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The Philippine Tarsier

tarsierMost would call it cute; some might call it bizarre. It has spindly legs, soft fur, and huge shining eyes. Its body is about five inches (12.5 cm) in length, and it weighs about four ounces (114 g). What is it? It is the Philippine Tarsier!

Let’s take a closer look at one of these creatures, the Philippine tarsier. Its eyes, ears, hands, feet, legs, and tail all seem too big for its tiny body. Yet, a closer look at this oddity reveals ingenious design.

Tarsier hearing

The tarsier’s paper-thin ears can furl, unfurl, and turn to pick up the faintest sounds. Its keen hearing helps it not only to avoid predators, such as wild cats, but also to locate prey. After dark, the tarsier’s ears will tune in to the sound of crickets, termites, beetles, birds, and frogs. Then its whole head will follow, directing those bulging eyes toward its prospective meal.

World’s smallest primates

The Philippine tarsier is one of the world’s smallest primates. They actually have the largest eye-to-body ratio of all mammals–their eyes are 150 times larger than a human’s in relation to their body.

The Philippine Tarsier has two claims to fame: 1) it’s endangered and 2) it’s cute as a button. The Philippine tarsier is endemic to the southern Philippines and listed as endangered. For this reason the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, a private organization, works to protect them and runs a research and development centre.

Special creature

The Philippine Tarsier is a very special creature, well worth a day trip to get a close encounter with them while you’re in Bohol. It has gray fur and a nearly naked tail. In comparison with its body size, the eyes of the tarsier are enormous. They have long, slender legs with pads on their fingers and toes to help them cling to branches. Their legs are strong, and they are capable of jumping distances up to twenty feet.

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Tarsiers are nocturnal and will cross each others paths during nightfall searching for prey. They are generally a solitary species which means that they like to be alone.

Birth & offspring

The mating season for the Philippine tarsier starts in April and goes till the end of May. The Philippine tarsier gives birth to a single offspring. The infants are born with the eyes open and covered with hair. Mothers will carry around the infants in their mouth. The infants are parked in a tree while the mother forages. The male makes a copulatory plug in the females vagina after intercourse. The female’s estrus cycle lasts 25-28 days.

Offspring also become mobile very quickly: two days after birth, they can climb trees and only four days after birth, they can jump from tree to tree. Offspring reach sexual maturity in two years, they live anywhere between 12-20 years.

Philippine Tarsier is monogamous

The Philippine Tarsier is monogamous and form male and female pairs. They form small groups usually of no more than four and are not afraid to interact with each other, other animals, and humans, though they are generally shy. Swift movements will startle them causing them to let out a distress screech.

The Philippine tarsier mainly eats insects, but also will eat small vertebrates, like lizards. When this species captures prey items that are on the ground they will leap with the hands first, catching the prey item in the mouth if it is small enough. The sleeping sites for this species are less than 2 meters from the ground and are found in dense tangles of saplings and ferns or located at the base of clumps of bamboos.

In 1997, the government of the Philippines declared the Philippine tarsier a “specially protected” species. Hence, it is illegal to hunt it, damage its habitat, or even keep it as a pet. The tarsier enjoys the affection of the Filipino people and is an icon for tourism.

Tarsiers rarely survive in captivity, partly because of their voracious appetite for live insects as well as their aversion to being handled. Still, this unique creature continues to fascinate the Filipino people. Almost every part of this endearing bug-eyed forest dweller is a surprise.

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