LKCNHM News

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).

blsea_poster-A3_5

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!

RBZ ed team-LKCNHM-22Mar2017-02.jpg

(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.

Kubodera-Marcus-LKCNHM-10Mar2017

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

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.

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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.

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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.”