Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Visiting Scientist(s) Feature: Carcinologist Edition (Part Two!)

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Visiting Scientist(s) Feature: Carcinologist Edition (Part Two!)

This November, the labs at LKCNHM were bustling with activity from visitors whom we have had the pleasure of hosting. After the recent feature on visiting entomologists, we are back with another feature – this time on carcinologists! Their work has been most fruitful and we expect a windfall of scientific publications (and other goodies) resulting from their visit. We wish all of them all the best, and hope to see them again soon.

Dr. Lin Chia Wei

Ever wondered how animals are prepared for display in natural history museums like LKCNHM? The animals undergo a process called taxidermy, also known as the art (or science!) of preserving an animal’s body for display or study.

Dr. Lin (from the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, in Taiwan) is an expert in the science and art of crustacean taxidermy, having practiced it throughout his research career that has spanned over 20 years.

As we were preparing for the launch of an upcoming exhibition, Christmas Island Red, we invited Dr. Lin over to provide his expertise for the production of the exhibition material.

Dr. Lin started learning taxidermy from a lab mate during his days as a Master’s student in Taiwan. Over the years, and after much experimentation, he has gotten the art of taxidermy down to a tee. Using this skill, he has also amassed over the years a personal collection of taxidermised crustaceans, with the largest specimen in his collection being a king crab (Lithodidae).

Crustacean taxidermy is a tedious process that requires great attention to detail, as Dr. Lin kindly demonstrated to us. First, he carefully opens the crab up by removing its carapace from the rest of the body. Next, he meticulously removes the flesh from every part of the crab, leaving only the calcareous exoskeleton—a task that requires virtuoso-like skill, as there are many areas that are delicate or hard to reach. Thereafter, he soaks the crab in dilute bleaching solution, to get rid of tiny pieces of flesh that are left, before patting the crab dry and arranging it in a life-like position on Styrofoam, using chopsticks to set its position. The specimen is then left to dry indoors so that it retains its set position.

Dr. Lin’s years of experience in crustacean taxonomy allows him to prepare the specimens quickly and efficiently—it only takes him 1 to 2 hours to prepare a small specimen, such as the Christmas Island red crab, and 1 to 2 days for larger ones such as the coconut crab. By contrast, it will take a whole day for beginners to prepare a small specimen! With guidance from Dr. Lin, we used up a whole day preparing one red crab specimen for display in the upcoming exhibition.

Thanks to Dr. Lin’s help, the display specimens for Christmas Island Red are all prepared and ready to be exhibited! Do drop by the exhibition and marvel at the beautiful crustacean specimens, and immerse yourself in tales of discovery and the history of Christmas Island. You can also try to guess which red crab specimen was prepared by us!

Of course, Dr. Lin’s visit here was not just about preparing specimens for the exhibition. During his stay here, he also worked with our curator of crustaceans, Dr. J.C.E. Mendoza, on documenting the crab diversity of the reefs of southern Taiwan.

Dr. Lin Chia Wei with taxidermised specimens prepared by him. Photo by Clarisse Tan.

Dr. Santanu Mitra

Dr. Mitra hails from the Zoological Survey of India (Kolkata), the main agency tasked to study the faunal diversity of India. Dr. Mitra also helps oversee the care of important type specimens collected from the Indian Ocean by historical expeditions, such as those run from the British naval ship, the HMS Investigator, in the late 19th century. During his visit here, Dr. Mitra worked with freshwater crab gurus, Prof. Peter Ng and Dr. Darren Yeo (Assistant Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS) on a taxonomic revision of some groups of Indian freshwater crabs (family Potamidae) such as the genera Potamiscus and Acanthopotamon. He also worked with Dr. Mendoza on marine crabs in the families Dotillidae and Xanthidae collected from the Bay of Bengal.

Dr. Mitra found our very own Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC) very useful to his work, finding many type specimens to examine and with which to compare his own specimens from India. Through this, he managed to confirm a discovery of a new genus and new species of freshwater crab (family Gecarcinucidae) from eastern India.

Dr. Sameer Kumar Pati

Like Dr. Mitra, Dr. Pati also works at the Zoological Survey of India, although his office is based in Pune, on the other side of India. During his visit here, Dr. Pati also worked with Prof. Ng and Dr. Darren Yeo on the taxonomy of various western Indian freshwater crab genera belonging to the families Gecarcinucidae and Potamidae. In addition, he worked with Dr. Yeo on a taxonomic revision of the genus Barytelphusa, discovering three Indian species new to science.

Mr. Smrithy Raj

Mr. Raj is currently pursuing his PhD degree at the University of Kerala, and was here to work on the freshwater crabs of southwestern India.

During his visit here, he collaborated with Prof. Ng and Dr. Yeo on the genera Cylindrotelphusa and Vanni. Their comparisons of crabs collected from the Kerala section of the Western Ghats with the type material deposited in the ZRC have revealed four species previously unknown to science.

Dr. Shane T. Ahyong

Dr. Ahyong, a senior researcher from the Australian Museum in Sydney, is no stranger to the museum, having worked with Prof. Ng since the 1990’s. He has become a regular visitor, dropping by at least once a year. On this visit, he was looking at stomatopods (mantis shrimps), pinnotherids (pea crabs), and majids (spider crabs).

Dr. Ahyong is collaborating with with Prof. Ng on taxonomic revisions of the spider crab genus Schizophroida and the pea crab genus Arcotheres. He mentioned that Arcotheres, a genus of crabs that live symbiotically within clams and oysters, is a hard group to work with, as the many species are very similar owing to their lifestyle, with only subtle differences in their morphology to tell the species apart.

Dr. Ahyong also worked with Dr. Lin Chia Wei to identify two species of mantis shrimps from Taiwan, which are new to science.

(From left) Dr. Shane Ahyong, Dr. Santanu Mitra, Mr. Smrithy Raj, Dr. Sameer Kumar Pati, and Prof. Peter Ng. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Dr. Tohru Naruse

Just like Dr. Ahyong, Dr. Naruse (an associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa) is also a regular visitor to the museum. On this visit, he worked on various brachyuran crab taxa, such as mangrove and tree-climbing crabs of the family Sesarmidae — one particular project is a collaboration with Prof. Ng on a revision of the genus Labuanium. Dr. Naruse also worked on the freshwater crab genus Geothelphusa (family Potamidae), examining type specimens deposited in the ZRC, to compare later with Japanese material back home.

Ms. Yuuki Endo

Ms. Endo is Dr. Naruse’s undergraduate student at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa. On this visit, she worked with Dr. Naruse on swimming crabs in the subgenus Xiphonectes, comparing specimens from Okinawa with type specimens deposited in the ZRC.

(From left) Dr. Tohru Naruse, Ms. Yuuki Endo and Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza in the LKCNHM research lab. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.