Tap to Read ➤

The World's Smallest Monkey Isn't a Monkey At All

Buzzle Staff
The Philippine tarsier is often referred to as the 'world's smallest monkey', but nobody really knows what classification it should have. This story provides some facts.
Most creatures in the animal kingdom have clearly defined breeds, species, and classifications that define them. One animal whose classification is consistently debated among scientists and taxonomists is the Philippine tarsier.

Some Classifications

Some scientists consider the tarsier to be in the same family as lemurs and bushbabies, which are known as prosimians. Others say that it has its own taxonomic suborder different from other primate species. This very peculiar small animal is in fact, one of the smallest known primates, only about the size of an adult man's hand.
It is mostly active at night, and lives almost completely on a diet of insects. Its habitat is quite limited and it can be found only on four islands in the Philippines--Samar, Bohol, Leyte, and Mindanao.


This animal is not only smaller than any other primate, it is also decidedly stranger in appearance. Weighing only about 80-150 g, it has a silky fur that is usually grayish-brown or buff-colored and lighter on the underside. Its head is round.
As is the case with most night-dwellers, its eyes are remarkably large. The ears are nearly hairless and almost translucent, and it seems to have no neck at all although it can turn its head around more than 180 degrees.
This animal is unique among mammals because of its elongated hind limbs and short forelimbs. Its digits are long and tapered, tipped with soft, rounded toe pads. All of its feet have flattened nails except the second and third hind toes, which have claw-like nails used for grooming.


It lives in forests which range in heights from sea level to 700 meters. It is also found in rainforests which are tropical and hence have dense vegetation and tree cover to protect this animal from predators. It prefers vegetation such as bushes and tall grasses.


This is a shy animal that likes to be on its own. It is mainly nocturnal and sleeps in tree hollows during the day. Due to its large eyes and sharp hearing, it is also able to avoid any human contact at night. It is arboreal and clings vertically to tree branches. It is also capable of leaping from one tree branch to another.


This is an insectivorous animal. Its diet contains primarily of live insects. Some are also known to eat spiders, small crustaceans, and vertebrates such as small birds or lizards. It eats with both its hands. When it captures the insect, it takes it to its mouth using both the forelegs.


Local residents of the Philippines call this animal a mamag, mago, maomag, and magatilok-iok among other things. There was once a thriving practice of catching tarsiers, killing them, and stuffing them for sale to tourists. This practice has been stopped in recent years, but the damage suffered by its population may never be known.
In addition, the species is also threatened by the destruction of its native forest habitat. Although it is a protected species, many years of both legal and illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have reduced its numbers to dangerously low levels.
It is believed to be a member of the family tarsiidae which is 45 million years old, dating back to the early Eocene period. This family gets its name from the word tarsus, due to their elongated ankle bone. It is probably one of the oldest land species continuously existing in the Philippines.
It is currently listed as a 'lower-risk, conservation-dependent' species, which means that it is not yet categorized as endangered. However, if the present protection programs are stopped, it can quickly become critically-endangered.