When one hears of the word crustacean, seafood is what usually comes to mind and rings the dinner bell. But for Dr Yang Chien-Hui, these sea creatures pique interest in a different sense. They are her life’s work and she has dedicated to studying their biology, genetics and natural history.
Dr Yang, is a post-doctoral research fellow from the Institute of Marine Biology at the National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU). The university’s location next to the sea as a backdrop within a port city and makes it an ideal spot for conducting studies on the mysterious creatures that inhabit the world’s oceans.
As a child, Dr Yang would make frequent trips to the beach in her hometown of Kaohsiung. Playing and exploring the intertidal zone and rock pools initiated her to the fascinating world of crustaceans. Where she observed hermit crabs amongst the fishes, barnacles, clams and mussels. Hermit crabs are among her favourites and hold a special place in her childhood memories.
This love for crustaceans led her to pursue her studies at the NTOU. Her in depth studies on a plethora of sea crustaceans as an undergraduate further cemented her passion and focus in understanding bottom dwelling crustaceans of the deep. In particular, slipper lobsters are most favoured.
There are actually three families of lobsters: slipper lobsters, spiny lobsters and true lobsters. Slipper lobsters can be found worldwide at the bottom of oceanic continental shelves and have an antennae that is enlarged and flattened like a shield. Spiny lobsters as their name suggests have protective spines that cover their body and have no claws. True lobsters have two modified front legs, which serve as claws and are known as clawed lobsters too. All of them are commercially important crustaceans.
What has made her slipper lobster research endearing is studying their evolutionary history. Dr Yang has discovered new species of slipper lobsters found in Asian Pacific waters as part of her PHD thesis. She describes it as “a great sense of achievement” and opens up opportunities for “unknown specimens or species to be discovered by hand”.
Dr Yang is now based at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on a nine-week stint assisting in sorting out crustacean specimens in the museum’s collection, specifically decapods. Decapods are invertebrates with ten legs and usually refer to crabs, prawns, shrimp and lobsters.
Asked of her visits to Singapore, Dr Yang has enjoyed the clean, safe, warm, food-loving environment. She enjoys the generous hospitality of people and the tropical climate here, as she “sometimes reckons that Taiwan is too cold for her”.