SINGAPORE - Walk through the doors of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Kent Ridge from April 28, and you will see through a frosted panel the museum’s three main stars: Prince, Apollonia and Twinky.
They were among the largest creatures to roam the earth some 150 million years ago, and up until today, the trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs are still the tallest inhabitants of their new world: Singapore’s latest museum, and the only one dedicated to showcasing Southeast Asian biodiversity.
Apollonia, the second largest at 24m long, stands proud and tall in the centre of the 2,000 sq m exhibition space of the museum.
She is flanked by Prince, the ‘alpha’ at 27m long and Twinky, the smallest at 12m long.
But even though the dino trio has grabbed the attention of many people, from imaginative children to reptile enthusiasts to fans of the prehistoric era, there are other treasures within the hallowed halls of the Republic’s first and only natural history museum worth visiting. Spread across two floors are 20 zones of biodiversity and heritage, in which 2,000 artefacts are displayed.
Here are some of the must-sees in the museum.
The Biodiversity Gallery dominates the first floor, and comprises 15 zones, two of which are exhibits on the marine and rainforest habitats.
One of the first few exhibits to greet visitors strolling through the turnstiles is an exhibit called the 10 common trees in Singapore.Some trees may be familiar, like the Saga, with its small, bright red seeds. These scarlet seeds are also known locally as the Red Love seeds, as they represent earnest love and affection. But guests may learn lesser known facts about the tree at this exhibit, such as how the seeds are toxic if eaten raw. Other Singapore trees include some with colourful names, like the Trumpet Tree - which bursts into pink or white blooms after a dry spell - or the coastal Sea Apple Tree.
This zone may be named after the dinosaurs, but visitors will also get a glimpse of another extinct creature: the dodo bird. Aside from genuine Dodo bones, which are on loan from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, visitors browsing the Demise of the Dodo may also be interested in checking out a model of the flightless pigeon, which went extinct due to hunting by humans, interference from domesticated animals, and competition from invasive species.
Singaporeans may best know crabs for being delicious when cooked in gravies of chilli, black pepper or salted egg yolk, but few may know that the animal actually belongs to a larger class of animals known as the arthropods.Referring to organisms with an exoskeleton, a segmented body and many pairs of legs, arthropods also include insects and extinct marine creatures called trilobites.This zone is nestled near the back of the museum, and in it you will find an eye-catching exhibit known as the Tank of Superlatives. Curious to find out which are the world’s largest (Japanese Spider Crab) and smallest crabs (Coral Spider Crab)? Or did you know that the beautiful red-white Mosaic Reef Crab is the most poisonous crab known? Visit this exhibit and find out.
Marine Cycles Zone
One of two habitat zones in the museum - the other being tropical rainforests - this section will immerse guests in waves of marine facts. Guests can view interesting specimens like sea stars and a specimen of the Neptune’s Cup Sponge, which was previously thought to have been extinct in Singapore since 1908 until they were spotted recently in 2014 and 2011. Visitors to this section will also get to see a map depicting the location of the Coral Triangle, an area widely considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness, which sits just south of Singapore.
This is the largest zone in the Biodiversity Gallery. One exhibit that should not be missed is a cordoned section depicting marine mammals - including a 2.7m long tusk from the narwhal, also known as the “unicorn of the ocean”. Skeletons of a short-finned pilot whale and a dugong are also on display. Venture further into the L-shaped zone to view a side-by-side comparison of a human and an ape skeleton. These animals are known to be a close relative of the human, but how similar are we really?
The mezzanine floor, just a short flight of steps away, is dedicated to the Heritage Gallery. This showcases Singapore's history of biodiversity exploration, pioneers of the nature scene here, and a section called Singapore Today presents a summary of the geology of the island, and the conservation work being undertaken in the Republic.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
Mounted on a wall in the Heritage Gallery, this 1.75m long specimen was caught at Siglap Beach on Singapore’s eastern coast in 1883. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle species in the world, and this specimen is the only recorded sighting of the animal in the Republic.
The Singapore Tiger
This skilled hunter thrived in Singapore during the 19th century, preying even on humans and reportedly killing more than 300 people every year. But the tables were turned decades later, when the last local tiger was shot in Choa Chu Kang during the early 1930s.
The Republic may currently be known more as a concrete jungle than a country with sprawling nature areas, but biodiversity is still thriving in our green and blue spaces. Find out more about how marine and terrestrial conservation is being managed in Singapore in this section.