Category Archives: news

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research news and blogs


Raffles Museum News was the first museum blog and would be populated by some 400 blog articles posted between 2004 – 2007 when the museum was known as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. The site featured news about many interesting events, visitors, activities and animal encounters. So it is helpful to that this repository is available online.

The blog was hosted at a bespoke blog engine on the Faculty of Science server. The server was retired in 2016 and since the blog engine was no longer upgraded, this WordPress domain was setup. The blog posts were manually migrated in 2022 and this site was made public on 7th January 2023.

Over the years, news form the museum has resided in various locations:

  1. Raffles Museum wall, colour 3R prints (1990’s)
  2. Raffles Museum Latest News (2000 – 2004; a static webapge)
  3. Raffles Museum Newsletters (four issues between 2001 and 2005)
  4. Raffles Museum News II (2004 – 2007) [this site:]
  5. Raffles Museum News III (2007 – 2014) []
  6. News from the LKCNHM (2014 – 2017) []
  7. LKCNHM News (2017 –) [] – for current news form the museum

Raffles Museum News has shifted – update your bookmarks!

05 Jul 2007 – Raffles Museum News is shifting to a WordPress engine. The URL, now points to a new site.

The feed also remains the same:

This is the third version of the Raffles Museum news site, the first was prepared as html webpages (2000 – 2004), the second, this blog used Samizdat, a geeky format based on PHPosxom and Blosxom made simple (2004 – 2007) and now we are using the free blog engine WordPress. WordPress enthusiast and Raffles Museum volunteer Kenneth Pinto (NUS CIT) dropped in to help with the transition; thanks Kenneth!

I have also handed over the management and running of the site to Chua Keng Soon and Martyn Low. Have fun lads!

– N. Sivasothi

Photo by Tan Swee Hee.

Hugh Tan takes over from Benito Tan as Deputy Director

Message from Raffles Museum director, Peter Ng,

“With effect from 11 June 2007, A/P Prof Hugh Tan will take over as Deputy Director of RMBR, succeeding A/P Benito Tan who retires from NUS in July 2007.”

A/P Prof Hugh Tan

“Firstly, I want to thank Ben for all the hard work and help he has rendered the Raffles Museum, Department of Biological Science and the Faculty of Science over the last 9 years – it has been a period of fantastic growth and success, and I am grateful for his help and support. He moves to NParks in the Botanic Gardens, and I am sure he will have another successful stint there.”

“Secondly, I thank Hugh for taking over. I have asked Hugh to help me now on a new front by putting more order in the RMBR, this is more necessary these days as we have grown in size and scope, and many things we could be relaxed about in the past today need more vigilance and efficiency. Hugh’s repute in being a very organised manager will be invaluable to this phase of the museum’s growth. I cannot promise him less work, but I can promise him challenges! Over the weeks to come, we will work out how we change our styles and things we need to do, and we then move on.”

“I hope the RMBR staff and community will join me in welcoming Hugh, and work together with him to the next level!”

A/P Benito Tan

Photos by Lin Yangchen (NParks), taken at the Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium II.

Recent Visitors at the Raffles Museum

17 Jan 2007 – Peter Ng, Li Daiqin and Tan Swee Hee with the Yunnan Delegation: Keqin Zhang (Vice President, Yunnan University), Heng Xiao (Secretary, School of Life Sciences), Hui Ye (Dean, School of Life Sciences), Chunjie Xiao (Subdecanal, School of Life Sciences), Changqun Duan (Subdecanal, School of Life Sciences) & Bingrong Zheng (Head, Biotechnology Department).

25 Jan 2007 – Benny KK Chan and his students from Academia Sinica, Taiwan with Ng Ngan Kee.

13 Feb 2007 – Hinoki Ishizu (fish shop owner in Osaka (Japan) and a Betta enthusiast) with Tan Heok Hui.

13 Feb 2007 – Barry Russell (Northern Territory Museum, Darwin) and Keith Martin-Smith (Project Seahorse, Tasmania).

Dugong carcass washed ashore on southern Tekong


A three metre female Dugong (Sea cow, “Ikan duyung” (Malay), Dugong dugon) carcass was washed ashore on Pulau Tekong’s southern shore on Tuesday, 6th June 2006. Staff of Surbana Consultants Private Limited informed National Parks Board. Jeffrey Low of NParks’ National Biodiversity Reference Centre alerted me at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

The Raffles Museum is the national depository for animal specimens and we have great interest in recovering roadkills and stranded carcasses which can reveal useful information about Singapore’s wildlife for management, education and research.

So I gathered a team for a salvage comprising Zeehan Jaafar, Tommy Tan, Yeo Keng Loo, Abigayle Ng, Jani Thuaibah and myself. We arrived at Pulau Tekong Area D1 the next morning, Wednesday, 7th June 2006, courtesy of Surbana staff. We primarily intended to salvage the skull and lower jawbone. The dugong carcass was believed to have been at least six-days old by then. However blood flow during retrieval of the skull suggested otherwise.

Though slightly bloated from gases, the dugong carcass was in surprisingly reasonable condition and was thus further dissected. There were no extraordinary signs of physical impact and she had a stomach full of sea grass. Cause of death is unknown. Relevant material was retrieved and brought back to NUS for examination.

The previous extraction of a dugong skull and lower jaw was from a smaller carcass beached on East Coast Park in July 2001 (see “The Body-snatchers.” By N. Sivasothi. Raffles Museum Newsletter No. 2, 15 April 2002). That skull is on display in the Raffles Museum’s Public Gallery.

Dugongs or sea cows are found in shallow seas throughout the tropical Indo-west Pacific. Around Singapore, sightings of live individuals are occasionally reported in the Johor Straits, in the waters around Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong and Changi, where beds of sea-grass abound (sea-grass being a staple in the diet of dugongs).

This Tekong carcass report follows a recent report of a live dugong off Chek Jawa reported by The Blue Tempeh:

18 May 2006 – “a dugong was sighted at Chek Jawa. A contractor for the board walk being constructed at Chek Jawa had reported seeing a dugong surfacing while at work. This report is an exciting one since it’s been some time since the last live sighting of a dugong (1998)!

Villagers who used to live by the coasts of Pulau Ubin said that they would often get “visits” from families of dugongs. It’s not surprising since P. Ubin has one of the last standing crops of seagrasses, the food of the dugongs. Sadly, however, the contractor also mentioned that he saw some sort of net around the dugong’s neck.”

Map from Google Earth.

More news and pictures will be posted later.

Links about Dugongs:

HerpNET-GBIF Workshop, 15-19 May 2006

The HerpNET-GBIF Workshop was conducted at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, USA from 15-19 May 2006.

The workshop participants were hosted by a very hospitable David Wake and Carol Spencer. Our principal course instructors were Carol Spencer (PI, Co-ord, Instructor, Host & Berkeley Food Expert) and Kristina Yamamoto (Resident Georeferencing Wizard). Other UCB who also shared their expertise with us were Carla Cicero (MVZ collections & ORNIS), Michelle Koo (GIS Brain), Amphibia Net & Aaron Steele (HerpNet server installation and other geeky visions of world domination like Biogeomancer).

L-R in MCZ library: David Wake, Michael Elliott, Carol Spencer, Kristina Yamamoto, David Britton, Danny Meirte, Garin Cael, Andreas Schluter and Nina Schnapp.

The International Team who exhausted Carol and Kristina by turning up early every day and who initially resisted leaving for lunch or dinner:
• David Britton (Australian Museum, Sydney),
• Michael Elliott (Australian Museum, Sydney),
• Danny Meirte (Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium),
• Garin Cael (Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium)
• Andreas Schlčter (Staatliches Museum fur Naturkunde Stuttgart, Germany),
• Nina Schnapp (Staatliches Museum fur Naturkunde Stuttgart, Germany)
• Sivasothi N. (Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research*, National University of Singapore).

*now Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Some of the very patient and engaging instructors from the course:

1, 2 – Carol Spencer conducting a lecture and instructing the class;

3 – Kristina Yamamoto lecturing;

4 – Carla Cicero showing us the passenger pigeon in the MVZ bird collection;

5 – Michelle Koo sharing finer GIS tips;

6 – Searching for Berkeley salamanders;

7 – After the end of workshop dinner (the Aussies and a couple of others are missing though).

Raffles Museum in UC Berkeley consortium awarded GBIF grant to biogeoreference Herptile database

06 Mar 2006 – The GBIF Secretariat announced that a consortium of institutions from 8 countries has been awarded USD 464,061 to append georeferenced, distributed database of worldwide amphibian localities. David B. Wake and Co-PI’s, Craig Moritz and Carol Spencer of UC Berkeley, are the lead project investigators.

GBIF wishes to encourage broad networking of institutions in order to facilitate the development of larger data sets. The 2005-2006 DIGIT Seed Money award to Dr. Wake and colleagues will expand the existing HerpNET database, originally a US National Science Foundation project for North America, to the global level.

HerpNET is a collaborative effort by natural history museums to establish a global network of herpetological collections data that can be used in studying the basis for recent amphibian population declines.

The DIGIT seed money award will be used to add seven additional amphibian collections to the existing network:
• Australian Museum, Sydney (AMS);
• Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Hawaii, USA (BPBM)
• Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu, • Sichuan, China (CIB
• Muséum d’histoire naturelle de la Ville de Genève, Switzerland (MHNG)
• Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore (RM)
• Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium (RMCA)
• Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart, Germany (SMNS); and
• Zoological Institute Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia (ZIN)

This project will include training in digitization and geo-referencing, the installation of DiGIR servers and registration with the GBIF network for the partner institutions. On completion the project will add more than 425,000 new amphibian records of which 374,445 specimens will be newly georeferenced. Inn addition, new HerpNET features available in 2007 and funded by this grant include: the ability to search under synonymous taxonomy, expert opinion maps from the Global Amphibian Assessment mapped along with point-locality data, and automatic links to maps from AmphibiaWeb species accounts, as well as to HerpNET data providers.

Currently, HerpNET includes 44 institutions from the US, Canada and Mexico, with over 3.7 million amphibian and reptile specimen holdings in total. Twenty providers are currently available for searching on the HerpNET portal, and by Fall 2007, 51 providers will be available HerpNET and GBIF.

HerpNET would like to invite all natural history museums in the world that hold herpetological specimens to join the network. By adding more North American and international collections they hope to meet their goals of making a collaborative database of all herpetological collections available. Those joining have at their disposal the data standards, software and documentation that were developed for MaNIS, ORNIS, HerpNET, BioGeomancer and GBIF.

To join HerpNET, please contact Carol Spencer or Rob Gales.

Source: GBIF Press Release: “GBIF Seed Money to Support a Consortium of Amphibian Data Providers.” GBIF, 06 Mar 2006.

Memorandum of agreement with the Singapore Zoo

After much discussions, on the 14 March 2006 the Singapore Zoological Garden (incl. Night Safari) and Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research/Department of Biological Sciences, NUS signed a memorandum of agreement which formalises the existing collaborations and create a solid foundation for future research on biodiversity and conservation genetics between our outfits.

The ongoing research includes a project on primate phylogenetics for which the Singapore Zoo is providing tissue samples from its important primate collection and the NUS collaborators (primarily Rudolf Meier) are sequencing mitochondrial and nuclear genes.

In another project, the partners are exploring species limits in Southeast Asian Trachypithecus species. This will also form the basis for any future tissue bank we may set up in NUS with our partners.

The agreement was the basis of comments made by the zoological gardens chief vet, Chris Furley, last week in the STRAITS TIMES last week when the zoo’s new vet centre was announced. In this article, he stated that the zoo was working with NUS as part of their expanding research efforts.

– Peter Ng, 23rd March 2006

“150 new species of flies found” – in Singapore

Patrick Grootaert, the Head of the Department of Entomology of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, has spent a year with us at the Raffles Museum.

Originally intending to publish a book on dolilchopodids off Southeast Asia, the explosion of diversity he uncovered in Singapore alone has provided plenty of material and hardly enough time to describe it all. In fact he is now restricting the book to the species found in mangroves of Singapore.

He is a passionate and exciting speaker and will discuss his findings and thoughts about tropical diversity and his Singapore sabbatical experience at a seminar on 23 Feb 2006: 2pm at the National University of Singapore. The seminar notice will be announced here.

“150 new species of flies found.” By Chang Ai-Lien. The Straits Times, 06 Feb 2006. Belgian expert discovers them in one year of research here. [pdf]

CALL him lord of the flies. In a single year here, Dr Patrick Grootaert has uncovered an unprecedented 150 new species of long-legged flies – to add to the 44 already known to exist.

‘This is really a large number, especially for such a small country,’ said Dr Grootaert, curator of flies at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences who has spent the past year in Singapore. ‘For a biologist, it’s a dream come true.’ Dr Grootaert, 53, is a specialist in long-legged flies, which with their large greenish eyes are some of the more attractive members of the fly kingdom. They are also its assassins, and have developed large mouth parts to crush insects and pierce them to suck out their juices.

Some of the richest repositories of his six-legged treasures were the Central Catchment Area, Sungei Buloh and Chek Jawa. The mangroves here are home to perhaps the world’s richest collection of long-legged flies, he said. ‘I was so surprised to find so many species here, with different communities living in microhabitats just 500m apart. We are just scratching the surface and the information is already overwhelming.’ He said the vast spectrum of creatures still undiscovered in tiny pockets of biodiversity here makes it even more critical to save what is left.

‘Singapore is like an open laboratory. All you need is a short drive and you get to see insects in their natural habitats, displaying and feeding,’ he said.

This is not the first time flies have been under the microscope here. In 2003, a group of researchers was given $250,000 by the United States National Science Foundation to study flies. The five-year project, which started in 2004, is part of a massive international effort, called Tree Of Life, to document the world’s biodiversity. Surprisingly little is known about flies, even thought they have been a key part of the earth’s fauna for at least 250 million years.

About 120,000 species of flies and mosquitoes – which belong to the same group as they have only one pair of functional wings (other insects have two) – have been discovered.

However, scientists estimate that millions of species remain unknown, particularly in this region.

Many will never be known. Singapore has lost about half its animal species in the past 200 years.

A National University of Singapore (NUS) study in 2003 estimated that at least 881 of 3,196 recorded species have vanished forever. Taking into account the probable number of animals here before detailed records were made in the late 1800s, the study predicted that the actual figure is even higher.

Singapore’s nature reserves, which make up 0.25 4 – 5* [Ed.] per cent of the island’s land area, are home to many of the native plants and animals here. Because of its tropical location, the variety of species that have survived is still rich enough to draw scientists from all over the world hoping to unearth new flora and fauna.

Specimens of the flies discovered by Dr Grootaert are housed at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS.

Museum director Peter Ng is one of many scientists who believe less than 10 per cent of the animals of South-east Asia are known to science. Dr Grootaert’s work was yet more evidence of the multitude of creatures just waiting to be discovered, he said. ‘We must go all out to save what we have left.’

Copyright © 2005 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

*Brook et al (2003) estimated that more than 50% of Singapore’s native biodiversity is found in 0.25% of Singapore’s land area (within forest reserves), and not that Singapore only has 0.25% of nature reserves.

“Repulsive? No, fascinating” By Chang Ai-Lien. The Straits Times, 06 Feb 2006. Belgian expert discovers them in one year of research here. [pdf]

Repulsive? No, fascinating FAR from being dirty and repulsive, flies are fascinating, reckons Belgian fly expert Patrick Grootaert, who has uncovered a wealth of new species here.

‘It is really surprising how beautiful and complex these little creatures are,’ said the curator of flies at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

The males of one species, for example, are armed with barbed legs to wrestle each other during heated mating matches, while the female waits on the sidelines for the winner to claim her.

Other males have special bristles on their forelegs which they wave at potential mates.

There is much to learn about the humble fly and the field is starting to get more attention these days, said Dr Grootaert. ‘People weren’t interested before, but now more are turning to it because it is one of the unexplored frontiers of science.’ Since different species live under precise conditions in forests and swamps, they can also be a good litmus test of whether a certain environment or ecosystem is healthy.

Dr Grootaert’s speciality – long-legged flies – even has potential benefits. Well-known for their predatory behaviour, they could be used in pest control, he said.


A very diverse group of flies found on the mudflats in mangroves, which feeds on larvae of other insects in the mud. Dr Grootaert found 18 such species here, mostly in Sungei Buloh and Chek Jawa. Neurigona squamifera
Its forelegs (below) are adorned with black flattened bristles, which the male waves to invite the female to mate.  
A new group of flies first found on the National University of Singapore campus, they live on tree trunks.