Prosaic: what dull looks hide

Their appearance is the only thing that can be said to be commonplace about this group of animals

By Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Penang Stream Toad (Ansonia penangensis) (2016-01-06) by Evan S. H. QuahLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Penang Stream Toad
Ansonia penangensis Stoliczka, 1870

The Penang Stream Toad may look like ‘just another’ amphibian but it has a remarkable story. It was first named in 1870 and the last time anyone had seen or collected it was in 1898. It was rediscovered in 2011 by scientists from Malaysia and the USA. This rediscovery meant that the scientists were able to determine that the Penang Stream Toad is distinct from other similar-looking species found on mainland Peninsular Malaysia. This species is only found in ASEAN, on the island of Penang in Peninsular Malaysia.

Serpent Coral (Pachyseris speciosa) (2018-06-29) by Danwei Huang and Lutfi Afiq-RosliLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Serpent Coral
Pachyseris speciosa (Dana, 1846)

This species of coral has largely existed in obscurity because of its dull appearance and drab colours. Nevertheless, it is extremely widespread and is found in much of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Its colonies form thin plates which are horizontal, sometimes tiered, and may extend over several metres. They are typically brown to grey with pale margins.

Serpent Coral (Pachyseris speciosa) (2007-07-13) by Danwei Huang and Lutfi Afiq-RosliLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

This species is relatively abundant, particularly in the deeper sections of the reef slope. And since the 1980s, the abundance of Serpent Coral has increased relative to other coral species in Singapore as coastlines become more urbanised. It is now the most common coral in Singapore and will play a key role in the adaptation of reefs to ongoing environmental change due to human activities and climate change. In ASEAN, this species is found in waters in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Thinophilus lungosetole (2018-06-08) by Kay RamosLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Thinophilus lungosetole Ramos & Grootaert in Ramos, Meier, Nuneza & Grootaert, 2018

This species scientific name is a combination of “lungo” and “setole”, the Italian for “long” and “bristles”, respectively. This is in reference to the long bristles on the lower edge of its forelegs. This species is unique in having a combination of leg bristles that is not found in any other species of the genus Thinophilus from Southeast Asia. It is only found in the ASEAN region in the Philippines.

Renny’s Flat Goby (Platygobiopsis hadiatyae) (2018-03-27) by SJADES 2018Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Renny’s Flat Goby
Platygobiopsis hadiatyae Larson, Jaafar, Tan & Peristiwady, 2020

Gobies are relatively elongated fish that live at the bottom of fresh and marine waters. They are mostly found in shallow water. This unique specimen of Renny’s Flat Goby that was collected from 182 metres is therefore something special. Besides its profound habits, it has a flat head and very large ear stone (which are used for balance). The three known species of Platygobiopsis are from Flores, Vietnam and Japan. This species was collected by the SJADES 2018 Expedition. It is only found in the ASEAN region, in deep water off Java, Indonesia.

Bath Sponges (Spongia sp. and Hippospongia sp.) (2007-03-18) by Swee Cheng LimLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Bath Sponges
Hippospongia sp.
Spongia sp.

They may look like porous lumps on the beach but these animals are sponges from Singapore that have been used as bath sponges by early European expatriates. The most famous (and best) bath sponges are Spongia officinalis and Hippospongia communis that are only found in the Mediterranean Sea. The part of the animal that is used as a sponge is the collagen skeleton.

Bath Sponges (Spongia sp. and Hippospongia sp.) (2007-03-18) by Swee Cheng LimLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

These two species of Bath Sponges from Singapore are likely to be new and undescribed. Due to cultural differences, or because vast sponge beds are not found in this region, there does not seem to be any recorded indigenous use of bath sponges before Europeans came to Singapore. These two species of yet-to-be-identified Bath Sponges are only known from Singapore.

Sphenomorphus sungaicolus (2016-10-02) by Evan S. H. QuahLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Sphenomorphus sungaicolus Sumarli, Grismer, Wood, Ahmad, Rizal, Ismail, Izam, Ahmad & Linkem, 2016

Do not call this skink boring! It is the first species of obligate riparian skink—meaning that it is lives full-time around rivers and streams—from Peninsular Malaysia. It was described and named by a group of Malaysian and American scientists in 2016. It has been found on both sides of Malaysia Main Range mountains. Its scientific species name is a combination of “sungai” meaning river in Malay and “colus” meaning inhabitant in Latin. It is only known from the ASEAN region from Peninsular Malaysia.

Phallusia phillipinensis (2014-11-18) by Yee Keat TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Phallusia philippinensis Millar, 1975

Seasquirts are common marine organisms that look like smooth non-descript entities. They are similar to sponges in habits in that they are immobile and filter water through their bodies to obtain nutrients. They are also notoriously difficult to identify. Specimens from the Western Pacific had been previously identified as Phallusia nigra but further investigation determined that many of these were actually Phallusia philippinensis.

Phallusia phillipinensis (2010-04-27) by Joyce OngLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Phallusia philippinensis ranges from grey to dark brown in colour depending on where it is found, while Phallusia nigra is jet black. A researcher has shown that specimens in habitats receiving less light tend to be lighter in colour than those in brighter habitats. When translocated to brighter habitats, these lighter individuals become darker in colour in an irreversible process. The pigment layer that causes this colour change appears to be a form of sunscreen. This species is found around the Western Pacific as far north as Japan and west to Palau. In the ASEAN region, it is found in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

Empurau (Tor tambroides) (2018-05-31) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Empurau
Tor tambroides (Bleeker, 1854)

This species comes from a genus that sounds like an hammer-wielding superhero. In reality it is a species of the carp family and it looks the part. Despite its unexceptional appearance, this fish commands very high prices in the market. Its Chinese name in Peninsular Malaysia translates as “never will forget”, supposedly because you will not soon forget the taste of it. Large individuals can fetch many thousands of dollars.

Empurau (Tor tambroides) (2017-06-11) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

This species is omnivorous and when it consumes toxic fruits, it can become inedible. In addition to being in demand for food, this species is also threatened by the destruction and disruption of its freshwater river habitats. Outside of ASEAN, this species is only found in southern China. In the ASEAN region it is found in rivers in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Stenope falcata (2017-01-25) by Yuchen AngLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Stenope falcata (Reshchikov in Yue, Reschikov, Ang, Xu & Pang, 2017)

This species of wasp from the Philippines was described and named in a paper that appeared on 27 March 2017. Less than four months later (on 17 July 2017) another paper by different authors appeared pointing out that this species had been referred to the wrong family! The authors of the original paper then wrote another follow-up paper acknowledging this change and also assigning this species to its own genus. The genus name Stenope means “narrow face” in Greek. Despite its non-descript appearance, this species created much healthy discourse in the entomological world! This species is only known from the ASEAN region from the Philippines.

Phallusia phillipinensis (2014-11-18) by Yee Keat TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Never judge a book by its cover. Some of the most dull and drab creatures have the most fascinating stories to tell!

Credits: Story

Text:


Bath Sponges
Swee Cheng Lim
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Empurau
Jeremy W. L. Yeo
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Penang Stream Toad
Sphenomorphus sungaicolus
Evan S. H. Quah
(Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia)

Phallusia phillipinensis
Serina S.-C. Lee
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Renny’s Flat Goby
SJADES 2018
(Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Indonesia and National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Serpent Coral
Danwei Huang
Lutfi Afiq-Rosli
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Stenope falcate
Yuchen Ang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Alexey Reshchikov
(Sun Yat-sen University, China)

Thinophilus lungosetole
Yuchen Ang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)


Images:

Bath Sponges
Swee Cheng Lim
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Empurau
Heok Hui Tan
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Penang Stream Toad
Sphenomorphus sungaicolus
Evan S. H. Quah
(Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia)

Phallusia phillipinensis
Joyce Ong
Yee Keat Tan
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Renny’s Flat Goby
SJADES 2018
(Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Indonesia and National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Serpent Coral
Danwei Huang
Lutfi Afiq-Rosli
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Stenope falcate
Yuchen Ang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Thinophilus lungosetole
Kay Ramos
(Western Mindanao State University, the Philippines)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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