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Tarsiers: Tarsiidae

Philippine Tarsier (tarsius Syrichta): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The Philippine tarsier has soft gray fur, a body length of about 5 inches (13 centimeters), and a tail length that is twice as long (9 inches, or 23 centimeters). It weighs about 4 to 5 ounces (113 to 142 grams). The head is round and the snout is short. The enormous eyes that seem too big for the sockets are immobile. For side and back vision, the tarsier swivels its head, sometimes almost a full circle. The large, thinly textured ears move like giant antennas to track sounds made by crawling insects and other prey. Long fingers and toes have suction pads at the tips for gripping tree branches. All nails are flattened, except for the second and third toes, which are grooming claws used for removing dead skin and parasites from the fur. The nearly naked tail has a sandy coloration, with a tuft of hair at the tip. The inside part of the tail has ridges that help prop the tarsier against a tree trunk or branch, especially while it sleeps.

Geographic range: The Philippine tarsiers are found in the Philippine Islands.

Habitat: Philippine tarsiers inhabit small trees found under the canopy of less mature forests. They also occupy coastal rainforests. They live in tree hollows close to the ground and are also found in thick bushes and bamboo roots.

The Philippine tarsier is usually quiet, but calls out to others by squeaking in a high note, trilling, or chirping. (© Tom McHugh/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Philippine tarsiers prey on live crickets, beetles, termites, lizards, spiders, scorpions, frogs, and birds.

Behavior and reproduction: Philippine tarsiers mostly live in trees and shrubs, moving from branch to branch by leaping and clinging to vertical branches with their padded fingers and toes. The average jump covers about 5 feet (1.4 meters), with the greatest leaps recorded at 20 feet (6 meters). They also sleep while clinging to vertical branches, supported by their tail. Individuals sleep alone in dense vegetation close to the ground. On the forest floor, they hop, holding the long tail straight. They are nocturnal (active at night), preferring to forage alone. They are usually quiet, but call out to one another by squeaking in a high note, trilling, or chirping. Tarsiers scent mark tree branches, using urine and secretions from skin glands found within the lips, on the chest, and in genital areas.

A male Philippine tarsier may form a family group with one or two females and their offspring. Due to a long pregnancy (about six months), the newborn is well developed, having a full coat and open eyes. The mother carries the infant in her mouth while she forages in trees, resting the infant on branches while she feeds. The newborn is able to cling to branches and can jump after a month.

Philippine tarsiers and people: Some Filipinos believe it is bad luck to touch a tarsier. Others take tarsiers for pets. However, tarsiers do not make good pets. They dislike being handled and will inflict serious bites. They do not thrive in zoos, dying soon after captivity.

Conservation status: IUCN lists the Philippine tarsier as Data Deficient, a category that does not refer to a threatened species. This means that the species may be well studied, but information about its population status is lacking. Nevertheless, tarsiers have experienced habitat loss because of the clearing of land for agriculture and timber. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsTarsiers: Tarsiidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Tarsiers And People, Conservation Status, Philippine Tarsier (tarsius Syrichta): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET