Watch Tarsier in Bohol

tarsier monkeyThe Philippine tarsier, (Tarsius syrichta) is very peculiar small animal. In fact it is one of the smallest known primates, no larger than a adult men’s hand. Mostly active at night, it lives on a diet of insects. Folk traditions sometimes has it that tarsiers eat charcoal, but actually they retrieve the insects from (sometimes burned) wood. It can be found in the islands of Samar, Leyte, Bohol, and Mindanao in the Philippines. If no action is taken, the tarsier might not survive. Although it is a protected species, and the practice of catching them and then selling them as stuffed tarsiers to tourists has stopped, the species is still threatened by the destruction of his natural forest habitat. Many years of both legal and illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have greatly reduced these forests, and reduced the tarsier population to a dangerously small size. If no action is taken now, the Philippine tarsier can soon be added to the list of extinct species.

Not “The World Smallest Monkey”

tarsier“The world’s smallest monkey” is an often heard slogan. However, it is not a monkey. In truth, its classification is somewhat problematic. Some scientists consider tarsiers to be a taxonomic suborder among the primates. While, because they are closely related to lemurs, lorises and bushbabies, others classify them with the prosimians to which these animals belong. Monkeys and apes belong to the suborder of anthropoids. The complete taxonomic classification thus is:


Class Mammalia
Order Primates
Suborder Prosimii/Haplorrhini
Infraorder Tarsiiformes
Superfamily Tarsioidea

In the Philippines, three very similar species have been described. It is very well possible that these species are actually a single species, developed into three races due to the physical separation on the various islands.

Species Location
T. philippensis Samar and Leyte
T. fraterculus Bohol
T. carbonarius Mindanao

Outside the Philippines, a number of relatives of the Philippine tarsier can be found, among them the Bornean tarsier (Tarsius bancanus) of Borneo and Sumatra, the spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum), the lesser spectral tarsier or pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus), and Dian’s tarsier (Tarsius dianae) of Sulawesi, Indonesia. The pygmy tarsier, by the way, is considerably smaller than the Philippine tarsier, while the pygmy mouse lemur, found only in Madagascar, is now being recognized as the smallest primate in the world.

The tarsier was first introduced to Western biologists through the description given to J. Petiver by the missionary J.G. Camel of an animal said to have come from the Philippines (Hill, 1955). Petiver published Camel’s description in 1705 and named the animalCercopithecus luzonis minimus which was the basis for Linnaeus’ (1758) Simia syrichta and eventually Tarsius syrichta. Among the locals, the tarsier is known as “mamag”, “mago”, “magau”, “maomag”, “malmag” and “magatilok-iok”.

The species is believed to be about 45 million years old, dating back to the early Eocene period, and probably one of the oldest land species continuously existing in the Philippines.

Currently, the Philippine tarsier is categorized as a “lower risk, conservation dependent” species, which means that, although it is not yet categorized as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, it could qualify for one of those categories within five years if the present protection programs are stopped.