Friday, 3 May 2013

Sir Stamford Raffles and the moonrat

Implantation site of the moonrat Echinosorex gymnura
(Raffles 1821) Hubrecht Collection

After Hubrecht had described placentation in the hedgehog (previous post) he travelled to Indonesia and obtained specimens of its relative the moonrat. As the micrograph shows, implantation occurred in a pocket in the endometrium, just as in the hedgehog. He published this finding in Annales du Jardin Botanique du Buitenzorg (1898 Suppl. 2: 159-167). Historically, Bogor or Buitenzorg was the summer residence of the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies.The botanical gardens at Bogor are among the largest in the world.
Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles FRS

There was a brief interlude when Java was under British rule with Sir Stamford Raffles as Lieutenant Governor. Raffles is best remembered for founding Singapore. He was also co-founder of the Zoological Society of London and its first president. A biography of Raffles by Victoria Glendinning appeared last year (reviewed here).

Memorial to Olivia Mariamne Raffles née Devenish
Bogor Botanical Gardens (Wikimedia Commons)

Raffles' sojourn on Java ended in misfortune: his first wife Olivia died there in November 1814. Raffles erected a memorial to Olivia in the Bogor Botanical Gardens. In the following year Raffles was relieved from his post.

Moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura) drawn by J Briois
Raffles Collection, British Library

In London Raffles was knighted and elected FRS, but his next posting, to Bencoolen on Sumatra, was in essence a demotion. However, with time on his hands, he could devote more of his zeal to natural history. Several species are named after him as is a genus of parasitic plants, Rafflesia, known for their smell as corpse flowers. The moonrat was described by Raffles in a "Descriptive Catalogue of a Zoological Collection, made on account of the Honourable East India Company, in the Island of Sumatra and its Vicinity, etc." (Trans Linnean Soc London 1821; 13: 239-74).

Apart from Hubrecht there is only one paper on placentation in the subfamily Galericinae, which comprises the moonrat and other gymnures (here).

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