Tarsius syrichta (Linnaeus, 1758)

Vertebrate - Mammal

Philippine Tarsier; Malmag, Mamag (Mindanao); Mago (Samar); Magau (Leyte)
Near threatened (IUCN)

The Philippine tarsier, commonly mistaken as a small monkey is very much different from a monkey. Although both animals belong to the same Order – the Primate, tarsiers are from Family Tarsiidae while monkeys are from Family Cercopithecidae. A tarsier is a small nocturnal primate with huge goggle eyes that are fixed forward into a staring look. The eyes cannot moved from corner to corner so the tarsier has to turn its head to as far as 180 degrees to see an object at its side. The eyes are adapted to nocturnal habits, such that at night, its pupil expands almost covering the entire iris. However, during the day or whenever exposed to bright light, the pupil contracts into a small fine slit. Aside from the eyes, the tarsier has the ability to turn its head nearly 360 degrees, a unique capability used to find its way through trees and spot prey as well. Its highly sensitive ears that usually turns toward the direction of the sound can be twisted and moved in opposite direction when excited. The tarsier’s forelimbs and hindlimbs are adapted to clutching, clinging and leaping. The legs are longer than the arms. The long and powerful fingers and toes have flattened pads at the tip. It has flat nails except on the second and third toes, which have claws instead. It possesses an elongated tarsus or anklebone (where its name was probably derived), which is adapted for leaping. The tarsier measures around 15 to 17 inches long. The long tail, which is almost twice the length of the body, is entirely naked except at the tip, which has few hairs.

Preferring live preys, tarsier feeds on insects, small vertebrates, spiders, mice, and also worms and its larvae. Scratching, licking its fur and also rubbing its face on tree branch are part of its grooming. Tarsiers are monogamous. Breeding happens sometime in April or May wherein they produce strong peculiar scents believed to be important in social and sexual communications. Courtship begins when the female genital is swelling and the female tarsier produces distinctive short trills whereby the male responds by vocalizing. During this time the male sniffs the female genitals and urine. Copulation follows after the brief courtship. Gestation period lasts for about 6 months. Female tarsier gives birth to only one young.

Vulnerable to hunters and people, who keep it as a pet, a captive tarsier is short-lived. It thrives only on very humid environment, around 80% optimum. Frequent touching and viewing also cause distress to the animal, making it highly strung until it dies of psychological trauma. Found in Mindanao, Bohol, Leyte and Samar, it was declared as a specially protected faunal species of the Philippines by the former president Fidel V. Ramos in 1997 (Proclamation No. 1030).

This page was last modified Tuesday, June 21, 2011
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