Issue 115 | Oct-Dec 2018

A Bug's Life

Mr Tan Ming Kai (Science ‘15)

What began as a childhood fascination with grasshoppers eventually led Mr Tan Ming Kai (Science ‘15) to the discovery of 63 new orthopteran species in the region.


The word “adorable” is not often used to describe orthopterans — an order of insects that comprises grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. But as a child, Mr Tan Ming Kai felt that these bugs were exactly that. This sentiment has not changed nor waned, for the now-28 year-old, who is currently pursuing his PhD in Biological Sciences at NUS. The child-like curiosity has evolved however into an even deeper appreciation. “I am fascinated by how diverse [orthopterans] are in forms and functions,” says Mr Tan. “Some have bright colourful patterns, while others closely resemble plant parts; some are carnivorous, whereas others are pollinators.”

Since 2009, Mr Tan has searched high and low to collect and identify these insects. His research has taken him across Singapore and also around the region to Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam and the Philippines. The efforts have paid off.


To date, Mr Tan has discovered and described 63 species new to science. While he often names his findings after their locality or characteristics, he has also christened one after a local folk song and another after Jiminy the cricket from Disney’s animated film Pinocchio. There are also crickets that are named after his mother (Arnobia tinae) and his wife (Pulchroteratura huiqing), with whom he tied the knot last year.

NUS, Mr Tan says, has been instrumental in his ability to pursue this passion. “The University has provided me with the platform to do research on orthopterans, which may not have been possible if I did not continue pursue a PhD here,” he lets in. Mr Tan plans on continuing with his research on orthopterans for as long as he can. “There are still so much more to learn about these creatures,” he says. “To me, the most exciting part of this job is to discover something that is new to everyone. It never gets old.”


.....according to Mr Tan Ming Kai.

“There are crickets which live on sandy beaches. They dig holes to stay out of the water during high tide, but emerge during low tide to feed and find mates.”

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