Zhao Renhui (The Institute of Critical Zoologists)

This section of the Atlas showcases the photography of Singaporean artist Zhao Renhui, Director of the Institute for Critical Zoologists, from his 2013 artwork Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World 1. The guide presents a catalogue of curious creatures and life-forms that have evolved in often unexpected ways to cope with the stresses and pressures of a changed world.

Organisms documented in the series are the results of human intervention, mutations engineered to serve various interests and purposes ranging from economics to aesthetics. Some specimens in this project are based on fact, while others are based on proposals, hypotheses, and papers written by scientists. The line between these two is often an indistinct one, as scientific advances within the last half-century have made possible what was previously believed to be impossible. While drawing on the basic human desire to catalogue and to order knowledge so as to better understand (and command) the world, the project also questions the limits of these systems by blurring the lines between fact and fiction, and oscillating between the modalities of science and art. Through his photography Renhui captures the pathos of the Anthropocene.

World Goldfish Queen

China organised the first International Goldfish Championships in Fuzhou in 2012. Over 3,000 goldfish from 14 countries competed for different titles including the World Goldfish Queen crown. Goldfish are judged by five criteria: breed, body shape, swimming gesture, colour and overall impression. The show stealer was a giant goldfish weighing around 4kg. The judges noted that not all goldfish can grow this big as factors such as breeding may affect size. Goldfish are bred out of generations of genetic mutations since the Jin Dynasty and their exact origins are unknown.

Painted Indian glassy fish, Mekong Deep Blue variant

Certain species of ornamental aquarium fish have been artificially coloured to appeal to consumers. Different colours can be applied through 'juicing' the fish, in which the creature is injected with a hypodermic syringe containing a colour dye. In aquascaping competitions around Asia, the 'Mekong Deep Blue' variety is patented and highly sought after by aquascaping enthusiasts.

Wild flowerhorn

Flowerhorn cichlids are ornamental aquarium fish noted for their vivid colours and bulbous humped heads. A manmade hybrid, the flowerhorn was popular in Singapore in the late 1990s. When their popularity waned, owners released the fish into the local waters. Today, the fish thrive in large numbers in local reservoirs and waterways. Scientists have reported that the flowerhorn has taken on a different adaptation in recent years. The bulbous and round head it once had has given way to a sharp, flat and rounded disc. It is posited that the more streamlined form allows them to swim quickly away from predators.

World's smallest man-made frogs

In 2007, Hu Hui Shen, 56, a computer science professor from Nanchang, China artificially bred the world’s smallest frogs. The frogs are about 0.5cm long and can leap up to a height of 10cm. The professor started collecting frogs since he was a boy and dedicated all his free time to breeding them. He publishes his findings under a pseudonym in science journals to keep his interest a secret from his university.

Fluorescent zebrafish

A zebrafish encoded with a green fluorescent protein originally extracted from a jellyfish was developed by a team of scientists in Singapore in 1999. The goal was to develop a fish that could detect pollution by fluorescing in the presence of environmental toxins. They are the first commercially available genetically modified fish and are widely sold as novelty pets in the United States today.

AquaAdvantage salmon and regular salmon

The AquaAdvantage salmon is a genetically modified salmon that can grow to its adult size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years. The AquaAdvantage salmon has been modified by an addition of a growth hormone regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from an ocean pout.

Remote-controlled cockroach

In 2011, American researchers developed the first remote-controlled cockroach. They fitted the cockroach with electrodes that sent small electrical pulses to its brain stimulating neurons that controlled the creature's navigation. The electrodes were inserted during the egg stage of the cockroach. Researchers believe that these cockroaches can be put to good use. The possibilities range from surveillance in hard-to-reach spaces to detecting humans trapped under earthquake rubble.

Three-eyed Goliath beetle

In 2012, Japanese scientists implanted electrodes, a radio and a camera on a Goliath beetle which could be wirelessly controlled. The scientists inserted the parts in the beetle during different phases of the pupa stage. The components were powered by generators connected to the flight muscles of the beetle. Most of the components were not visible to the human eye, except for the tiny camera lens peering out of the beetle’s head. The first photograph by a Goliath beetle camera was taken in December 2012, remotely controlled by researchers in a facility 200km away.

Munia that died from too much noise

Birds are dying in Singapore from noise pollution. Noise stops adult birds from hearing the hunger calls from their dependent offspring. Many male birds have also been found dead along the highways during mating season. Scientists believe that they died from singing exhaustion, as noise from the highway obscures their mating calls. Birds have also been found to die from shock around construction sites — sudden loud noises have literally caused these birds to drop from the sky.

Oriental white-eye that died from light pollution

Artificial lighting in Singapore has taken a toll on bird populations. Scientists used to believe that light pollution affected only nocturnal birds. In recent years, diurnal birds have also been found dead as a result of flying into brightly lit towers. Whole flocks have also been reported to collide with buildings. Diurnal birds are often woken up by sudden loud noises, causing them to fly in confusion towards these bright lights as they believe dawn has arrived.

Flycatcher that migrated in the wrong direction

Scientists believe that global warming is affecting the way that birds use the magnetic poles to navigate long distances. Some birds have been migrating to the North instead of the warmer South during winter, resulting in mass bird graves found in the Arctic.

Moon dust (ash belonging to 103 species of insects collected from a lamp cover)

Less than 4% of Singapore exists in total darkness after 10pm. Insects are attracted to artificial light sources, though no one knows exactly why. The insects are usually killed by exhaustion or through contact with the heat from lamps. After being incinerated, their bodies become a heap of ash, collected in the covers of street lamps. The ash, also referred to as 'moon dust', is used by scientists to study the ecological impact of light pollution on insects.

First tiger mosquitoes found in Norway, 2011

As temperatures rise due to global warming, the Asian tiger mosquito is becoming common in places it has never been found in before. Though small, Asian tiger mosquitoes bite aggressively and can spread more than 100 diseases. Originally from East Asia, the tiger mosquito has spread widely in the last two decades. In Europe, the mosquitoes have also adapted to live through the harsh winters. They show a new ability to use the length of a day instead of temperature as a gauge to know when to go into hibernation.

Man-made grapes

Artificial grapes made from gelatin, grape flavouring and artificial colouring have been passed off as real grapes in roadside markets in China.

Tomatoes that do not go bad

The first commercially available genetically modified food was a tomato engineered to have a longer shelf life, the Flavr Savr. Since then, numerous experiments have been conducted to delay the ripening of tomatoes. Today, an average farmed tomato can last for 35 days without any visible damage in a cool room, compared to the average of three days just a decade ago. These are tomatoes photographed after 45 days.

Fish strawberries

Most plants need sunshine and cannot thrive in freezing temperatures, which is why agriculture is severely limited in spring and fall. To maximise crop production, antifreeze protein from the Arctic flounder was introduced into sweet corn in 1990. Subsequent experiments with this antifreeze gene have been conducted with tobacco plants, tomatoes, watermelons, strawberries, Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout.

Square apple

Sold in a department store in South Korea, these square apples were created as gifts for students taking the College Scholastic Ability Test, with some inscribed with the words ‘pass’ or ‘success’. A similar square watermelon was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The cubic fruits are created by stunting their growth in glass cubes.

Fake beef

It has recently been found in China that pork has been made to aesthetically look like beef. 'Beef colouring' and 'beef extracts' were added to pork to make it look and taste like beef.


The broccoli is a man-made plant, derived from careful breeding from about 2,000 years ago. It comes from genus of plants in the mustard family.

Non-genetically modified Corn showing an aura

Corn is the number one crop grown in the United States and about 88% of it is genetically modified. Although there is little evidence that these crops pose a threat to humans, scientists are still understanding the effects of genetic engineering on corn. Scientists recently discovered non-genetically modified corn emit chemicals when they are being attacked by pests. These chemicals, which signal wasps to attack pests, are not present in genetically modified corn. Through Kirlian photography, the aura of a non-genetically modified corn can still be seen.

Himalayan vultures in Singapore

Improvements in sanitation have led to a decrease in food sources for Himalayan vultures in the mountain peaks. This has resulted in young vultures flying to Singapore, some 14,000km away from their original habitats, to look for new sources of food.

Rhinoceros with no horns

A small population of white rhinoceroses in Africa has evolved to have horns so small that they are barely visible. Experts believe this could be due to years of hunting individuals with large horns. The remaining rhinoceroses with smaller horns left to breed will eventually created a whole new hornless generation.

Fat polar bear swimming in Hudson Bay

A polar bear weighing around 950kg, the heaviest ever recorded, was spotted swimming towards Hudson Bay, Canada. As winters — the hunting period for polar bears — get shorter because of global warming, polar bears must fatten themselves up or perish in summer.

Macaque that eats like a human

Researchers in Singapore have discovered monkeys that rely solely on food given out by humans. These Long-tailed macaques have learnt to stop foraging the forest for food. They also tend to live alone, rather than in a troop, hoarding food in different parts of the forest. The individuals tend to be non-aggressive in their interactions with humans and have been seen sharing food with feral dogs and cats.

White House crow

White house crows were sighted in Singapore from 1978 to 1995. An ornithologist posited that this was an adaptation to the land reclamation that was taking place on the island. A combination of factors such as a lack of trees in new reclaimed spaces made mostly of sand and large flat areas meant that the original black crow became less camouflaged. Another possible reason was that the crows adapted to the heat from the large sand masses by turning light-coloured as normal crows with black coats would overheat. A chance white mutation could have triggered off the adaptation. When land reclamation slowed down, the white crows started to disappear

Rewilded tiger fitted with a kill switch

Captive tigers from tiger farms in China have been reintroduced to special wildlife reserves in Sumatra, where they can roam free, provided that they stay within the nature reserve. If the tigers venture too far out of the reserve to be dangerously near humans more than thrice, a kill switch fitted on the neck of the tigers will be switched on.

Cow that has no horns

Researchers in Britain have successfully created a cow that no longer grows horns. Preventing horn growth protects the safety of farmers and eliminates the painful and traumatic process of burning off the horn buds of calves. The same cow is being engineered further in Japan to remove the p311 gene. Absence of the gene will mean that these cows will be less sensitive to any pain experienced during slaughter.

Bioluminescent deer

A scientist in Russia has successfully engineered the luminescent gene of a fungi into a white tail deer in the hope of reducing the number of deer roadkill at night. The bioluminescence is extremely weak but is enough to be lit up by car headlights at night.

Bioluminescent mouse

Since 1997, scientists in Japan added the green fluorescent protein in jellyfish to mice, causing the mice to glow under fluorescent light. This process was started to observe the internal development of mice foetuses. The fluorescent trait was successfully passed on to a majority of the mice's offspring. Glow-in-the-dark mice have also been created in the United States with the firefly gene.

Elephant that has no tusk

Intense poaching by ivory hunters has caused a shift in the gene pool of Asian elephants, leading to a steep rise in tuskless herds. Male elephants grow tusks, but typically around 2 to 5% have a genetic quirk that makes them tuskless. By killing elephants for their ivory, poachers make it more likely that tuskless elephants will mate and pass on the trait to the next generation. Ivory poaching has also skewed the sex ratio where females outnumber the males by four to one.

Falcon that is an owl

Falcons are diurnal birds but have recently adapted to become nocturnal, like owls. Urban falcons have begun to use artificial illumination from street lamps and lit buildings to hunt for bats throughout the night.

Regenerative deer

Deer are the only mammals capable of repeated rounds of regeneration. They do so with their antlers. It is one of the parts with the fastest growth rates in the animal kingdom. Scientists have managed to isolate the gene that is responsible for this regeneration and have proceeded to help a deer to recover from an injured foot.

Eagle with flowerhorn cichlid

Flowerhorn cichlids were popular in Singapore in the late 1990s, but fish lovers moved on to the next fad and started releasing the flowerhorns into local rivers after that. Researchers reported that an unexpected beneficial ecological consequence of the increasing number of flowerhorns is that it has helped increase the population of once endangered fisheating eagles.

Monkey that talks

Adam became the first proboscis monkey with human speech ability. Scientists in Japan managed to engineer the human version of the foxp2 gene — commonly known as the language gene — into the monkey