Tarsier: The Littlest Alien

2010, Nature  -  46 min Leave a Comment
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In the Southern Philippines a new dance celebrates an ancient and secretive animal, a predator that is our primate relative, and whose origins reach back many millions of years. This is unique animal which chooses only one special night of the year to mate. It is the Philippine Tarsier. Even in the Philippines, the Tarsier is quite unknown. It's as though it is a tiny alien, a visitor from a distant world. It's called the spirit of the forest.

People used to be frightened of them only because they knew nothing at all about Tarsiers, believing they were tiny monkeys that lived in the forest. Like us the Tarsier is a primate, yet, it looks like a Hollywood version of an extraterrestrial. Its huge lustrous eyes capture every glimmer of light in the night forest. Its elongated fingers are both strange and familiar. Mobile ears scan the night for sound. Even their language is beyond our understanding.

The Tarsier has lived on earth for more than 45 million years, but for us, that has remained as remote and mysterious as the stars above. Several species of Tarsiers live throughout the galaxy of islands that is South East Asia. The rare Philippine Tarsier is restricted to just a few of the southern islands of the Philippines. One of these is the Island of Bohol, just north of the Equator, where for eons the Tarsier lived in humid forest on amidst shrouded hills. Bohol enjoys plentiful tropical heat and tropical rainfall.

The island seems a most suitable home for a little alien. There are more than 1,200 of hills known to the locals as the Carmen or The Chocolate Hills. They are eroded evidence of the island's limestone foundations, but local people think otherwise. One legend describes the hills as the discarded rock weapons of giants who fought a great battle here. Another, more romantically, calls them the tear drops shed by a giant who was unlucky in love. If the hills are a mystery, so too is the unique creature their dwindling forests contain.