Philippine Tarsiers [Warning: Cute Overload!]

Posted by Will on

After visiting the fearsome dragons of Komodo Island, I headed to the island of Bohol in the Philippines, in search of a creature with considerably cuter looks – the Philippine Tarsier. The contrast couldn’t have been more extreme; within moments of laying eyes on my first tarsier, I had concluded that this was probably the world’s cutest animal!

Tarsiers have the largest eye-to-body size ratio of any mammal!
Philippine tarsier, Bohol.

The Philippine tarsier is one of the smallest primates, with a body length of around 10cm. Their enormous eyes are their most distinguishing feature; they actually have the largest eye-to-body size ratio of any mammal! A tarsier’s eyes are so large that they cannot swivel in its skull… instead the animal has to turn its head to face whatever it is looking at. Since tarsiers are nocturnal, their massive eyes give them excellent night vision.

Their innocent demeanor belies that fact that these animals are consummate predators. In fact, tarsiers are the only entirely carnivorous primates on earth. I was actually taken aback by just how veracious these little predators are…

A tarsier biting the head off an unfortunate insect.
A tarsier eating a big, juicy katydid.

As I was photographing one of the lethargic bundles of fur, a large, juicy katydid (an insect resembling a grasshopper) appeared. The tarsier’s huge ears instantly swiveled towards it, like two satellite dishes locking in on a signal. It then slowly and deliberately turned its head to face its unsuspecting quarry. After a pause of a second or two, the tarsier exploded, leaping two meters through the air to land squarely on top of the insect. In an instant, the tarsier had dispatched its victim by biting its head off. It then proceeded to chomp through the katydid’s fat body, eating everything but the wings. I thought this hardly seemed to be appropriate behavior for the world’s cutest creature!

Philippine tarsiers are threatened by the illegal pet trade and habitat loss.

Sadly, the Philippine tarsier’s loveable looks are contributing to the decline of the species; tarsiers are commonly taken from the wild to sell as house pets or for exhibiting to unenlightened tourists. These tarsiers do not usually survive long as they do not take well to being handled or woken up regularly during the day. Rapid habitat loss and domestic cats also pose a grave threat to the survival of the species. On the island of Bohol, wild tarsiers used to be a common sight until around 1960. Since then it has been estimated that the number living in the wild has dwindled to less than 1,000.

I would like to thank Carlito Pizarras of the Philippine Tarsier Foundation who helped me find and photograph these tarsiers. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation is providing a lifeline for the species by establishing protected areas, educating communities, conducting tarsier research and promoting responsible ecotourism.

For more tarsier pictures, visit our Philippines gallery.

11 Comments

  1. Dennis Bautista said: July 28, 2011 at 8:39 am

    wow, you’ve come to my country, this is awesome. thank you and thanks for these wonderful photos.

  2. Herson said: July 28, 2011 at 8:47 am

    hi Burrard and lucas. The shots are so brilliant.
    me and my friend we’re both a loyal fan of your team up, We heard you’re in Bohol, and we’re hoping to meet you guys in person. Enjoy your stay in the Philippines, and i know you’ll surely find lots of interesting subjects here. Godbless

  3. Veronica Miller said: July 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Once again wonderful photography and a big thank you for bringing these wonderful creatures into our awareness. Let us hope that the Philippine Tarsiers trust can safeguard these beautiful creatures for the plantet and for future generations

  4. Deborah Flowers said: July 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Definitely “cute{ness} overload”!
    This is icredibly adorable!
    Sad that they are becoming seriously endangered. Especially by folks wanting them as “pets”.
    A dog is a great pet!
    I live in a state with high humidity and grow orchids on my deck during the Summer. This past Fall a little green tree frog stowed away in the bottom of one of the pots and lived in my house all Winter. I repeatedly tried to catch it and put it out, to no avail. Somehow, it survived the Winter inside, traveling freely throughout my house. Providing many photo ops.
    When Spring came I kept the window {where it spent most of it’s time} open with the screen removed. It didn’t venture out for almost two months of the window being open.
    “It ain’t easy bein green” –Kermit the Frog

  5. Deborah Flowers said: July 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I guess I should add, that I left it alone after it turned really cold out {stopped trying to put it out} and just snapped a few pictures whenever I saw it on the counter or other tabletops… and let it be…

  6. Deborah Miller said: July 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Absolutely cute!!! How can you not love these little babies :)) They are soooo sweet! Nice photos!

  7. Sara Burgess said: July 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Your photos are always amazing, and I appreciate the insightful information you provide about your subjects. I especially love the last picture of the tarsier you posted!
    Keep the excellence coming! :-)

  8. Lino Almuenda said: July 30, 2011 at 12:26 am

    whoa! you’ve been here… that’s really nice. Here’s my blog about the tarsier and some photos of them.
    http://linophotography.com/bohol-philippine-tarsier/

  9. Tine said: July 30, 2011 at 1:49 am

    Hi. I’ve been following your blog for a while and was pleasantly surprised to learn that you visited our country. :)
    Our government is really not that aggressive when it comes to protecting the country’s biodiversity. Sigh. Hopefully, things will improve in the next few years.

  10. Al McConnaha said: September 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    “I’ve never seen a tarsier;
    nor do I ever hope to see one.
    But, I can tell you now–
    I’d rather see one than be one

    (apologies to the poet.)

  11. Mr. Jayant said: November 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

    hi,really creature is so cute…quality of photographs are awesome..

    I also learnt the basic photography rules from Mr. Kishore Mamillapalli who is one of the leading wildlife photographers from South Africa. He used to say that “Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder”. If you like what you see on your camera screen, or through the viewfinder, you will like the photograph.

    There are some basic photography rules for composition. Once you know these rules, you can use them, ignore them, or break them. Follow your gut, and you will end up with spectacular, sometimes breathtaking results. Kishore is really an astonishing wild life photographer and has a great eye for details..

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