Prince, Apollonia and Twinky. With the three dinosaur fossils dominating the main hall at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, you could easily be mistaken into thinking that the Museum is about them, but it is not.
Instead, the museum is about much, much more.
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum: Biodiversity on Display
It is about the millions of living creatures that make up the biodiversity found on this planet. It is about the richness of life and promoting a better appreciation of the world we live in.
The Museum’s own history can be traced back to Sir Stamford Raffles who first mooted the idea of a natural history collection in 1823. The latest incarnation of the Museum and its new building, officially opened on 18 April 2015, is a journey almost 200 years in the making.
It is open to the Public from 28 April 2015 onwards.
The current Museum is a department under the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Science. However, it was once the Zoological Collection under the former Raffles Museum (now the National Museum of Singapore). During World War II it went into hiatus and was last seen in a dimly lit room at the Science Faculty as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.
The new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum building, located beside the University Cultural Centre at Kent Ridge, finally allows the collection to be amply displayed.
Organised into different sections demarcated by “totem poles”, visitors get to trace living organisms, starting from simple life forms such as plants and trees to complex ones like mammals.
But, the biggest draw here has to be the dinosaur fossils, so let’s start there.
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Prince, Apollonia and Twinky are three remarkable dinosaur specimens because they are among the most intact fossils ever found. They were discovered close to each other, fuelling speculation that they are part of a herd that fell into a ditch together and unable to recover, leading to their demise. They belong to the family Diplodocidae, a group of relatively slender but long dinosaurs with short legs. Sort of like the “dachshunds” of dinosaurs. At close to 27 metres long, Prince is the largest while Twinky is the smallest at 12 metres long.
The original bones have been mounted on a special frame for display but the skulls are accurate casts instead. This is because the real skulls are too heavy to be mounted. If you wish to view Apollonia’s original skull, it can found, still embedded in rock, in a nearby glass case.
Under the shadows of the imposing dinosaur trio, visitors can lay their hands on a real dinosaur bone. This femur or thighbone is from an Edmontosaurus. The Edmontosaurus was a flat-headed, plant-eating duck-billed dinosaur and estimated to be 10 metres long and two metres tall.
It is theorized that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a cataclysmic event such as an asteroid impact. Alluding to this, visitors can have a go at lifting a small meteorite that weighs a surprising 5 kg.
For a comparatively more recent example of extinction, there is a full-size model of a dodo. The skull and bones of a real dodo can be viewed in a display case. Unlike the dinosaurs which disappeared due to natural events, the dodo was hunted into extinction by sailors in the 1660s.
Overview of Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum’s Layout
When you are ready to explore the rest of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, start from the Plants section near the Museum’s entrance. The “tour” of the museum can be taken by “following the walls” from the Plants gallery.
From plants and trees, the exhibits progress on to sea-creatures before examining simple land-based animals such as insects and eventually, complex animals such as fish, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Seeing the Museum in this order makes it easier to take in the diversity and complexity of the natural world on display.
Starting with plants and trees, there is a life-sized replica of the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. This Sumatran flower is known not just for its size but its horrid smell. You can see a real specimen of a shrivelled up Rafflesia the glass case nearby.
Visitors can also examine cells, the building blocks of living things, found in wood under a microscope.
Biodiversity in the Sea
The next section moves on to “simple” sea creatures such as sponges, sea jellies and shells. Look out for a massive ammonite, a shelled sea creature from the age of dinosaurs that is now extinct.
In the section devoted to arthropods or animals with external skeletons (think scorpions, prawns and crabs), among the interesting exhibits here are fossils of trilobites, a marine creature that existed before the dinosaurs. Other specimens here include ‘live’ scorpions and giant crabs.
Move out of the water and into the kingdom of insects. There is an overwhelming assortment of beetles, butterflies and bugs on display. This is no wonder since the insect kingdom is the largest among the world’s animal groups. Other than those pinned on the wall, see if you can spot the ‘live’ stick insects on display too.
Tetrapods are four-footed animals. Showcasing how limbs are able to support the heavy mass of a body on land, look out for exhibits such as the leg and foot of an Asian Elephant and the fossil leg of a triceratops. There is also a model of a Tiktaalik, a freshwater fish that had wrist-like fins and could prop itself out of the water. For a more current example of amphibious fish, there is a collection of mudskippers in the glass tank opposite the model.
The galleries then cover reptiles, birds and finally mammals. Just keep on “following the walls”.
In the reptile section, a huge crocodile specimen will surely catch the attention of visitors. Amazingly, it was found in Sungei Serangoon right here in Singapore!
Look out for the Birds of Paradise display. In these species of birds, it is the males that who “dress up” with bright plumage and elaborate features to attract the females.
There is also a cast replica of the Archaeopteryx fossil. The importance of this fossil is that it shows an animal with both reptilian and bird-like features, supporting the theory that the ancestry of birds can be traced back to dinosaurs.
Before the mammal gallery is a room dedicated to animals found in the rainforest. Watch the video on the amazing adaptations animals have made to efficiently move around the canopy of the forest by gliding through the air.
The mammal gallery focuses on animals found in the Southeast Asian region. Taxidermically preserved animals here include big cats such as tigers and leopards, as well as smaller mammals such as the binturong and porcupines. Visitors can also view the skeleton of a dugong, a marine mammal, and even touch the skull of an elephant.
A highlight of this section is the “tusk” of a narwhal. The narwhal is a medium-sized whale whose long protruding canine tooth from its forehead has earned it the nickname, the unicorn of the sea.
Found in Arctic waters, according to Inuit legend, the narwhal’s tusk came about when a wicked woman was dragged into the water by a harpoon with a rope tied to it. The woman became a narwhal and her hair got twisted in the rope, transforming her hair into the narwhal’s spiralled tusk.
The 2.7-metre tusk on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is less steeped in legend. It was recently donated to the Museum by the great-granddaughters of ‘Whampoa’ Hoo Ah Kay who had received it from the Russian government in the 1860s when he was the consul of Russia in Singapore.
The mezzanine floor of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum pays homage to its heritage. Its decor is reminiscent of an old-style museum with specimens on display in dark wooden cabinets and curator cards filed away in drawers.
The numbers tagged to the exhibits in the glass displays correspond to the notes found on the cards in the drawers.
What may be a surprising revelation to some is that other than being important figures in Singapore’s founding, both Raffles and Farquhar were avid naturalists. In fact, Raffles was responsible for identifying the Sun Bear, the world’s smallest bear. Farquhar, while Resident of Singapore, commissioned a set of watercolour paintings of the flora and fauna in Malaya. These paintings were produced with remarkable accuracy and facsimiles of the watercolours are on display at the Museum side-by-side with the animals depicted.
From the second floor, visitors also get to peek at a small outdoor garden, or admire the view of Prince, Apollonia and Twinky from above.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure to explore all that the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum has to offer and you will walk away amazed by the biological diversity found in this world.
The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum opens to the public on 28 April 2015.
Complete your visit by trying out Little Day Out’s Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum Printable Activity Sheets!
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
National University of Singapore
2 Conservatory Drive
Mon (except Public Holidays): Closed
Tue to Sun, and Public Holidays: 10 am to 7 pm
Entry is by tickets only. Tickets must be pre-booked from Sistic or from its website. Entry timing are based on one of six timeslots one-and-a-half hour timeslots throughout the day.
Local Resident Rates:
Child, Student, NSF, Senior Citizen & Person with Disability: $8
Child & Senior Citizen: $12