Piecing together a prehistoric puzzle

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Apr 15;

Perched on its hind legs at the centre of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Twinky the dinosaur has been immortalised with its front limbs in the air and its head lifted high, as though midway through a hearty meal of leaves and buds.

At 12m in length, it is the smallest of the trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs at the new museum in Kent Ridge, which the public can visit from tomorrow.
Next to Twinky is graceful Apollonia, its 24m-long frame reaching up to overlook the museum's mezzanine.

Then there is Prince, all 27m of "alpha" male, stretched in a seemingly lazy manner across the centre of the 2,000 sq m exhibition space.

Their easy poses belie the efforts of a team of almost 30 museum staff, professional art movers and dinosaur experts to set up the exhibit - the star attraction of Singapore's first and only natural history museum.

Research associate Martyn Low, 33, said it took the team two weeks of 12-hour days last August to assemble the fossils of the three giants, which arrived in Singapore in 53 crates between 2012 and 2013.

There were more than 1,000 elements to the three 150-million- year-old skeletons, with some bones weighing more than 200kg. The heaviest was the sacrum (the pelvis and the bones fused to it).

It was the first piece to be mounted on each of the three frames, with the help of a chain block and two "spidermen" - professional art movers trained to walk on the frame, said project manager Tan Swee Hee, 43.

Due to its weight, getting the sacrum positioned was a challenging task. "But once the sacrum was in place, the vertebrae and tail grew from both ends very quickly," Mr Low said.

The work was as challenging administratively, as it was physically. "Every single bone needed to be kept track of, as each one is an asset," said Mr Low.

The dinosaurs were acquired for about $8 million in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The bones were wrapped in paper towels, then encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast called a jacket so they could be transported without being damaged. Each jacket was marked for identification and moved to the lab where it was removed using a cast cutter.

Workers then painstakingly chipped rock away from the bones using an air scribe. A consolidant, or a strengthening liquid, was then used to preserve and harden the fossils.

When the bones arrived in Singapore, they were kept in a temperature-controlled warehouse in Tagore Lane until their new home was ready for them last year.

Before the bones could be mounted, experts like "dinosaur builder" Brock Sisson had to design the "poses" that would bring them back to life.

"We worked with the museum on making (the dinosaurs) interact, and came up with a design for the family group," said the American.

The dinosaur trio were found together, and could well have been a family.

At the museum, Prince looks as if it is welcoming visitors, while Apollonia watches over Twinky at play.

Said Mr Sisson: "The main hall where the dinosaurs are is a great space - it's going to showcase the exhibit very nicely.

"I've been to other museums where the dinosaurs are just in a big room, but they fit very nicely here and fill the space - it's going to be a neat exhibit."

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum: 7 things to watch out for beyond the dinos
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 28 Apr 15;

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.

Plants Zone

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.

Dinosaurs Zone

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.

Anthropods Zone

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 anthropods.

Referring to organisms with an exoskeleton, a segmented body and many pairs of legs, anthropods 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

An exhibit of a tiger skin on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum on April 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

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.

Singapore Today

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.

Hunt for dino bones in museum with an app
It gives facts on parts of dinosaurs, allows visitors to take selfie with one
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 28 Apr 15;

THE lair of three rare dinosaurs opens to the public today, after more than five years in the making.

Guests to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Kent Ridge will not only get to see the genuine fossils of the three diplodocid sauropod dinosaur stars - Prince, Apollonia and Twinky - but also get the chance to "hunt" for bones.

But instead of a hammer and chisel, aspiring palaeontologists (fossil scientists) need only a mobile application called App-ollonia, a play on Apollonia's name.

Developed by Singapore software firm mgg software, App-ollonia is free for download on iOS and Android devices.

Using the app, museum visitors must first "collect" four of Apollonia's bones - its skull, fibula (lower leg bone), cervical vertebra (neck bone) and coracoid (a bone near the shoulder blade).

This is achieved by using the app's camera function to scan the QR codes placed around the biodiversity gallery on the first floor of the museum. The QR codes show where the bones are hidden.

The app also provides interesting facts about a particular bone when a QR code is detected. For instance, those who "collect" the fibula will learn that it is the part of the skeleton from which palaeontologists take samples to determine a dinosaur's age.

"This app helps make the experience fun and interactive, and gives visitors more information about the different parts of the dinosaur," said mgg software managing director Steven Tan, 49.

After all the bones are collected, visitors can scan a QR code in the museum's brochure to watch Apollonia come to life. They can also take a selfie with a preloaded image of Apollonia.

"The dino app is a good souvenir that visitors can take home, and it's free," said museum research associate Martyn Low, 33. "I remember just flipping through dinosaur books when I was young. This is fantastic - the dinosaur actually moves in front of you."

The three dinosaurs, which were discovered in Wyoming in the United States, are a few of the largest creatures to roam the earth 150 million years ago. Apollonia, the second largest of the trio at 24m long, was chosen as the app's model because its skeleton has more bones than 12m- long Twinky, which was the first to arrive in Singapore. Apollonia arrived before 27m-long Prince.

The $200,000 app was created for the museum pro-bono. Said Mr Tan: "I was very touched and impressed by the museum's work to preserve natural history. So I decided that... we will also do our part to donate to our country."

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is also launching its own website to give more details about the exhibits.

The website is still in the beta version, but is accessible at http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/webME.

NUS Environmental Studies undergraduate Song Lin, 22, said: "The dino app seems like a good way to interact with lifeless artefacts."