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Big Eyes—Tiny Body!

Big Eyes—Tiny Body!

MOST would call it cute; some might call it bizarre. It has spindly legs, soft fur, and huge shining eyes. Its body is about five inches (12.5 cm) in length, and it weighs about four ounces (114 g). What is it? It is the tarsier!

Let’s take a closer look at one of these creatures, the Philippine tarsier. Its eyes, ears, hands, feet, legs, and tail all seem too big for its tiny body. Yet, a closer look at this oddity reveals ingenious design.

HEARING: The tarsier’s paper-thin ears can furl, unfurl, and turn to pick up the faintest sounds. Its keen hearing helps it not only to avoid predators, such as wild cats, but also to locate prey. After dark, the tarsier’s ears will tune in to the sound of crickets, termites, beetles, birds, and frogs. Then its whole head will follow, directing those bulging eyes toward its prospective meal.

GRIP: The tarsier’s hands are tailor-made for grasping thin branches. Its fingertips have distinctive pads with ridges that grip like the tread on a tire. Even while sleeping, the tarsier needs to hang on tight. Ridges on the underside of its long tail help it to remain firmly propped in position until it wakes up.

 VISION: No other mammal has eyes that are as large in comparison with the size of its body. In fact, each of the tarsier’s eyes is larger than the animal’s brain! The tarsier’s eyes cannot turn in their sockets; they always stare straight ahead. Is this design a disadvantage? Not really. The tarsier is adequately compensated, as it has a flexible neck that allows it to turn its head 180 degrees in either direction.

AGILITY: The tarsier’s long legs give it the strength to jump a distance of up to 20 feet (6 m)—more than 40 times its own length! When hunting, the little predator leaps into the darkness with fingers outstretched to grab its victim with pinpoint accuracy.

Tarsiers rarely survive in captivity, partly because of their voracious appetite for live insects as well as their aversion to being handled. Still, this unique creature continues to fascinate the Filipino people. Almost every part of this endearing bug-eyed forest dweller is a surprise.