austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

We would shout and swim about the coral that lies beneath the waves

I took the guided tour of the Raffles Museum for Biodiversity Research, which is dedicated to the wildlife of Singapore, which is more than insects, geckos, and stray cats; it's also stuffed mammals and birds from before 1950. They had a diversity which surprised me. They claim in 1996 a new species of flying squirrel took up residence here.

Sir Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore, was a naturalist and many of the species he observed -- such as the Cream-Coloured Giant Squirrel (they had one dating to 1908) and the binturong -- are on display. (Raffles' own collection was lost to a fire at sea.) There's the Coral Catshark, the Porcupinefish, the Ringtail Seahorse, and the Rhinoceros Boxfish, which sound like higher-concept guests on spindizzy_muck. They also had a leopard cat, a big-housecat-sized leopard, which was thought to be gone from the wild until a car hit it in 2001. I don't know what they think now.

Preserved in a very tiny jar was a dragon -- the Common Flying Dragon, draco volans, which appeared to be just a small winged lizard of some kind. You can see why the Komodo Dragon gets all the press, although I'm surprised I haven't heard more of this species. I like cute little dragons.

Also displayed was a ``flying lemur'', which is actually a flying squirrel claiming to be a lemur for the tax benefits. The guide said the longest recorded glide was 137 meters long, with a drop of only 10 meters, which makes me wonder what they'd do with a thermal on their side. They also had a prewar smooth otter, which is as handsome as the name suggests. Also a ``three-striped ground squirrel,'' which is really just showing off.

The taxidermied tiger, pangolin, tapir, short-clawed otter (see ``Oscar, the Food-Safety Otter'') and civets came with a warning not to touch them as they're treated with poisonous chemicals. The tiger (tigers preying on humans used to be an honest problem here) had no whiskers left; allegedly, they were all taken by souvenir-hunting museum-visiting idiots. They're not sure what happened to the tiger's ears, and had ugly replacements. To teach people they mean it about not touching the exhibits they have a cartoon depicting Clip Art Rackety-Coon-Chile having pet Clip Art Hypnotized Otter, with fur coming off in Rackety-Coon-Chile's hand.

The Brown Rat, rattus norvegicus, was on display, and sent the faintly related-by-word-association Beatles tune through my head. The palm civet's taxonomic classification also drew an inappropriate snicker from me.

They had (behave, chefmongoose) several snakes on display, including a king cobra. It seems I'm the only person who never sees snakes around here. On Site and Sound (a Channel i local-history show) this week the host mentioned a king cobra scaring him and his producer scouting out some old British fortress tunnels. There also were many crabs, including the Japanese Spider Crab, which is about the size of a Volkswagen. Without hyperbole, its legs could reach wider than I am tall, and I'm a tall guy.

Not from Singapore at all but alleged to be found in the corals nearby was a partially fossilized giant clam from Malaysia (Pulau Tioman, to be exact, as if that mattered). This is a cartoonishly giant sort of clam, big enough it looks as if it could swallow a small child. Alive, of course, it wouldn't open its shells much wider than you'd need to get your foot caught.

I'm glad I saw the museum finally, although it gave me more of the creeps than I usually get in natural history museums. I imagine it's the age of the mammal exhibits and the formaldehyde-and-light washout of the preserved aquatic exhibits, which -- with the dim lighting -- made things look more dismal than they meant. (I could have done without the guide pointing out the bullet holes in the hides of many of the mammals, as well; yes, they were visible, but they didn't need to be emphasized.)

The ``Take a brochure'' box was empty; I guess they were taken at their word. And I learned the cranes I thought I saw most mornings are actually egrets. I apologize for the confusion.

Trivia: The temperature at which a material becomes antiferromagnetic is known as the Néel temperature. Source: An Introduction to Statistical Thermodynamics, Robert P.H.Gasser and W.Graham Ricahrds.

Currently Reading: Revolutions of 1848: A Social History, Priscilla Robertson. If I may quote and make a snarky nationalist joke: ``[ Prussian King Frederick William IV ] pardoned many distinguished political prisoners and exiles, among them the poet Moritz Arndt and famous old Turnvater Jahn, who had stirred up the youth of the 1810's to fervent patriotism by gymnastic exercises.'' Boy, doesn't take much to get Germans going, does it?


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