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Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 4: The Vertebrate Wet Collection

Warning: This article contains pictures of dead animals. They are super dead.

What is the difference between the vertebrate and invertebrate wet collections, you ask? Not much, they’re all… wet. But perhaps one of the striking things about the vertebrate wet collection is that many of the specimens tend to be bigger. We’re reaching the territory of mammals, birds, fish, snakes and more.

IMG_5564andmore.jpgMiddle row, left: Notice those flaps on the side of its body? That’s a Javanese flying squirrel, which can glide through the air by stretching out that loose skin.

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IMG_5553.jpgOh, this is from that movie! Finding… what was it, Fabio? Finding Chico?

You’ll notice that some of these animals could also be found in the dry collection. As mentioned, whether a specimen is preserved dry or wet depends on the researcher or collector’s aim. Though a wet specimen may be more likely to discolour over time, this won’t happen for animals like birds, as their colours mostly come not from pigments, but from microscopic structures (structural colour) in their feathers that absorb and reflect light.

IMG_5575.jpgThat’s how this bird from the 1960s is still killing it.

IMG_5568.jpgThis bat is dubbed ‘Yoda’ because, look at that serene little face. This bat is saying, “Relax. You can do it.”

IMG_5600.jpgSpecimens like this native leopard cat are generally the work of local taxidermists.

Apart from the compactors, the wet collection also has a store of steel tanks for the animals too big to fit into jars.

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What are those big black contraptions that look like the things they put over your head at the hair salon? Like the jars, the steel tanks are filled with large amounts of preserving alcohol, and boy is it nasty when you open the lid. To protect the people working with these specimens, those flexible fume hoods suck up the evaporated alcohol escaping from the tanks, and no one has to breathe them.

This concludes our tour of the LKC Natural History Museum’s archives. Our natural history museum, together with natural history museums across the globe, is a beacon of scientific progress, conservation and education. So next time you come for a visit, remember to blow a kiss upwards for all the specimens and researchers making the world a better place. And if you’d like to contribute to this endeavour, take your friends and family (and dates) to the museum to learn more about our environment! You can also donate to the museum’s Endowment Fund here.

We’ve done a walkthrough of most of the archives in the museum, but exactly what sort of research do the curators get up to in there? Stay tuned for upcoming bonus posts featuring cool gadgets and even cooler people!

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Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 3: The Invertebrate Wet Collection

Warning: this article contains pictures of dead animals – but mostly the kinds that you’re used to seeing. You know, on dinner plates.

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Here we come to the specimens preserved in fluid. This entire floor is dedicated to the invertebrates: insects, crabs, snails, octopuses, all your classic crawly pals. While some of these animals could also be preserved dry, soft-bodied creatures like aphids and several types of insect larvae would shrivel up if they were to be left dry. Otherwise, it depends on the aims of the researchers themselves.

Specimens are kept in jars filled with formalin, denatured ethanol, or unmethylated ethanol. This is somewhat similar to how animals like snakes have been infused in wine and enjoyed by Chinese, Vietnamese and Southeast Asians for thousands of years. That is strictly a fun fact and NOT an endorsement of you breaking into the museum to get drunk off funky isopod liquor. Please, don’t.

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IMG_5523.jpgDon’t panic, those are just unfortunately placed barnacles.

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With the constant use of the specimens for research, the preservative liquid will evaporate, so the the curators top up the jars from time to time. These specimens can’t survive long without their booze.

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IMG_5595.jpgI stole this and it looks great on my coffee table. Just kidding.

Most of the specimens are from Southeast Asia, including specimens collected on expeditions. In fact, some of the museum’s scientists recently embarked on a two-week long deep sea expedition called the South Java Deep Sea Biodiversity Expedition (SJADES 2018). It was led by the head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Professor Peter Ng, as well as Professor Dwi Listyo Rahayu, Senior Research Scientist of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). With their ship hovering over relatively unexplored deep seas, they collected over 12 000 deep sea animals, including over a dozen new species of hermit crabs, lobsters and prawns. Some of those specimens are now sitting in compactors specially labelled “Expeditions/Trips”, awaiting our scientists’ groundbreaking research.

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Next up is the vertebrates. See you in part 4!