Oh ? Made you think!

By Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Creatures that make one pause for thought. Some have all
manner of misconceptions attached to them. Others have unbelievable
attributes that turn out to be true!

Triatoma migrans (2009-10-17) by Wei Song HwangLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Triatoma migrans Breddin 1903

Commonly known as kissing bugs, species of Triatoma strike fear in the Americas as they are vectors of the deadly Chagas disease. What is less known is that there is a small group of Triatoma species endemic to Southeast Asia, and very little is known about their natural history. Although the parasite that causes Chagas disease is absent from Southeast Asia, other related species of parasites are found here and they are not well studied. Triatoma migrans is one of the six species indigenous to Southeast Asia and is quite widespread. Kissing bugs typically feed on wild rodents but nothing is known about Triatoma migrans. Further research will be needed to determine the public health importance of this and other Triatoma species in Southeast Asia. For example, bites in humans by a closely-related species have been on the increase in Vietnam. This species is only found in ASEAN in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Naked Bulldog Bat (Cheiromeles torquatus) (2009-03-26) by Kelvin K. P. LimLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Naked Bulldog Bat
Cheiromeles torquatus Horsfield, 1824

This bat is known for being completely naked, which is totally inaccurate. It actually has sparse, short and fine hairs all over its body. However, a scientist studying the aerodynamics of bats have found that the sparse nature of the hair gives this species an aerodynamic edge.

Naked Bulldog Bat (Cheiromeles torquatus) (2009-03-26) by Kelvin K. P. LimLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The other thing that this bat is known for is being odiferous, which is true. One scientist has described the smell as “stale socks drenched in engine oil”. This odour appears to originate in secretions from a gland near the throat. These secretions may be used like those from preening gland in birds. This species is only found in the ASEAN region, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.

Perisphaerus sp. (2016-08-22) by Maosheng FooLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Perisphaerus flavicornis (Burmeister, 1838)

Cockroaches elicit feelings of repulsion in most people, except of course in entomologists (people who study insects). Species of the genus Perisphaerus have iridescent bodies and the females are able to roll up into a ball, hence the common name of pill cockroaches.

Perisphaerus sp. (2016-08-22) by Maosheng FooLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Female species of Perisphaerus also do something remarkable. They ‘suckle’ their young.

Perisphaerus sp. (2016-08-22) by Maosheng FooLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The female has small cavities on her legs which fit the mouthparts of very young nymphs.

The nymphs cling to the mother cockroach and feed on fluids that exude from these cavities.

Perisphaerus sp. (2016-08-20) by Maosheng FooLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The male of the species is more ‘cockroach-like’ in appearance but its body is also iridescent.

Perisphaerus sp. (2016-08-20) by Maosheng FooLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Unlike the females, the males have wings and are able to fly.

Perisphaerus sp. (2016-08-20) by Maosheng FooLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Perisphaerus flavicornis is known only from the ASEAN region, from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Tetraclita singaporensis (2004-02-08) by Ria TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Tetraclita singaporensis Chan, Tsang & Chu, 2007

Until 2006, it was assumed that the Singapore population of this barnacle was part of the widely-ranging Tetraclita squamosa. Using DNA and studying the anatomy of specimens from Singapore, scientists determine that the Singapore population was a distinct species that they named Tetraclita singaporensis. A species like this is termed a cryptic species, because two or more distinct species are thought to be the same because they appear so similar. Besides being a cryptic but distinct species, this unassuming volcano-like barnacle hides something else.

Tetraclita singaporensis (2004-02-08) by Ria TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Being immobile, reproduction in barnacles is a challenge. Some species overcome this by having some of the longest penises (relative to body length) in the animal kingdom. While the longest barnacle penises are eight times the length of the body, in another species of Tetraclita, it is a moderate four times. It is very likely that this species from Singapore has a penis length somewhere in this range. Scaled up for perspective, this would be equivalent to a male human having a penis over seven metres long. Tetraclita singaporensis is only found in the ASEAN region, from Singapore and Thailand.

Ball Sea Cucumber (Phyllophorus sp.) (2007-07-03) by Ria TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Ball Sea Cucumber
Phyllophorus proteus Bell, 1884

This species of sea cucumber is ovoid in shape and is generally found buried in muddy sand. Members of the genus Phyllophorus are used to make ‘gamat’ a panacea recommended for all manner of ailments in the Malay-speaking world. This substance is made by slitting open the sea cucumber and collecting the body fluid. The fluid is left to stand for several weeks before it is sold.

Ball Sea Cucumber (Phyllophorus sp.) by Ria TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Scientists have analysed the substance and found that it has some antioxidant compounds but further studies will be needed to determine their efficacy. Harvesting will have to be carefully managed to ensure sustainability. Uncertainties in the determination of the number of distinct species and their distribution mean that it is not possible to give information on the geographical ranges of this species.

Perochaeta orientalis (2013-07-10) by Yuchen AngLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Perochaeta orientalis (de Meijere 1913)

This rather particular species of fly is only found on select mountaintops in Southeast Asia. Superficially resembling a flying ant, this species has a very interesting sex life. Its mating ritual involves the male using specially-evolved brushy appendages on his abdomen to tickle and stimulate the female. The male also smears secretions from his hind legs all over the female.

Perochaeta orientalis by Yuchen AngLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The female of this species also has a remarkable degree of choice in determining who fathers her offspring. She is able to store sperm from many mates and select which sperm to use when she lays her eggs—her body, her choice! Researchers at the National University of Singapore even managed to record these behaviours in a video. This species is only found in ASEAN, in Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines.

Koh Tao Caecilian (2013-10-24) by Somsak PanhaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Koh Tao Caecilian
Ichthyophis kohtaoensis Taylor, 1960

Superficially resembling a snake, this creature is actually an amphibian! A very secretive animal, it lives underground most of its life. The female lays eggs in terrestrial chamber close to temporary and permanent ponds, banks of rivers, and the shoreline of large pools.

This species also exhibits parental care. The females guard their clutches of eggs for up to three months until they hatch. It is found in Thailand, Laos, and eastern Cambodia.

Pear-shaped Moon Snail (Polinices mammilla) (2017-01-13) by Siong Kiat TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Pear-shaped Moon Snail
Polinices mammilla (Linnaeus, 1758)

Species names are often chosen for specific reasons. The name may reveal a physical attribute of the species, the type locality, or could have even been selected to honour someone. Even the slightly dubious sounding ones often have some sort of rationale behind them.

Pear-shaped Moon Snail (Polinices mammilla) (2011-06-04) by Siong Kiat TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

One such example is this the Pear-shaped Moon Snail. Its thick, oval-shaped shell has a pointed tip, which gives it the overall appearance of a breast—hence the very descriptive Latin species name of “mammilla” which means “breast”. This species is found in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is found throughout the ASEAN area.

Tetraclita singaporensis (2004-02-08) by Ria TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

These creatures show that all too often, we view nature with preconceived notions. While most turn out to be false, it is ironic that some of the most-unlikely are actually true.

Credits: Story

Text:

Ball Sea Cucumber
Peter K. L. Ng
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Koh Tao Caecilian
Somsak Panha
(Chulalongkorn University, Thailand)

Naked Bulldog Bat
Tetraclita singaporensis
Khek Yan Lee
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Pear-shaped Moon Snail
Letchumi Mani
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Perisphaerus sp.
Maosheng Foo
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Perochaeta orientalis
Yuchen Ang
Rudolf Meier
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Triatoma migrans
Wei Song Hwang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)


Images:

Ball Sea Cucumber
Tetraclita singaporensis
Ria Tan
(Wild Singapore, Singapore)

Koh Tao Caecilian
Somsak Panha
(Chulalongkorn University, Thailand)

Naked Bulldog Bat
Kelvin K. P. Lim
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Pear-shaped Moon Snail
Siong Kiat Tan
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Perisphaerus sp.
Maosheng Foo
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Perochaeta orientalis
Yuchen Ang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Triatoma migrans
Wei Song Hwang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)


Video:

Perochaeta orientalis
Yuchen Ang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

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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