Straits Times

[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.

093-20161107-st-mollusc-aliens-by-nth-csy-b-f-t

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

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.

ST Infographic: Diving into Whale Biology

The Straits Times created an infographic of the Singapore sperm whale that explains more about the way of life of this majestic creature, and what the museum discovered about her.

Sperm whales are one of the most capable divers of all mammals. How do they cope with the pressure, and find their food?

Explore the infographic and check out the exhibit starting 15 Mar 2016 at the museum!

020 20160312 Whale Infographic B F T

Image source: The Straits Times

‘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

ST: How to educate your children

A trip to the history museum opens new vistas for kids but is it all a little too much?

by Clara Chow

ST Illustration by Adam Lee

Wake up on a Sunday, convinced you have to do something educational with your children. Trawl websites for ideas.

Decide to go to Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Buy tickets online and print them out while still wearing your pyjamas.

Drag children, groaning, out of the house. Drive to the museum. Find it because it looks like a giant lump of moss-covered clay. Beat a beat-up Mazda to a prime parking space. Whole family cheers.

Hang out at the eco-roof garden until your allotted time of entry. Wrestle with the museum’s official app. Point out mangrove plants in the garden, the spores on the underside of fern leaves and fish fry in the ponds. Natter on.

Look up, and realise that the kids are squinting at their father’s iPhone screen in the bright sunlight. Throw a fit.

Go back downstairs; go through the turnstiles. Feel a slight sense of urgency: Everything must be examined in less than two hours, before your time is up.

Battle other parents to lift the almost-six-year-old up to the eye pieces of microscopes to look at bacteria. Keep opening your mouth to pontificate about fungi and molluscs. Keep stopping in mid-sentence, when you realise your kids have run off. Look sheepishly at strangers.

Give up and, alone, examine the bank of creatures preserved in jars along a back-lit wall. Marvel at sea whips, daisy sponges, fat-armed jellyfish and a Reeve’s turtle – long dead, and suspended in chemicals and time. Gawk and shudder a little at worm specimens.

Flit back and forth between display case and wall captions – a busy bee soaking up facts. You are taller than most of the kids crowding around but you feel eight again. You remember the excitement of school excursions, the thrill of looking at something other than textbooks.

Try and ignore the fact that your two sons are having pretend lightsabre fights and running in circles somewhere in the biodiversity gallery, their footsteps echoing. Pretend not to know them.

Go for micro over macro. Remain strangely unimpressed by the expensive dinosaur bones rising like cranes up to the ceiling in the centre of the room.

Systematically catalogue every tiny cowrie shell and beetle with your eyes. Imagine you are a camera. Thai zebra tarantula. Click. Crucifix swimming crab. Click. Carpenter bee. Click.

File away facts to use, either casually in conversation or in some literary short story you will one day write: Jewel beetles (Chrysochroa toulgoeti) are shiny and metallic-looking, not because of pigmentation but because of the way their exoskeletons reflect light.

One of your children comes to you and begs to go home.

Too late, you remember that he has a deep phobia of snakes, and an aversion to other reptiles and insects. This effectively rules out more than two-thirds of the exhibits at the museum.

You tell him you will steer him to the mammal section.

Tell him it is safe there. You put your hands over his eyes, and your husband takes one of his hands, his younger brother the other and, together, the entire family – like some strange new eight-legged and six-eyed insect – crawl slowly, excruciatingly, across the atrium, under the mirthless gaze of the dinosaurs.

Along the way, you try to get your children to stroke a panel of possum fur because it is soft like a dream. The elder son screams because he spots a scrap of bleached snake skin right next to the fur.

You realise that sand dollars are actual living things – not lost money on the beach, which is what you always pictured them as being when reading about them in books.

The clash between old ways and philosophies, and new identities and nationalities, intensifies after you climb the stairs to the Heritage Gallery. Singapore founder Sir Stamford Raffles’ stuffed birds and monkeys sit quietly, a few cabinets down from a drawer containing a Singapore $1 bill featuring a photo of a black-naped tern taken by Datuk Loke Wan Tho, who built up Cathay Organisation.

The children press buttons in the sound booth. They have exhausted the possibilities of the dinosaur app.

Standing in front of showcases, you wonder about the Victorian obsession for pigeonholing dead creatures into curio cases that

the museum’s collection sprung from. You laugh inwardly at the arrogance of men, colonial masters, trying to fix their world, insisting on stasis, even as

Nature refuses to be pinned down. You see the error of your ways, trying to herd your children’s imagination through life, so they learn the way you do.

Meditating in front of the jars of pickled snakes, you overhear one young man telling a few others that the python coiled up over there has two penises, and one of them is showing.

“Why?” you blurt out, before you can stop yourself.

“Why what?” he asks, startled.

“What is the second one for?” you ask.

“I don’t really know,” he replies.

Months later, you will still be wondering about this. You will look it up on the Internet and find an explanation: Female snakes are able to control which male snake they mate with will fertilise their eggs, so having two penises helps the male increase their sperm count, maximising their chances of reproduction. You will realise you need to wait for the younger son to grow up before you have someone to tell it to.

But in the museum, you nod at the young men, who scurry away from you, embarrassed.

What you must do next is this: Gather your children. Tell them it’s time to go home. Stop by the gift shop if necessary, and buy yourself a piece of petrified wood.

Drive away, and cheer again as a family when you realise that parking is free. Promise yourself to do this again.

That some of it will sink in.

Some day.

Copyrighted to Singapore Press Holdings Limited – Straits Times 27 July 2015

Natural history museums thrill but also scare

Museum tour of the macabre ST30062015

Natural history museums are a time machine but they are actually ghoulish places too

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.”

Behind the scenes at new natural history museum

23022015 ST

Behind the scenes at new natural history museum

More than 500,000 lots of specimens have purpose-built home at NUS

A RARE golden babirusa specimen stood encased in glass in a dusty little corner of the National University of Singapore (NUS) for decades.

The pig artefact, collected in 1913 in Indonesia, will soon be watching over something bigger and better when it takes its place at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, located next to the University Cultural Centre at NUS.

Before the move, however, it had to undergo at least two weeks of preparation. First, it had to be placed in a waterproof box to protect it from condensation. Then the prized wild pig was frozen at -21 deg C to kill mites or insects, before being progressively thawed to about 15 deg C.

All this, just to prepare one specimen for its new home at Singapore’s first and only natural history museum, slated to open its doors in April.

The museum will be a treasure trove of the region’s rich natural heritage, housing animal specimens and fossils from the vaults of the former Raffles Museum, which dates back to 1849.

More than 500,000 lots of specimens were moved – from quirky creatures like an eight-legged piglet to locally extinct species like the three-striped ground squirrel.

And even though not all will go on display – more than 90 per cent will be kept as part of the research collection for academics, students and scientists – they all had to be packed and prepped for the massive move, which involved the museum’s seven curators, a team of about 10 professional art movers and about five student assistants and museum specialists.

Dr Tan Heok Hui, one of the curators, said the collection could be broadly divided into two categories – dry and wet.

The dry category will be housed on the museum’s fourth floor, and consists of plants, birds, mammals, fish and coral specimens, among others.

Like the golden babirusa, specimens in this category had to undergo extensive preparation work.

Moving the wet collection, which included specimens kept in a liquid medium of about 75 per cent ethanol (a flammable liquid), involved getting permits from the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The wet category will be housed on levels two and three of the new museum, which has purpose-built rooms.

The curators are confident that the move will be completed by June, although specimens for public viewing will be ready by its official opening.

The research collection, however, will be opened only in phases for scientific use, said Dr Tan.

He added: “I once visited a bookshop in Vietnam and found that the books were arranged by size – I couldn’t find anything.

“It is the same for the research collection. If nothing is in its place, information cannot be extracted and is as good as lost.”

audreyt@sph.com.sg

©Singapore Press Holdings Ltd