marine

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.

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.

Orthotheres baoyu - edited.jpg

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/)

Visit from old friends: the Orchards

We begin this month with another crustacean themed post — a report on the visit of Max and Beverly Orchard on their first visit to our new building!

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The Orchards during their recent visit. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Max was the Chief Ranger of Christmas Island National Park prior to retirement, and author of ‘Crabs of Christmas Island‘. Given his fondness of crabs, it was only natural that he and Prof. Peter Ng forged a strong collaboration. The Orchards have been a focal part of the Museum’s expeditions to Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands from 2010 to 2012, culminating in a supplement in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology highlighting the Biodiversity and Management Challenges of both islands. It yielded many new discoveries of crustacean species both on land and out at sea. See more examples from our old blog here.

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The Christmas Island/Cocos Keeling 2012 Team. From left: J.C. Mendoza, Tan Siong Kiat, Naruse Tohru, Joelle Lai, Tan Heok Hui, Peter Ng, Leo Tan, Fujita Yoshihisa with Christmas Islands Parks Officer, Max Orchard (third from right).

Amongst the discoveries in the anchialine caves on Christmas Island, were two new species, named Orcovita orchardorum  and Orcovita hicksi. These two crabs were the first record Orcovita in the Indian Ocean and Australia.

It was a good afternoon of catching up, and planning future research trips to Christmas Island. We miss Christmas Island very much, and hope to be back soon!

Orcovita orchardorum was named in honour of the Orchards who have been dedicated their lives spearheading conservation initiatives to safeguard the island’s unique biodiversity.

red crab Max orchard

Christmas Island’s world famous red crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis). Photo by Max Orchard.

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.

Lithodes aequispinus-S Korea-13May2016-148.4mmCW-comp2

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!

Visit by Tony Wu, Underwater Photographer & Naturalist

April has been a busy month for us at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. We have had many special visitors and exciting happenings such as the repository of the wooden whale sculpture and the donation of a false killer whale jaw from Underwater World Singapore.

One such guest was Mr Tony Wu. Mr Wu is a freelance photo-naturalist who specialises in underwater photography. His assignments have taken him to many exotic locations and wonderfully unexpected encounters with nature. Mr Wu also contributed some excellent photos showcasing various deadly threats that whales face all over the world  to the information panels of our new sperm whale exhibit, Jubilee, which are featured below.

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Featured in this photograph and flanking Mr Wu are his long-time friends, Dr Tan Heok Hui (Operations Officer) and Dr Tan Swee Hee (Facilities Manager) posing against the beautiful backdrop of our wall mural. Mr Wu was guided by both Drs Tan in the gallery, and in his own words, ‘geeked out many times’.

THH-Tony Wu-TSH-LKCNHM-06April2016 edit

Besides being an underwater photographer by profession, Mr Wu is an avid traveller who organises trips for visitors to places that are off the beaten track to experience the wonders of the marine world. These include sessions of marine photography and up-close encounters with whales!

For Mr Wu, photography is not just a career but also a purposeful medium in which he hopes that it will convey positive and lasting experiences of oceanic marvels to his audiences.  He hopes that his viewers will gain a deeper appreciation of the world and better realisation of ourselves in the process, just as he himself experienced when he embarked on this path of diving into the deep blue.

More details on his visit to the museum and about himself can be found here:

http://www.tonywublog.com/journal/jubilee-the-sperm-whale-singapore-natural-history-museum

http://www.tonywublog.com/profile/background-information-about-underwater-photographer-tony-wu/

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.

Scientist Feature: Dr Tohru Naruse

 

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Dr Tohru Naruse at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM). Photo by Chia Han Shen. 

 

“Crabby” Research

When we think crustaceans, we think chilli or black pepper crab and how to satisfy our palates. There are, however, some who think crabs not to fill their appetites but to feed their curiosity.

Ever heard of tree-climbing crabs? Ever wondered just how many crustacean species there are?

Much of what we know about marine biodiversity and oceanic life come from the life work of scientists such as Dr Tohru Naruse, an Associate Professor from the Tropical Biosphere Research Center at the University of the Ryukyus, Japan.

Dr Naruse is a specialist in the study of brachyurans. Brachyurans are a suborder of crustaceans that are referred to as true crabs. These crabs—characterised by a short tail and a reduced abdomen—are amongst Dr Naruse’s passion.

His current project at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) to document and examine crabs of the genus Labuanium (Family Sesarmidae) is evidence of this. These nocturnal tree-climbing crab species which consume plant and animal matter are found in mangrove forests all over Southeast Asia. To date 13 species have been discovered and described.

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Labuanium trapezoideum (H.Milne Edwards, 1837), a tree-climbing crab specimen being examined by Dr Naruse. Photo by Dr Tohru Naruse.

Dr Naruse’s first visit to Singapore was the day before 11 Sept 2001. Since then, he has been a frequent and well-known visitor to LKCNHM with at least a visit once a year.

His collaboration with the head of LKCNHM, Professor Peter Ng—also an expert in crab taxonomy and biology—has borne much fruit.

This included a 6-month stay studying brachyurans in the museum’s collection, and later as a research fellow at the Department of Biological Sciences from October 2006 to December 2008.

Boyhood Passion

Dr Naruse’s interest in nature stems from a boyhood passion. In his youth, he explored the picturesque mountains and rivers that surrounded his home in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, on the main island of Honshu, Japan. Here, he would encounter a myriad of insects, freshwater shrimps and fish.

It was only later in his university days that he would discover a genuine passion and deeper appreciation of brachyurans. As an undergraduate student about twenty years ago, Dr Naruse became interested in life found in freshwater and coral reef environments—particularly the crabs and prawns—as he waded through the islands collecting specimens.

Okinawa, an island in Japan’s south, is a tropical island that hosts Pacific coral reefs and is one of the nation’s hotspots for biodiversity. The proximity of the sea to the University of the Ryukyus made it an ideal oceanic research lab right at the doorstep of the university for Dr Naruse.

An independent researcher with the University of the Ryukyus, he enjoys collecting crab specimens from scuba diving around Okinawan waters. More importantly, he enjoys lending his expertise on crab specimens in both Japanese and international partnerships.

When asked about what he liked about the museum he said he “enjoys the company of international researchers” that the museum draws. This builds ties with them and “encourages the exchange of knowledge, information and data collection methods”.

In comparison to crustacean specimens collected from the Ryukyus and the surrounding Japanese maritime waters, Dr Naruse observes that there is “more diversity with crustaceans in Southeast Asia and discoveries in more tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean”.

His most memorable discovery was on an expedition to Christmas Island, Australia, where Professor Ng invited him to join the team from LKCNHM. There the team found a totally new species of crab, Christmaplax mirabillis. The finding on 15 February 2012 led to the team classifying this cave-dwelling species under a new family and genus. It is these finds that inspire Dr Naruse to continue with his research in brachyurans.

Research in brachyurans has taken him to places such as mesophotic zones, which are middle oceanic zones that have low light penetration. This zone ranges from 30-100 m below the ocean surface. Meso means middle and photic means light in Greek.

This research is conducted through technological advances in rebreathers and special diving equipment. With these technological breakthroughs, the opportunities to further understand the deeper depths of the oceans and the inhabitants of these zones have now been opened.

These avenues have made scientific exploration and research all the more tantalising. What exciting discoveries await Dr Naruse! Time can only tell. But what is clear is that this would not be the last time we see him at LKCNHM. We look forward to his return and whetting our appetite with his invaluable contribution in crab research.

 

Nature Exploration Programme with Korea International School

Earlier last month, the Outreach and Education Unit of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum hosted a group of 20 students and 4 teachers from Korea International School for a one-day nature education programme.

During the first half of the day, the students participated in our Marine Ecology workshop where they learnt about the marine environment, its inhabitants, as well as the challenges they face. In the second half of the day, the participants followed our nature guides out for a three hour biodiversity and heritage exploration of Pulau Ubin, where they had the chance to experience what Singapore would have looked like in her earlier days. Man-y were charmed by the rustic, scenic beauty of Pulau Ubin, and were amazed that mainland Singapore, with her towering skyscrapers could have once looked like that. Memorable sightings during this walk included the passion flower, Oriental pied hornbill, and a lovely large-tailed nightjar!

Despite being well-camouflaged against the leaf litter, the nightjar did not escape the notice of our observant participants! Photo by Loh Lih Woon.

Customary group shot at the end of the Sensory Trail. Photo by Loh Lih Woon.

At the end of the guided nature walk, the students put to use the knowledge they had learnt in the Marine Ecology workshop and took part in a coastal clean-up activity near the Jelutong campsite area. They managed to pick up 9.5 kg of trash at the end of a half-hour. Great job by all involved!

Even as we prepare for the museum’s opening, our programmes are still ongoing.  For customised programmes such as this, please contact us at nhmlearning@nus.edu.sg. Do also keep a lookout for public programmes on the museum blogwebsite and Facebook page!

Under the Sea! Holiday Workshop

On 18 March 2015, we held our very first Holiday Workshop in the brand new Learning Lab of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum! During this Under the Sea! workshop, participants learnt about the marine animals that are found in Singapore’s waters, including those that are featured in some of their favourite television shows.

"That's what a marine sponge looks like? Whooooaaaa..."  Photo by Tammy Lim.

“That’s what a marine sponge looks like? Whooooaaaa…”. Photo by Tammy Lim.

The reaction of participants after learning about the marine animal that inspired the legend of mermaids. Photo by Tammy Lim.

At the end of the hands-on session with over 20 specimens, participants had a chance to try out the Gyotaku method, traditionally used by Japanese fisherfolk to keep records of their catches while fishing. Using this technique, our participants made prints of a variety of animals including a scallop, seahorse, halfbeak and grouper!

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Participants learning about the techniques involved in capturing details of the animals on paper. Photo by Marcus Chua.

Taking turns to carefully paint the specimens to capture as much of the details as possible. Photo by Marcus Chua.

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The happy campers with their masterpieces! None were koi about having their photos taken. Photo by Marcus Chua.

All too soon, it was time to go, as the family members of the participants came by to pick them up. Some of our participants took this opportunity to share with their families the information that they had learnt during the workshop.

Adults getting schooled! Photo by Marcus Chua.

Adults getting schooled! Photo by Marcus Chua.

We are shore these participants had a whale of a time! Even as we prepare for the museum’s opening, our programmes are still ongoing. Do keep a lookout for public programmes on the museum blogwebsite and Facebook page! To find out more about our programmes, please contact us at nhmlearning@nus.edu.sg