, some of the biggest creatures to walk on earth some 150 million years ago, were found together at a quarry in Wyoming in the United States, and are more than 80 per cent complete.

Two of them – Apollonia and Prince – were adults measuring 24m and 27m respectively from head to tail, while the baby dinosaur, Twinky, was 12m long. After they were uncovered, the bones were first wrapped in paper towels and encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast. They were then moved to a lab where the casing was removed. Once the bones were exposed, the rock was chipped off, and a strengthening liquid was added to preserve and harden the fossils.

In Singapore, the bones were authenticated by putting them through CT scans. Then the dinosaurs were pieced together again on a custom-built frame, with missing pieces filled in with resin parts made from casts.

Items on display at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum include crocodiles and a Komodo dragon skeleton. — PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Tickets to see rare dinosaur skeletons go on sale

30032015 ST

ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

THOSE who want to be among the first to see the rare dinosaur skeletons at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum can now book tickets.

Singapore’s first and only dedicated natural history museum will open its doors on April 28, and tickets go on sale in advance from today.

They will not be on sale at the door but only via ticketing agent Sistic.

This is to help with crowd control, as only up to 300 guests are allowed in for each of the six daily sessions at the museum, which is located next to the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Tickets cost up to $20 for adults and $12 for children aged three to 12. For Singaporeans and permanent residents, tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for children.

Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new museum.

Prince and Apollo are adults and Twinky is a baby. They were found together and could well be a family.

Prince is the biggest at 4m tall and 27m long, while Twinky is the smallest at 12m long.

The museum acquired them in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The skeletons are more than 80 per cent complete – a rarity as far as dinosaur discoveries go.

In all, visitors will get to see 2,000 specimens, including leopard cats that have undergone taxidermy and a rare 200-year- old tusk of a narwhal, a marine mammal known as the “unicorn of the ocean”.

The opening of the 7,500 sq m museum will bring to fruition more than five years of labour by NUS professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng, who led efforts to build such a facility and helped to raise $46 million for it in 2010.

The building fund came largely from the Lee Foundation, which gave $25 million.

Before 2010, there had long been calls for Singapore to have its own stand-alone natural history museum to showcase its rich natural heritage, especially after animal and plant exhibits from the old National Museum made way for art and ethnographic displays.

At the new natural history museum, a 2,000 sq m space open to the public will house a biodiversity gallery and a heritage gallery.

The main biodiversity gallery, where the dinosaur skeletons are located, takes up the first floor. It is arranged thematically and will have sections on marine cycles, mammals and fungi.

While the museum has a strong South-east Asian focus, the prehistoric era when dinosaurs roamed the earth is not neglected, said museum curator Marcus Chua, 31. “The dinosaurs and model of the dodo in the museum are reminders of extinction.”

Not all of the museum’s exhibits are extinct or dead – there will be live scorpions in the biodiversity gallery’s arthropod section and mudskippers in the fish section.

Visitors can observe animals rarely encountered in the wild in a naturalistic setting, said Mr Chua.

Just above the biodiversity hall is the heritage gallery, which showcases the pioneers of Singapore’s nature scene, such as ornithologist Guy Charles Madoc – a Briton who illicitly completed An Introduction To Malayan Birds while incarcerated at Changi Prison during World War II.

NUS life sciences undergraduate Randolph Quek, 24, cannot wait to see the dinosaur skeletons.

“As an ecology student, I also want to check out the other specimens,” he said.

“Apart from watching documentaries, the museum is a good way to get people aware of the biodiversity we have here.”

audreyt@sph.com.sg

What visitors need to know

Opening hours

* 10am to 7pm from Tuesdays to Sundays, and on all public holidays

Standard rates

* Adult: $20

* Child (three to 12 years old): $12

Local resident rates (Singaporeans and PRs)

* Adult: $15

* Child (three to 12 years old), student, senior citizen, full-time national serviceman, person with disabilities: $8

* NUS staff and students: Free. Admission subject to availability, prior booking must be made on a website which will be set up.

Tickets

* Tickets can be bought up to one month in advance and will be sold only through Sistic at http://www.sistic.com.sg or at authorised counters.

* Tickets will not be sold at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

* Tickets are sold for 11/2-hour sessions, starting from 10am.

Last admission is at 5.30pm.

* Selfie sticks are not allowed in the museum.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will open its doors on April 28 and tickets go on sale from today via Sistic. Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new facility.

Singapore Press Holdings Limited

APS2

Online database captures S’pore’s rich biodiversity

24022015 ST

Dr Ang Yuchen (left), a post-doctoral researcher helming the new site, with Professor Rudolf Meier. — PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Online database captures S’pore’s rich biodiversity

Audrey Tan audreyt@sph.com.sg

A NEW online database has been launched compiling research on how Singapore’s flora and fauna interact with each other.

Called Animals and Plants of Singapore, it is managed by Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and went live on the museum’s website this month.

Users can click on an animal and find links to information on the plants or animals it feeds on – though work on the site is ongoing and not all species have links in place yet.

The database provides a name and a photograph of each species. For further information, users must click on the links to external sources, such as pages created by the National University of Singapore‘s life sciences classes, or the museum’s Singapore Biodiversity Records – an online collection of “flora and fauna in Singapore, including sightings of uncommon or rare species”.

Professor Rudolf Meier, deputy head of the museum, said the goal is to understand how different species interact to sustain Singapore’s green spaces.

“Animals and Plants of Singapore will track these interdependencies by linking species pages of prey and predators, or plants and pollinators,” he said.

“If we had a dedicated person or team doing the research, it would be as time-consuming as writing an academic paper for each species. But by tapping already-published research and observations, the site can be updated more frequently.”

Prof Meier hopes the site will make it easier for people to appreciate Singapore’s diverse ecosystem and give them a reliable source of information.

Data is cross-referenced with the museum’s stable of experts before being uploaded, and the site lists the names of the experts who identified the species.

The database now records more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, but Prof Meier hopes to more than double this figure by the end of the year. He estimates that there could be between 50,000 and 100,000 multicellular plant and animal species here.

Studies are under way to establish this, such as Singapore’s first comprehensive marine biodiversity survey, led by the National Parks Board (NParks). It began five years ago and is expected to be completed by May this year.

Dr Lena Chan, director of NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre, said: “Biodiversity databases are very important as they are historical records of plants and animals. These databases can be set up only if long-term monitoring surveys are carried out.”

She said the museum’s new database will complement NParks’ records, including its online Biodiversity and Environment Database System, which was started in 2011 and records 5,000 species of flora and 750 species of fauna.

“Together, we can generate greater awareness and appreciation of the rich biodiversity that we have,” she said.

Animals and Plants of Singapore, designed for desktop browsing, is at http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/APS