Bohol Part V: Little Tarsiers

When: Dec. 9-12, 2005

After the Loboc River Cruise, our driver pointed us to one of the sari-sari stores along the highway where the tarsiers can be found. At last, I saw my little cutie tarsiers. :) Oh, they're so adorable except the eyes, it's so huge. It has goggling round eyes which is disproportionate to its head and body. In fact, it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest eyes on a mammal.

the famous tarsier

They're really small, a bit smaller than my hand measuring about 3 to 6 inches in height. And what's amazing is that they can rotate their heads around 180 degrees. They were clinging vertically on the branches while a few of them were quite sleepy, and some were eating live insects because a number of tourists were feeding them (Philippine Tarsier by the way is primarily insectivorous). What's more surprising is that they have enormous long feet that extremely stretches wide like rubber to catch their food.

It is said that Tarsier, sleeps at daytime near the trunks of trees and shrubs deep in the impenetrable bushes and forests. They only become active at night. They are often claimed to be the world's smallest monkey - however, this claim is somewhat dubious, since, although they are primates, technically, the tarsier is not a monkey. According to Biology, it belongs to its own suborder under the primates, the prosimii or haplorrhini, while monkeys and apes belong to another suborder, that of the anthropods. Although the species is believed to be about 45 million years old, and is perhaps one of the oldest land species to continuously live in the Philippines, it was only introduced to western biologists in the 18th century. The missionary J.G. Camel gave a description of the animal to J. Petiver, who published it in 1705, and named it the Cercopithecus luzonis minimus. Linneaus later renamed it to Simia syrichta, and later to the scientific name it still carries today: Tarsius syrichta. On Bohol, this little creature is known under a lot of names often different from town to town, some of these local names are "mamag", "Mago", "magau", "maomag", "malmag", and "magatilok-iok".

Although Bohol is best known for its tarsiers, the Philippine tarsier can also be found on the islands of Samar, Leyte, and on Mindanao. Because they have been separated for a long time, the tarsiers from these islands and Bohol have some slight differences. Relatives of the Philippine Tarsier can be found in Borneo, Sumatra and Sulawesi.

The Tarsier normally lives in and around the base of tree trunks and at the roots of plants such as bamboo. At daytime, they hide in hollows close to the ground. They hunt at night exclusively for animal prey. Their diet consists mostly of insects such as cockroaches and crickets, but if they have a chance to catch a small lizard, bird or bat they won't hesitate to do so. Some locals believe that tarsiers live on charcoal, since they are sometimes found 'eating' charcoal in fireplaces. But this a misconception. They do lick from charcoal, mainly to to obtain their ration of salts.

To communicate with each other, the tarsier produces a number of different calls; sometimes a long piercing single note, and sometimes a soft sweet bird-like thrill. When several individuals are talking with each other they can produce a noise that somewhat resembles the chirping of locusts. Male tarsiers have epigastric glands, which they use for scent marking.

There is no admission fee here. Taking picture with a Tarsier is allowed but be ready to throw a small amount in the donation box.

hb with a tarsier on his hand

Unfortunately, we didn't go to the Tarsier Sanctuary in Canapnapan, Corella where we can see the tarsier in its (almost) natural habitat. It is said that this is the only place holding the tarsiers legally, but touching and cuddling them are not allowed here.

I just found out also that improper handling of tarsiers can cause undue stress and even death to the sensitive animals which should not be made household pets.

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AN ASIAN TRAVELER, Exploring Around Asia!