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Philippine Tarsiers, the Suicidal Primates

Updated on March 6, 2012
Tarsius Fraterculus, a specie of tarsier found in the island of Bohol, Philippines. Taken last February 26, 2012 in Philippine Tarsier Wildlife Sanctuary, Corella, Bohol. This is a 6-year old adult tarsier.
Tarsius Fraterculus, a specie of tarsier found in the island of Bohol, Philippines. Taken last February 26, 2012 in Philippine Tarsier Wildlife Sanctuary, Corella, Bohol. This is a 6-year old adult tarsier.

What are tarsiers?

Tarsiers are big-eyed, ancient nocturnal mammal who had been around for as long as 45 million years. Scientists regard the tarsier as the oldest mammal inhabiting the earth.

They are characterized by large wide eyes, long tail, long fingers and toes tipped with soft disk-like pads. Tarsiers' eyeballs are as large as its entire brain, each eyeball measuring 16 mm in diameter. The tail is slender, 20 to 25 cm in length and is longer than the body which measures 10 to 15 cm. On average, it weighs only about 120 grams.

The name tarsier comes from their having long hind limbs with extremely long tarsus bones. They have ten long fingers, with the third finger as long as the upper arm. The fingers and toes have nails except for the 2nd and 3rd toes which has claws instead. These claws are used for grooming.

Tarsiers are the only existing entirely carnivorous primate. They eat only live preys. Their diet consists mostly of insects, small fishes, young birds, lizards, and bats. Ten to 12 grams of food is consumed in one day. The hind legs are built for jumping from tree to tree and they are so agile they can even catch birds in motion. It can jump backwards with precision and has the unique ability of being able to turn its head 180 degrees just like an owl.

Suicidal Behavior

The Philippine tarsier is extremely shy and nervous. Despite its cuddly looks it does not like to be touched. Tarsiers in captivity are observed to commit suicide and seldom reach maturity. When caged, they smashed their head against hard objects. Having soft skulls, these lovely creatures can easily kill themselves.

Stressful and noisy environment also triggers suicidal tendencies in these small animals. In the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, where a small area is designated for public viewing of these small creatures in their natural habitat, the viewers are not allowed to take pictures with the camera's flash on. Blinding lights and loud talking are prohibited since these could stress out the shy mammals.

A 3-year old tarsier in his small abode, Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, Bohol

The small thatched roof made of nipa leaves was built to keep the tarsier dry during the rainy season.  There are several of these structures strategically placed in the sanctuary where tourists are allowed.
The small thatched roof made of nipa leaves was built to keep the tarsier dry during the rainy season. There are several of these structures strategically placed in the sanctuary where tourists are allowed.

Status of the Philippine Tarsiers

The status of Philippine tarsier is categorized as "lower risk, conservation dependent". This simply means that it is not yet critically endangered but could qualify for such category for the next five years if programs to protect the species are not continued.

Deep in the secondary growth forest in the island of Bohol, a 167-hectare sanctuary for tarsiers was built in 1997, with the objective of protecting the Philippine tarsier and its habitat from extinction. Numerous sightings of tarsiers within and around the sanctuary confirms that the plan had been successful.

Philippine tarsiers were a common sight in some parts of the Visayas islands and Mindanao until the 1960s. Since then, the number has decreased to an estimated 1000 in the wild.

Years of commercial logging, slash-and-burn farming, and illegal logging have greatly decreased the forest area of Bohol, Mindanao, Samar, and Leyte. These are the Philippine islands where tarsiers are to be found. Tarsiers have a home range of 1 to 2 hectares, with the male tarsier covering a bigger range. They are solitary animals. They cross paths only during nightfall when hunting for preys.

Tarsiers are also found in Borneo, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. These tarsiers are relative of the Philippine specie, differing mostly on fur color and size.

Tarsier with a baby.
Tarsier with a baby.

Reproduction

The Philippine tarsier can only get pregnant once a year. The gestation period is 6 months and they can only have one baby per pregnancy. The female's estrous cycle lasts 25 to 28 days. Mating season begins April to May. The male "plugs" the female's vagina after intercourse, similar to putting a chastity belt.

A newborn tarsier can already cling to branches and is carried around by the mother using her mouth. In one month or less, the young tarsier can already leap from branches to branches, in two months, it is weaned from its mother.

Discovering the Tarsier

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    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Fascinating article. I had no idea that Tarsiers actually commit suicide. I'm glad to hear that they're not classed as endangered yet, hopefully it will stay that way.

    • TENKAY profile image
      Author

      TENKAY 5 years ago from Philippines

      I hope so too JKenny. Thanks for reading and the comment.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      My wife and i plan to go to Bohol to see the tarsier. It's good to know that they have this suicidal tendencies. We must be very careful around them.

      Truly informative TENKAY.

    • TENKAY profile image
      Author

      TENKAY 5 years ago from Philippines

      You will enjoy your visit. Don't forget to stop and take pictures of the man-made forest and experience the floating restaurant. I regretted for not doing these when I was there.

      I definitely will go back and stay there for a few days.

    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 5 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      Hopefully these guys stick around for a long time. It is sad to think of all the animals that we are killing off. Love those crazy, big eyes and the video was cool. Very informative article.

    • TENKAY profile image
      Author

      TENKAY 5 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you truthfornow for the comment. Yes they are very cute and lovable. When they stare at you, it's as if they are looking at your soul.

      The local government officials of Bohol is doing their best to take care of the habitat of these creatures. For as long as they have a place of their own, then their existence is assured.

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      TIMETRAVELER2 5 years ago

      Excellent information in this article, but it needs a summary at the end. I never even knew there was such an animal, so this was very interesting to read. Good job.

    • TENKAY profile image
      Author

      TENKAY 5 years ago from Philippines

      I see what you mean, it just did stop so suddenly. Summary coming up... I will add some paragraphs or some more researched data. I am trying to get statistical data on tarsiers population in Bohol or the whole Philippines.

      Thanks a lot.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I also plan to visit the Chocolate hills and the river with several falls. I forgot what it's called. But they say it's a nice place to visit.

    • TENKAY profile image
      Author

      TENKAY 5 years ago from Philippines

      oh yes, there are lots of beautiful places to visit, that's according to the driver of the van we rented. It would be really nice to visit each place at leisure. When we were there, we did the sighting in a fast pace.

      Enjoy. Thanks for the comment.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      I love the tarsiers. I visted them recently on a trip to Bohol. They are so gentle and sweet. Thank you for this piece:)

    • TENKAY profile image
      Author

      TENKAY 4 years ago from Philippines

      Hello grand_old_lady. Been busy with lots of mundane things lately, sorry for the late reply. I love the sweet and gentle aura of the tarsiers too. I might be seeing Bohol before the year ends, I will be updating this article for more tarsier pictures after that. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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