Tag Archives: wildlife

Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 2: The Dry Collection

Warning: this article contains pictures of dead animals. If you’re a little squeamish, maybe give this one a pass.

There are two main ways of preserving specimens – dry and wet. Dry specimens can stay preserved simply by staying in a cool and dry environment. That’s why the temperature and humidity levels are rigidly controlled in the dry collection.

IMG_5430.jpgI’d say this is a good place for an Instagram photoshoot.

The dry collection is located on one of the upper floors of the museum itself. It is a labyrinth of metal cabinets known as compactors, all arranged in straight rows. Each compactor can be moved left and right simply by turning a wheel, so that they can be jam packed together to conserve space. When anyone needs to use a particular cabinet, they can simply move them apart again to open the doors. It’s chicken soup for the neat freak’s soul.

The dry collection hosts a mind-boggling variety of specimens. The pale remains of corals!

IMG_5443.jpgBirds, mammals, sea shells, eggs, even nests! Even poop! Scientists really go for anything, huh?

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ezgif.com-video-to-gif (4).gifObjectively? Probably the coolest drawers you’ll ever pull open.

There’s also a little herbarium, which seems indistinguishable from an ordinary office filing cabinet at first. Plant specimens are dried and pressed, much in the same way you see artists pressing flowers poetically into the pages of books. They’re sealed in Ziploc bags for future reference.

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Because my hands are too crude and clumsy, I didn’t get to open them. But, you know, they’re plants, but flat.

Keep reading to continue our tour at the wet collections!

 

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Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 1: The Cryogenic Collection

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is an oft recommended destination for family day trips and romantic dates, with its awe-inspiring displays of towering dinosaur skeletons and quaint collections of delicately shimmering insects. What most visitors don’t know about is the vast archives containing hundreds of thousands of specimens hidden only a few floors above. The collections of natural history museums are rarely limited to what visitors can see. Dedicated to cutting edge research, they also serve as a storage space for specimens collected, and as a research facility for the scientists studying them. In this six-part feature, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of what goes on behind those closed doors. Let’s take a look at the hoard!

The first stop is the Cryogenic Collection, located not within the museum’s main building, but in an unassuming office beneath the old Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), just underneath the Science Library in the Faculty of Science, within the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.

You’ll probably recognise the term “cryo” from science fiction stories, like Interstellar, where the astronauts preserve their bodies by entering long term “cryosleep”. Stemming from Greek origins, the term “cryo” means “cold”, while “genic” means “having to do with production”. Calling the cryogenic collection “cold” would be a gross understatement, though.

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These giant vats are filled with liquid nitrogen, which as you may know, is very, very cold. In fact, liquid nitrogen boils at 77.09 Kelvin, or -196 degrees Celsius. The contents of the cryogenic collection themselves are kept in a cloud of evaporated nitrogen vapour at around -178 to -190 degrees Celsius.

Much in the same way the dinosaur embryos were preserved in Jurassic Park, the nitrogen vats (affectionately nicknamed Humpty and Dumpty) protect the blood and tissue samples stored within them from degrading – pretty much forever. These samples are not completely submerged in liquid nitrogen. Instead, they are stored in little tubes and racks, which are then stacked in neat little towers within the vats. A pool of liquid nitrogen at the bottom of the vat evaporates, which produces a cooling effect that keeps the environment extremely cold.

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Those cute strawberry shaved ice colours? Yup, it’s blood.

Now, what’s so precious about some bits of blood and tissue? We can keep the bodies of specimens in cupboards and jars to study their physical appearance, but the preservation process sometimes involves the use of formalin and denatured ethanol, chemicals which aren’t great for preserving the DNA within. Tiny amounts of blood and tissue are enough to serve as a record of the genetic makeup of the organisms we need to study. The museum’s cryogenic collection mostly contains genetic records of species found in Southeast Asia, including some from Singapore, such as Sunda pangolins, Smooth-coated otters, and the locally endangered Raffles’ Banded Langur. With more genetic data from these animals, we can compare how certain aspects of their DNA vary from individual to individual, or how they change over time. This can ultimately inform future conservation efforts.

animals.jpgRight to left: Sunda Pangolin, Smooth-coated otter, Raffles’ Banded Langur, all native to Singapore.

Each blue tray contains about a hundred specimens, and each tower contains twelve trays. That adds up to over twenty thousand samples, and the vat isn’t even full yet! (By the way, Humpty is still empty.) The future is indeed bright for these cold boys. Oh, and I also had the pleasure of meeting their roommates Fat Boy, Skinny Girl, Olaf, Jack Frost, and Freya, who are all freezers. It’s a full house in here.

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With so many friends, the curator never gets lonely.

Keep reading to continue our tour of the natural history museum!

The Bio”D” in Disney

It is a widely known fact that many of the beloved Disney characters that we are all too familiar with are based on actual animals. But really, how well do we know about the real-life creatures that inspired them? And how accurate are their real-life behaviours being portrayed through their fictional counterparts? Amongst many, five characters across the Disney universe have been chosen for you to compare fact to fiction because it is honestly such a pity that many of these real-life creatures and their equally interesting character traits lay hidden behind the spotlight.

  • Winnie the Pooh- Canadian Black Bear

(Credits: Heroes Wiki, Alex Pawlowski, New York Public Library)

One of the most timeless and oldest characters in Disney history, Winnie the Pooh, needs no introduction. He was based upon a teddy bear owned by the creator’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. Though the original teddy bear was not based on any actual bear species, the boy named it “Winnie” after a Canadian black bear that lived at the London Zoo. Perhaps this explains the stark difference in fur colour!

Fact:

Winnie the Pooh had a chronic addiction to honey and constantly plotted ways to raid hives with his Hundred Acre companions. Canadian black bears, or bears in general, do in fact love raiding hives too! They have short, non-retractable claws that allow them to climb up trees to reach the heights the hives are at.

Fiction:

While you only ever see Pooh Bear consuming honey, actual bears may be going in for the more succulent prize, as they are rather opportunistic eaters with a taste for almost anything. The bees and larvae are extremely nutritional and rich in protein and fat.

Also, actual bears are coated with long, thick fur which makes it hard for bees to reach the skin surface and sting them, thus making them resistant to bee stings. Their faces and ears, however, are areas uncovered with fur, so they are not completely immune either. So in fact, Pooh doesn’t have to make such elaborate plans just to get to his meals.

2) Zootopia’s Mr. Big – Arctic shrew

 

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Clara Chaisson)

You’d be surprised at the amount of thought that went into casting the characters of “Zootopia”. As a good example, the filmmakers consulted animals experts for “the most vicious carnivore” to play the part of the Mafia king of sorts, and it surprisingly was this petite little creature.

 Fact:

Shrews are as much of savages as Mr. Big in the film. Though seemingly adorable and harmless, these rodents will not hesitate to take on animals larger than them, such as mice, snakes, and scorpions. At one point, it was even believed that the shrew’s bite was poisonous, but it was later discovered that the saliva of some shrew species are lethal to mice and can cause substantial pain to humans. In fact, they hold economic value to farmers, ridding them of pests like insects and slugs.

Fiction:

It would be highly unlikely that an arctic shrew would possess such a wide network of family, friends, and servants, for they are highly solitary animals. Adults are territorial to the point where any forced extended interaction between two shrews would render one of them dead within a matter of days, as studies have shown.

3) The Lion King’s Timon and Pumba – Meerkat and Warthog

(Credits: Toonbaboon, Metro News)

It’s everyone favourite comedic duo and #BFFgoals, Timon and Pumba from “The Lion King”! Have you ever wondered whether these inseparable characters are based on actual, real-life animal interactions? Let’s put their friendship to the test.

It’s…fiction!

The meerkat-looking animals you see in the photograph on the right are actually mongooses and not meerkats! (That’s right, it’s not mongeese.) Warthogs and mongooses have been observed to share a rather rare form of symbiotic relationship between mammals known as mutualism, where both parties benefit – the warthogs cleaned and the mongooses fed.

Limited research has been conducted on this behaviour, though if you would like some evidence, do check out the 2010 BBC special called “Banded Brothers”, here:

4) Finding Nemo’s Pearl – FlapJack Octopus

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Dante Fenolio)

That’s right, for all those of you who thought this adorable character was a jellyfish or squid of sorts, you were wrong! This is a flapjack octopus, appropriately named after the way it collapses on the seabed, looking like mush. Unfortunately, that’s about the point where the resemblance ends, and from here it’s mostly…

Fiction:

If there were indeed fish schools, Pearl would probably not be going to school with the other fishes as octopuses are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and very possibly the most intelligent invertebrate on earth. They have highly developed nervous systems that allow them to solve puzzles, mimic other animals through camouflage, and develop both long and short-term memory.

Sadly, Pearl and her father would not have coexisted in the same time period either. Octopuses mate sacrificially, as after they practice external fertilization, the males wander off to die shortly after, and the females either starve to death obsessively guarding the eggs for many months (depending on the species), or her own body degenerates on its own. This, coupled with the fact that octopuses only live from a few months to a few years, is why experts think that humans are instead the dominant intelligence on earth because there was no way for octopuses to accumulate and pass down knowledge without generational overlap, despite their incredible cognitive and learning abilities.

5) Jungle Book’s King Louie – Gigantopithecus

(Credits: Walt Disney. Co, Wookieepedia)

Enough of the present, let’s dig up some of the past! Those of you who have watched the 2016 version of The Jungle Book might have guessed that King Louie’s character is based on the extinct ape species, Gigantopithecus, the largest primate to ever roam the earth.

Fact:

Indeed, it is possible for an early human and this real-life King Kong to have crossed paths. Archaeologists found the fossil remains of the Gigantopithecus in parts of Asia, India included (where the movie was set in), and it existed alongside human ancestors, Homo Sapien and Homo Erectus, for tens of thousands of years.

Its size is no disappointment either, as the Gigantopithecus easily stood up to 3 metres tall and weighed up to 600 kg! (There is, however, a slight locational discrepancy, as the species found in India, G. Giganteus, is only slightly taller than a human, as compared to its much more massive China counterpart.)

 Fiction:

Sadly, a meetup between King Louie and Mowgli would not have been possible, as the Gigantopithecus has been extinct for around 300, 000 to 400, 000 years ago.

Poor King Louie might also have been overly demonized as the Gigantopithecus, after research on its dental structure, has been proven to be a gentle giant with a general liking for bamboo – its cavities closely resembles that of a giant panda, indicating similar diets.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this magical carpet ride, and realised that actual animals can also be as fascinating as their fictional counterparts!

 

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. Barras, C. (2018). Jungle tales: the real King Louie was the biggest ape of all. [online] Newscientist.com. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2088989-jungle-tales-the-real-king-louie-was-the-biggest-ape-of-all/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Bear.org. (2018). North American Bear Center – What do bears like to eat in a beehive?. [online] Available at: https://www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/foraging-a-foods/206-what-do-bears-like-to-eat-in-a-beehive.html [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Defenders of Wildlife. (2018). Basic Facts About Black Bears. [online] Available at: https://defenders.org/black-bear/basic-facts [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Disney Wiki. (2018). Mr. Big (Zootopia). [online] Available at: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Big_(Zootopia) [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Encyclopedia.com. (2018). shrew facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about shrew. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/animals/vertebrate-zoology/shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Arctic shrew. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Gigantopithecus. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigantopithecus [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Griggs, M. (2018). Consent Form | Popular Science. [online] Popsci.com. Available at: https://www.popsci.com/warthogs-take-themselves-to-mongoose-gleaners [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Harness, J. and 1, R. (2018). 11 Things You Might Not Know About Winnie the Pooh. [online] Neatorama. Available at: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/01/18/11-things-you-might-not-know-about-winnie-the-pooh/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Manning, E. (2018). ASK A WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. [online] Adfg.alaska.gov. Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=371 [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Nuwer, R. (2018). Ten Curious Facts About Octopuses. [online] Smithsonianmag.com. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Softschools.com. (2018). Octopus Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/octopus_facts/23/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. YouTube. (2018). A Warthog Spa – Banded Brothers – Series 1 Episode 1 Preview – BBC Two. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXW_1i1pA0w [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

Save A Spider Day

It’s Save a Spider Day! OK, I know you’re about to click away because spiders are, well, look at them. If you haven’t gazed deep into a spider’s multiple eyes and shuddered, then you’re just a big, hairy, leggy, liar. But if you think about it, like really think about it, you’d probably still choose to live in a world with spiders in it, rather than without. I mean, I doubt Baygone would be a good enough substitute for a worldwide population of diverse spiders deviously conspiring 24/7 to eliminate their next insect. Do you like birds? Well, good, because birds love spiders. (As food.) Do you like diseases? No? Then thank your lucky stars, because spider venom will soon be used to treat a variety of diseases that cause muscular dystrophy. By the way, can YOU pull the natural world’s strongest material out of your butt? No? Then please, take a seat. (If yes, call 995.)

Hey, check out this fancy boy over here.

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Video: Jurgen Otto (https://www.youtube.com/user/Peacockspiderman)

Fashion week has nothing on this male peacock spider. When it’s time to find a lady, the male peacock spiders show off their brightly coloured backs and sweet moves. Peacock spiders are tiny, with the largest species measuring a whopping 5mm. Imagine that, a tiny colourful speck waving its arms at you because that’s the sexy thing to do. Also, the females eat the males who don’t dance well enough, but let’s not dwell on that.

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This spectacular shot by local wildlife photographer Nicky Bay does great justice to the silvery markings on the mirror spider’s abdomen. When the spider is at rest, the silvery shapes on its abdomen visibly enlarge. It almost looks like a piece of stained glass art!

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Photo: ggalice via Flickr

Net casting spiders are metal as it gets. They weave webs that resemble fishnets, which they then launch at their prey to capture them.

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Photo: Nicky Bay

Look at those eyes. They’re not messing around.

Next time you see a spider, maybe think twice before screaming and squashing it (you can still scream, though). First of all, it cannot be denied that spiders are way cooler than us and also do us a huge favour by catching insects. Second of all, I don’t think you’d want to make an enemy of a spider at this point.

 

Sources:

http://www.medicaldaily.com/venom-medicine-how-spiders-scorpions-snakes-and-sea-creatures-can-heal-328736

http://animals.mom.me/importance-spiders-ecosystem-6242.html