Raffles Bulletin of Zoology

Visiting Scientist Feature: Dr. Evan Quah

A while back, we hosted Dr. Evan Quah from Universiti Sains Malaysia, who was here to examine snake specimens in the Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC).

Dr. Quah is a herpetologist with a research focus on the systematics and biogeography of Malaysian herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles). He is also an Associate Editor (Herpetology) for the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, a peer-reviewed, open access journal published by LKCNHM. During his visit here, he examined about 60 snake specimens in the ZRC, as part of his ongoing research on snake diversity in Peninsular Malaysia.

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

Childhood Passion

Dr. Quah’s interest in snakes and reptiles began from childhood, where he was “somehow drawn” to the creatures, and even kept reptiles as pets in his home.

His research takes him places far and wide for field work—such as camping out in the Cambodian wilderness for a week looking for snakes.

Due to their speed and ability to camouflage amongst vegetation, snakes are rather difficult to spot, especially to the untrained eye. However, years of experience in the field, as well as a “natural instinct” have made it easier for Dr. Quah to spot snakes while out on field work.

Poisonous Misunderstanding

In general, snakes are commonly perceived to be dangerous animals. However, Dr. Quah asserts that the “highly interesting” creatures are more than just their bad reputation.

“They have no limbs, but yet are capable of living in every single habitat, except for the extreme polar regions,” he said.

Some species of snakes also possess the ability to ‘fly’. In Singapore, Chrysopelea paradisi—also known as the paradise tree snake or flying tree snake—is able to glide from tree to tree by flattening its body and launching in the air like a parachute.

Snakes too play an important role in the ecosystem. They act as a natural form of pest control by preying on harmful insects, as well as pests such as mice and rats.

Unanswered Questions

This is not Dr. Quah’s first visit to the museum, having visited back when the museum was at its old premises. He said that his 8-day visit here was highly fruitful.

However, Dr. Quah also mentioned that while there is plenty of research on snake taxonomy, still not much is known about the behaviour and ecology of snakes in Southeast Asia.

“There are still lots of questions that have yet to be answered,” he said.

We look forward to the interesting findings on snakes that come from Dr. Quah’s research, as well as that from any (current and future) herpetologists!

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).

A Crabtivating New Find

A new baoyu (Chinese term for abalone) has been discovered by the Head of the Museum, Prof. Peter Ng, along with Dr. Ho Ping-Ho from the National Taiwan Ocean University, in the South China Sea.

Now, before you get too excited about trying a new type of abalone at your Chinese New Year reunion dinner next January, the aforementioned baoyu refers to a pea crab named Orthotheres baoyu. The new species of pea crab, named after the Chinese name for abalone, was found in an 8.5 cm large abalone obtained from the waters of the Tungsha islands in the South China Sea.

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Pea crabs, just as their name suggests, are soft-bodied crabs that are about the size of a pea. The tiny critters are also commonly referred to as oyster crabs, as they can be often found residing inside the shells of oysters, as well as other mollusks such as mussels and abalone.

As they are kleptoparasites, the adult pea crabs live within their ‘host’ and feed on food that trickles in. Due to their reliance on their hosts for both food and protection, pea crabs do not leave their hosts very often. In fact, the females never leave their hosts, while the males do leave occasionally in order to find a mate.

While the process of how a male pea crab finds a mate have been puzzling scientists for a long time, a study from the University of Auckland have found that they ‘tickle’ the opening of a host housing a potential mate, until it lets them enter. Video footage from infrared cameras in the lab showed that the pea crabs spent up to four hours tickling away at the hosts containing female pea crabs. Wow, that is indeed a lot of effort and dedication!

Original Paper:

Ng PKL & Ho P-H (2016) Orthotheres baoyu, a new species of pea crab (Crustacea: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae) associated with abalones from Tungsha Island, Taiwan; with notes on the genus. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 64: 229–241 (http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/images/data/raffles_bulletin_of_zoology/vol64/64rbz229-241.pdf)

Other References:

Trottier O & Jeffs AG (2015) Mate locating and access behavior of the parasitic pea crab, Nepinnotheres novaezelandiae, an important parasite of the mussel Perna canaliculus. Parasite, 22: 13. (http://www.parasite-journal.org/articles/parasite/pdf/2015/01/parasite140113.pdf)

Crab Tickles Shellfish for Hours to Find Love. National Geographic (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150508-crabs-tickle-shellfish-science-animals-new-Zealand/)

A Crabby Acquisition

Here at the museum, most of our specimens are collected from the research field, received through donations from other museums, or via reports of dead animals by the public.

In some instances, we also collect specimens through more ‘conventional’ means — the market! In fact, we often make it a point to visit local markets in our various field sites across Southeast Asia, as you never know what interesting critter will pop up. After all, the Sulawesi Coelacanth (Latimeria menadoensis), was discovered by Dr. Mark Erdmann in a Manado fish market while on his honeymoon!

Recently, Prof Peter Ng, LKCNHM head, collected an interesting specimen through similar means. He was having dinner at Turf City one evening when he came across an interesting live crab in one of the aquariums, and promptly bought the crab from the seafood joint. Saved from a certain fate of ending up on a dinner plate, the specimen was instead destined for the collection shelves at the museum.

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Top, bottom and close up views of the Golden King Crab. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

This crab was later identified as a Golden King Crab (Lithodes aequispinus). According to Prof Ng, adults of this species can be as large, if not larger than their more famous counterparts, the Alaskan King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus).

Even though it looks crab-like, it is not a ‘true’ crab but actually related to hermit crabs. If you are confused, count the number of legs seen in this crab, and compare it with the mangrove mud crab, Scylla spp.  🙂

The crab’s origins were even more of a surprise as it was said to be from Korea, and if so, may be the first record of the species there.

Golden king crabs are not only found in East Asian waters which includes countries like South Korea, but can also be found in the Northern Pacific Ocean ranging from British Columbia in Canada all the way to Japan.

The crab is now awaiting final preparations at our laboratory before it is added to our wet collections along with other crustacean specimens. It will be invaluable as a future research specimen for comparative work and DNA studies.

The next time you visit a market, keep your eyes peeled out for interesting and unusual animals — they may be right under your nose!

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 2016 Supplement No. 33 out: Distribution of and conservation priorities for Bornean small carnivores and cats

The second Raffles Bulletin of Zoology supplement from the 1st Borneo Carnivore Symposium (BCS): Road Towards Conservation Action Plans held at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia in June 2011 is now available. Supplement No. 33: Distribution of and conservation priorities for Bornean small carnivores and cats follows RBZ Supplement No. 28 published in 2013.

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This supplement provides a road map for better protection of Borneo’s cats and small carnivores that are threatened by habitat loss, illegal hunting and fires. Majority of the papers are multi-author works by a team of international researchers lead by the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Species Survival Commission.

Fifteen small carnivoran and five wild cat papers present the predicted distribution of these 20 Bornean small carnivorans and cats from the analysis of collaborative field data. This includes rare and threatened species such as the flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), Hose’s civet (Diplogale hosei), and otter civet (Cynogale bennettii). Additional papers discuss zooarchaeology and carnivoran conservation planning on Borneo by identifying key carnivoran landscapes, research priorities, and conservation interventions.

Dr. Andreas Wilting, scientist at the IZW and lead editor of this supplement sums up the project, “The goal of the BCS was to understand better the distribution and conservation needs of Bornean cats and small carnivores and subsequently, to enable targeted conservation efforts to those carnivores which are most threatened. We achieved this goal through a collaborative effort of the Borneo Carnivore Consortium, a network of more than 60 national and international scientists, conservationists and naturalists working on Borneo.”

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Binturong from Deramakot Forest Reserve, Sabah. Photo by A. Mohamed / IZW, SFD.