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Only In The Philippines: The Largest, the Smallest and Everything In Between

Updated on March 15, 2016

Varanus bitatawa, I know both a mouth full and a vara-my-what and bite-at-it-too what now?

No, it’s nothing like that.

I wrote about the bitatawa about six months ago when it was first brought into our consciousness. And it remains one of the more popular articles I have written so far.

Now in case you are unfamiliar with the term, the Varanaus bitatawa is a scientific name of a unique and newly discovered kind (or species) of reptile also known as the Northern Sierra Madre Forrest Monitor Lizard.

Yes, the only one of its kind and it was discovered to have been hiding in the forests (or what’s left of them in the main island of Luzon in the Philippine Islands.

Anyway, its jump to fame may not be how it had eluded scientific discovery all this time, having lived in a highly inhabited island. Or it might not be how it is such a huge reptile, definitely a lot longer (taller) than the native Filipinos or most other people around the world and still remain largely unknown except for the people in the nearby villages who hunt them for food.

Also its five minute of fame isn’t based on the fact that it lived for the most part, on top of trees, even if they weren’t tiny being a six-foot and half long and all. Or not in how in the world could it not be carnivorous. But rather it might be for that fact that its males are endowed with a double penis.

Now the discovery of this unique kind of reptile only bolsters the fact that the Philippines is among if not the hottest global conservation hotspots and a regional superpower of biodiversity. Now, there are still a host of other species in the Philippines that are unique and who are the smallest or the biggest of its kind.

But all these are not something to crow about. Because most if not all of those unique creatures are all in the world endangered list.


This is the Second on an ongoing Series about the Philippines.

And specifically this is about what can presumably be found ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES.

A Philippine Eagle in captivity
A Philippine Eagle in captivity

Philippine Eagle

Yes, only in the Philippines can you find one of the largest if not the largest eagle in the world. And that is the Philippine Monkey-Eating Eagle. This eagle is now known as the Philippine Eagle or the Great Philippine Eagle. The Philippine Eagle is among the tallest, the rarest, and the most powerful birds in the world. The wingspan of this bird is about 6 feet and a half, I know like the length of the Varanus bittawa, about 2 meters and its wings are much broader than most eagles its size.

Today it is estimated that there are only 100 to 300 such eagles and the number seems even lesser than that as they are hard to find. Many of them are only seen in some parts of the eastern side of the Philippines. They are described as critically endangered just like several other animals endemic in the archipelago.

Pandaka Pygmea
Pandaka Pygmea

Dwarf Pygmy Goby

Now another critically endangered species endemic in the Philippines is the Pandaka Pygmea or the Dwarf Pygmy Goby. Yes from one of the largest eagles we go to one of the smallest and shortest fish in the world.

Now with a name that is both dwarf and pygmy, it should have been obvious.

The pandakas are colorless and nearly transparent and are so tiny it’s hard to see them especially in the murky plankton rich waters where they live. But they are still there but quickly vanishing.

Balabac or Pilandok
Balabac or Pilandok

Philippine Mouse Deer

A bird, a fish, now let’s talk about mammals and get to another highly endangered animal in the Philippines, the Philippine Mouse Deer.

And like many other endangered animals in the country, it is found in or near the Island of Palawan. Locally it goes by the name Pilandok and is described to be a solitary nocturnal animal.

Its body is about the size of a rabbit and is covered by brown fur. It is today the world’s smallest hoofed mammal.


Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo

Now from these smallest animals, let us go to the largest endangered animal in the Philippines, the Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo or the Tamaraw.

Endemic to the Island of Mindoro, to the North of Palawan, the Tamaraw is also a hoofed mammal and is the largest native terrestrial mammal in the Philippines.

It is once listed in the Top Ten Most Endangered Species in the World many many years ago and it still is. The Tamaraw measures almost six feet in length and weight about 300 kilograms. Yes almost the same as the native Carabao, the local beast of burden.

Maumag or Mamag
Maumag or Mamag

Philippine Tarsier

Now let’s go back to the smallest.

Meet what is considered the smallest primate in the world, the Philippine Tarsier. Now some will call them the world's smallest monkey but I really do not know which one is the actual correct term. I do know that they are indeed tiny, the smallest of which could only be a mere three inches long and they could have fun climbing and swinging on your forearm if not from the fingers of your hand.

They are found to the south of the Philippines and particularly in Mindanao Island and the Islands of Bohol, Samar and Leyte. The Philippine Tarsier is, if you haven’t guessed it yet also an endangered species. They share many traits with other endangered animals in the islands and that they are shy and solitary nocturnal animals.


Whale Sharks

Now, having known that the Philippines is home to one of the smallest fish in the world, let us meet the world's largest. And yes I am telling you that they can also be found in the waters of the Philippines as well, particularly in the fishing town of Donsol of the island paradise that is Sorsogon.

These largest of all fishes visit the islands all year long but the best times to come are from November up to May. And yes they are Whale Sharks, locally they are called butandings. They also come to Pasacao in Camarines Sur and to parts of Batangas and other nearby islands.

Today this largest of fishes is also an endangered species but right now you still have time to go visit the fishing village of Donsol to get a glimpse of these migratory ocean behemoths. Butandings grow to more than 50 feet long and weight about 70,000 pounds.

Donsol is now dubbed by many satisfied tourists and visitors as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World”. The Province of Sorsogon have taken great strides to protect these gentle giants of the sea and still create an environment in which humans can interact and enjoy these endangered species.

To visit Sorsogon's Whale Watching Site click here:

There are still much much more animals and plants, both fauna and flora that are endemic to the Philippines and many of them are endangered and some could very well be lost already without even being identified.

Such is life in the Philippines, yes now you see it now you don’t. “Lulubog,lilitaw” in Tagalog.

And the same with its people, yes sometimes working, sometimes not. Sometimes up, sometimes down.

And as we now know already, sometimes, working and living abroad, sometimes working and living back in the home country.

So to all Filipinos, wherever you are in the world, Mabuhay!

Pearl of Lao-Tzu
Pearl of Lao-Tzu

The Biggest Pearl In the World:

The world’s largest pearl was found under the Palawan Sea by a Filipino diver in 1934. The giant treasure from the deep sea is known as the "Pearl of Lao-Tzu" (also known as the Pearl of Allah).

It is presumed to be 600 years old. Its weight is 14.1 pounds. It is 9.5 inches long and 5.5 inches in diameter. It is said to be now worth US$ 42 million. It is oddly shaped and looks like a human brain, yes definitely nothing like any pearl you have seen in your life.

Tridacna Gigas
Tridacna Gigas

The Largest Clam In the World:

Well of course if you have the largest pearl or pearls in the world. It probably is safe to say that you also have the largest if not some of the largest clams as well.

And indeed they are found off the shores of the Philippines. Locally they are known as "taklobo". And if you haven't guessed it yet, the same as many other things found in the Philippines, it is also being threatened and endangered.

World's Smallest Whale Shark:

March 2009

Activists in the Philippines have rescued what they believe might be the smallest offspring of the world's biggest fish — a whale shark the size of a forearm.

The World Wide Fund for Nature said maritime officials and activists in Pilar, a town in the eastern Philippines, rescued the 15-inch-long whale shark last week and released it in deep waters. Its tail was tied to a small rope on a beach.

The group called it "arguably the smallest living whale shark in recorded history."

WWF said the discovery is the first ever indication that this coastline may be their birthing ground.

The group has encountered very few baby whale sharks and can only compare the size of its new discovery to embryos found in a dead female in 1996 — which measured 14.6 to 18.9 inches, according to Elson Aca, project manager for the WWF whale shark tracking project.

The gentle creatures, which can grow to be as big as a bus, make regular stops along the Philippines' eastern shores from December to May, attracting thousands of tourists. But little is known about where they breed as they cruise the world seas.


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