Interesting Philippine Tarsier Facts

1.          Scientists are in agreement that the tarsier lineage may have been in existence at least 40 million years ago during the Middle Eocene. This is based on a 40 million year old material from Fissures A & C at Shanghuang of Jiangsu Province, China. A fossil tarsier, Tarsius eocaenus, possesses a dentition similar to the teeth of modern Tarsius. Another fossil tarsier, Xanthorysis tabrumi, was also found in a Late Middle Eocene Heti formation, Yuanqu Basin, Shanxi Province, China. The next oldest fossil tarsiid is the Afrotarsius chatrathi from an early Oligocene sediments of Quarry M of the Jebel Qatrani Formation of the Fayum Province of Egypt. A. chatrathi exhibits a fused tibiofibula which indicates a mode of leaping locomotion the same as that of modern tarsiers. An early Miocene form was also found on northwestern Thailand, the Tarsius thailandicus (Simons 2003; Jablonski 2003).

2.          Primatologists posit that Tarsius syrichta is perhaps the most recent among the modern tarsiers. Dagosto et al (2003:246) argue that given the geologic history of the Philippine Islands and the amount and placement of emergent land during the Cenozoic, dispersal of tarsiers to the Philippines is very unlikely to have occurred before the late Miocene, and may have been much later.  In the Philippine context, islands inhabited by tarsiers today were located farther east and south of mainland Asia during the early Cenozoic, with no evidence of land bridges connecting these islands to the mainland. Dagosto et al (2003) believe that tarsiers originated from mainland China and later on dispersed overwater to Sulawesi and the Philippines. The Philippine tarsiers may have migrated from Borneo through the Sulu archipelago, arriving sometime in the late Miocene to mid-Pleistocene.

3.          Tarsiers have been an enigma for scientists because they share characteristics with prosimians as well as with anthropoids. For example, when in estrus, females have red swollen vulvas like Old World Monkeys, give birth to one large infant, but on the other hand, they have multiple (four to six) nipples, similar to lemurs and lorises.  After a six-month gestation, newborn infants can weigh up to 25-30 percent of the mother’s weight; males provide little paternal care, unlike other primate species that have large infants.  Females “park” their infants on branches, while they forage nearby (Wright et al. 2003).  Tarsiers can turn their head 180 degrees in both directions (Ankel-Simons 2000), they have very long legs, their tarsal bones are elongated (hence their name) and their tibia and fibula are fused (Wright et al. 2003).

Field Researchers at Work (photo courtesy of Dennis Bait-it)

4.          Behavioral and ecological data on tarsiers in the wild is rather difficult to obtain due to their nocturnal activity, small size, lack of tapetum lucidum, fast locomotion, and social organization (Gursky and Nekaris 2003).  The increasing use of radio telemetry has facilitated the collection of data on these nocturnal and “cryptic” prosimians (Gursky 1998a).  According to Gursky and Nekaris (2003), there is a new group of scientists who think it is important to document species-level differences among nocturnal prosimians so that broader correlations concerning ecology and behavior can be discerned.

5.           Although there is a debate concerning the number of tarsier species, most researchers agree that tarsiers are represented and formally recognized by five speciesTarsius bancanus, the Bornean tarsier; T. dianae, Dian’s tarsier; T. pumilus, the pygmy tarsier; T. spectrum, the spectral tarsier; and T. syrichta, the Philippine tarsier (Dagosto et al. 2003; Gursky 2002; Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002; Dixson 1998).  These species are grouped into two distinct phenotypic groups: the Philippine-Western group, from the Philippines and Borneo; and the Eastern group, from Sulawesi (Brandon-Jones et al. 2004).  Tarsiers have a limited geographical distribution in a few Southeast Asian islands (Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002).  Tarsius bancanus is found in Borneo and some parts of Sumatra.  T. dianae, T. pumilis, and T. spectrum are found in Sulawesi.  Dian’s tarsier is restricted to Sulawesi’s central lowlands, the pygmy tarsier to the central part of the island, and the spectral tarsier to the northeastern part of the island (Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002).  The Philippine tarsier is restricted to the Philippine islands of Bohol, Leyte, Samar, Maripipi, Biliran, Dinagat, Siargao, and Mindanao (Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002).

6.          According to Neri-Arboleda et al. (2002), there are several field studies of T. bancanus, T. spectrum, and T. dianae, but very few of the behavior and ecology of T. pumilus and T. syrichta (see also Dagosto 1998; Dagosto et al. 2003; and Wright 2003b).  There is not sufficient data to precisely determine the social organization of the Philippine tarsiers (Dagosto et al. 2001).  Because they have not been well studied in the wild and there are limited published observations regarding their ecology and behavior, T. syrichta is currently classified as “data deficient” by the IUCN-Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN website 2004).  Neri-Arboleda et al (2002) suggest that because of this lack of information on the Philippine tarsier, its status as “data deficient” should be maintained until further studies are done.

7.          A nocturnal habit makes possible the exploitation of uniquely nocturnal food resources and avoidance of diurnal predators. Modern tarsiers lack a tapetum lucidum but have a well-developed fovea in the center of an all-rod retina, where visual acuity is concentrated and visual image is intensified because of the dense arrangement of visual receptor cells (Jablonski 2003). Their dentition, which is almost similar in structure to that of the fossil tarsiers, favors a strictly insectivorous or carnivorous diet. In the wild, tarsiers prefer large bodied coleopterans and arthropods. The molars of the tarsiers are suited to breaking the exoskeletons of insects and the skeletons of small vertebrates, efficiently consuming the fats, protein, and carbohydrate-rich tissues of their prey by digestion.  Energy expenditure for the tarsiers is minimized by its low basal metabolic rates (which is 65% for the Philippine tarsiers) and low body temperature. Although this has not been studied yet, I also suspect that energy expenditure is minimized by daytime torpor, also observed among spectral tarsiers (Dagosto 2003; Gursky 2003).



Wright, P.C., Simons, E.L., and Gursky, S. 2003. Tarsiers: Past, Present and Future. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Neri-Arboleda, I., Stott, P. and Arboleda, N.P. 2002. Home Ranges, Spatial Movements and Habitat Associations of the Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius syrichta) in Corella, Bohol. J. Zool., London 257:387-402.

Gursky, S. 1998. Conservation Status of the Spectral Tarsier Tarsius spectrum: Population Density and Home Range Size. Folia Primatologica 69: 191-203.

Gursky, S. 2002. The behavioral ecology of the spectral tarsier, Tarsius spectrum. Evolutionary Anthropology 11: 226-234.

Gursky, S. and Nekaris, K.A.I. 2003. An introduction to mating, birthing, and rearing systems of nocturnal prosimians. Folia primatologica. 74: 241-245.

Beard, K. C. 1998. A new genus of Tarsiidae Mammalia: Primates from the middle eocene of Shanxi Province, China, with notes on the historical biogeography of tarsiers. Bulletin of Carnegie Museum of Natural History 34:260-277.

Tarsier-viewing in the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, Corella, Bohol

Philippine Frogs Face Potential Mass Extinction

Posted at the National Museum of the Philippines website:

The scientific name of this fungus is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Studies have shown that Bd causes a pathogenic skin disease in amphibians called cutaneous chytridiomycosis. This disease has been linked to mass mortalities of frogs in many countries in North, Central, and South America and in Australia. Scientists have also found that chytridiomycosis, interacting with other environmental factors, may have triggered the recorded massive decline of many frog populations in those countries, and worse, have caused the extinction of several species.

Initial results show the presence of chytrid fungus in five species of frogs from two localities in Luzon: Mt. Palaypalay (in Cavite Province) and Mt. Labo (in Camarines Norte Province). These were Limnonectes macrocephalus, Limnonectes woodworthi, Rana similis, Rana luzonensis, and Occidozyga laevis. Species of Limnonectes are commonly called “fanged frogs”; both the species of Rana are “stream frogs”, and Occidozyga frogs are commonly known as “puddle frogs.” All these frogs are associated with aquatic environments and are especially found in mountain streams and fastflowing rivers.

The fungi under the microscope:

The fungi causing frog extinction and species decline in Panama:

Sir David Attenborough on the global amphibian crisis:

A two-part video on the effort to stop the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus. This fungus is capable of killing 90% of the frog population in over a month.

To read more on the news release and related topics, click below:

Killer Fungus Discovered in Philippine Frogs

Philippine frogs


Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (fungus)

Amphibians May Develop Immunity To Fatal Fungus

The Filipino in the Discovery of the Giant Lizard

We all received the news that a team of herpetologists has been scouring the Philippines for new lizard species in the past ten years. LiveScience reported that the researchers went on a two-month expedition in Luzon after seeing photographs of local hunters with a six-foot long lizard. Named after its local name (bitatawa), the fruit-eating komodo-like saurian is now known in the scientific community as Varanus bitatawa.

BioOne revealed there were four other new lizard species discovered by the team: a limbless species of a scincid lizard of the genus Brachymeles from Mt. Labo, Bicol Peninsula; a medium-sized Sphenomorphus from the island of Palawan; a new species of Luperosaurus from Mt. Mantalingajan of southern Palawan Island; and another scincid lizard of the genus Brachymeles from the Luzon Faunal Region of the northern Philippine region.

While I am glad that new species have been brought under the scientific gaze, I noticed an obvious disparity in the reporting of the event. The international news credit the discovery (of bitatawa) to Dr. Rafe Brown and his graduate students in the University of Kansas while the local news (i.e., Philippines) give more space to Dr. Arvin C. Diesmos of the Herpetology Section of the National Museum of the Philippines. This differential treatment of the news agencies (reporters and, yes, bloggers) on whom to quote betray their construction of what constitutes “scientific authority.”

If we briefly scan through the reports of the bitatawa discovery, one can glean the representation of the Filipinos in the mind of the reporters. The only Filipino ‘voices’ we have are as lizard-eating tribal hunters and exotic bearers of knowledge of the lizard’s location. Here is a news report’s quote on Rafe Brown: “People had taken photographs of hunters from the resident tribespeople as they were carrying the reptiles back to their homes to feed their families in 2001.” I am not disputing the fact that this did happen. Many Filipinos do consider lizard meat as an alternate protein source–one could say, a more varied protein diet than what you have in many cultures. What I take issue however is the failure to put this food practice in context, which I believe  further alienates and exoticizes the already marginalized Sierra Madre indigenous groups.

Another point is the muting of the Philippine researchers’ voices in the international media when even a University of Kansas graduate student can have a say on the discovery. Nowhere can you find expert interviews from local scientists–who, truth be told, know more about the habitat of Varanus bitatawa and the conservation needs of the species. The only place you hear from them is in the Philippine mass media  in spite their knowledge of the discovery. Consider this interview of Dr. Diesmos, a local expert, over at, a local Philippine newspaper:

Diesmos said his group had yet to determine whether the species was in danger of extinction. “We are concerned about the fact that it is found in low-level forest areas that are prone to encroachment by humans.”

ResearchBlogging.orgIt is an important species for the Philippines, especially since it is a forest species. It highlights the need for us to preserve its habitat. Otherwise, we might lose it as well as the other species. It highlights the fact that the Philippines has a very unique and very complex biodiversity,” he said.

The politics of science is all too clear in the reporting of this discovery. Truth be told, I am a huge fan of international research collaboration projects, having been involved in some similar (though smaller) endeavour. I admire scientists working as one, rolling their sleeves, to advance public knowledge. My beef really is when science (or the reporting of it) mirrors the same global inequalities we find everywhere.

Perhaps, the unreported skink and geckos are apt metaphors for the Filipino scientist’s position in the global stage. They exist but news agencies find them uninteresting.


To read more about the other lizard species, click here:

A New Legless Loam-swimming Lizard (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae: Genus Brachymeles) from the Bicol Peninsula, Luzon Island, Philippines

A New Species of Scincid Lizard (Genus Sphenomorphus) from Palawan Island, Philippines

New Forest Gecko (Squamata; Gekkonidae; Genus Luperosaurus) from Mt. Mantalingajan, Southern Palawan Island, Philippines

New Loam-Swimming Skink, Genus Brachymeles (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae) from Luzon and Catanduanes Islands, Philippines

Welton LJ, Siler CD, Bennett D, Diesmos A, Duya MR, Dugay R, Rico EL, Van Weerd M, & Brown RM (2010). A spectacular new Philippine monitor lizard reveals a hidden biogeographic boundary and a novel flagship species for conservation. Biology letters PMID: 20375042

Time Travelling Pit Stop #1

I will be posting a bi-monthly collection of interesting posts on the web. The first edition of Time Travelling Pit Stop covers a whole range of topics, from anthropology to biology to world politics. The sites featured below are worth your time, so click away:


Early “Asianism” in the Philippines by Resil Mojares

Asianism has become a historically suspect concept because of its association with Japanese Pan-Asianism at the turn of the twentieth century and in the years that followed. I think there is a need to revisit the concept by looking at the varieties of Asianism elsewhere in the region, at how ideas of regional solidarity and the practice of such ideas were constructed in places like the Philippines.

DEMISTYFIED IN DJOGDJA: The multi-religious Sama Dilaut by Mucha Q. Arquiza

For the Sama Dilaut then, what we call ‘agama’ or ‘religion’ is like a fishing trip where individual boats follow a munda (i.e. common lead) with the rest affiliated as the tundan (i.e. those who are towed), as followers. In traditional religion, the munda used to be the omboh or the revered ancestral spirits.

The Cebuano Plantation Workers of Hawaii in the Early 20th Century, and the Politics of Representation by Erlinda Kintanar Alburo

Just as the writers of the Manual probably overdid the bright picture of plantation life awaiting the workers, the cartoons also misrepresent the Filipinos. At the very least, very few of them could speak English or Spanish, and this appeared in a Cebuano newspaper!

Giant, fruit-eating monitor lizard discovered in the Philippines by Ed Yong

It’s also brightly and beautifully coloured with intricate golden spots running down its otherwise black back. As is often the case, the lizard may be new to science but the local tribespeople – the Agta and Ilongot – have known about it for centuries. It’s actually one of their main sources of protein. Their name for the monitor, bitatawa, is now part of its official species name – Varanus bitatawa.

Cultural Anthropology

Edward B. Tylor in Cuba, in 1856 by EthnoCuba

Tylor describes the lush tropical jungle that walled the train tracks between Havana and Batabanó (something hard to imagine today), as well as the hamlets along the way, where “cigar making seemed to be the universal occupation.”


New Hominid Shares Traits With Homo Species: Fossil Find Sheds Light on the Transition to Homo Genus from Earlier Hominids by ScienceDaily

“Before this discovery, you could pretty much fit the entire record of fossils that are candidates for the origin of the genus Homo from this time period onto a small table. But, with the discovery of Australopithecus sediba and the wealth of fossils we’ve recovered — and are recovering — that has changed dramatically,” Berger said.

Close to Homo? – The announcement of Australopithecus sediba by Brian Switek

The upshot of all this is that Australopithecus sediba may not be as close to the ancestry of Homo as the authors propose. Figuring that out, though, will depend upon how we define the earliest members of our genus and extensive comparison between the new fossils and previously-discovered specimens. Even so, I am hoping that the discovery of Australopithecus sediba will help paleoanthropologists crack some of the mysteries surrounding other bones found in the caves of South Africa.

World Politics

Collateral Murder by Maximilian Forte

Wikileaks releases this shocking video of a U.S. massacre in Iraq from July 2007. Listen to the pleasure which the killers take in doing their “job”, the rash decisions, the lack of “precision” of which the criminals boast so often, the headlong rush and expressed urge to start killing as quickly as possible (rather than taking time to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties). The result? Dead journalists and wounded girls.

Psychologists Explain Iraq Airstrike Video by Benedict Carey

The video’s emotional impact on viewers is also partly rooted in the combination of intimacy and distance it gives them, some experts said. The viewer sees a wider tragedy unfolding, in hindsight, from the safety of a desk; the soldiers are reacting in real time, on high alert, exposed.

For 2 Grieving Families, Video Reveals Grim Truth by Tim Arango and Elizabeth Bumiller

“My question is, those highly skilled American pilots with all their high-tech information, could not distinguish between a camera and a missile?” said Nabel Noor-Eldeen, the photographer’s brother who is an archaeology professor at Mosul University.

Photo of the Day: Street games

Street games by Warren Cano Sopa (published here with permission)

This photo series by Warren Cano Sopa captures kids from Baybay, Leyte still playing “traditional” street games despite the onslaught of computer games. These narrow streets and vacant lots are sites where lifelong camaraderie among the players starts. Three games are depicted here: bato lata , buwan-buwan or enter-enter, and shatom.

Now Online: Anthropology News April Edition

The April edition of AN is now available focusing on anthropology’s relationship with journalism. Below are the AN articles posted at the American Anthropological Association webpage:

S Elizabeth Bird
Anthropological Engagement with News Media: Why Now?

Dominic Boyer
Divergent Temporalities: On the Division of Labor between Journalism and Anthropology

Maria D Vesperi
Attend to the Differences First: Conflict and Collaboration in Anthropology and Journalism

Mark Allen Peterson
Journalism as Trope

Shannon May
Rethinking Anonymity in Anthropology: A Question of Ethics

Barbara J King
Reviewing Books in Popular Media: Anthropologists as Authors and Critics

Gary Feinman
Science and Public Debate: A Role for Archaeology in Today’s News Media

This month’s issue also features the photo essay “An Intimate Observer: Shooting the Daily News with an Ethnographic Lens” by Anna Batcheller. To see these photos, please visit our Flickr page.

Restless Legs Syndrome Among Call Center Agents Too?

ResearchBlogging.orgThe Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry has been a major employer in the Philippines amassing hard-earned dollars for the country’s struggling economy. The National Economic Development Authority reports that from a $0.02-billion industry in 2000, this has grown 46% annually since 2006 and is projected to earn $11 to 13 billion in 2010.

The call center industry (80% of the entire BPOs) caters to the needs of customers from developed countries. They provide a range of support services, from customer care to technical assistance to travel services.

For instance, whenever a 1-800 call is lodged in New York, there is a high likelihood that the person answering the queries is a Filipino, located halfway around the world and equally adept at that distinctly New Yorker accent (i.e., they’re trained to do so). As such, Philippine-based call center agents often work night shifts because of the time difference (e.g., New York is 12 hours behind Manila). Work-related disturbance in circadian rhythms among the employees is thus expected and encouraged.

This brings me to an article published in the Journal of Circadian Rhythm, which investigated how night and rotating shift schedules may have caused Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Although Sharifian et al (2009) discussed this in the context of an automobile industry, I think an analogue exists here–comparable to the work schedules of the BPO employees in the Philippines.

The authors did a cross sectional study of 780 male assembly workers to investigate incidences of a neurological disorder, the Restless Legs Syndrome. RLS is often described as involving “abnormal limb sensations that diminish with motor activity, worsen at rest, have a circadian peak in expression in the evening and at night, and can severely disrupt sleep.” There are four diagnostic criteria for RLS: (a) desire to move the extremities, often associated with paresthesias/dysesthesias; (b) motor restlessness; (c) worsening of symptoms at rest with at least temporary relief by activity, and (d) worsening of symptoms in the evening or night.

Sharifian et al revealed that the “prevalence of Restless Legs Syndrome was significantly higher in rotational shift workers (15%) than workers with permanent morning work schedule (8.5%).” They claimed that night shift work schedules have an adverse effect on the circadian organization of the body. They further added that “rotational shift work may act as a risk or exacerbating factor for Restless Legs Syndrome, which is known to have adverse effects on patients’ work performance and quality of life.”

So, does the billion-dollar BPO industry check for RLS incidence among their employees? That, my friends, is a million dollar question.

For more information about RLS, click here or watch the video below.


Sharifian A, Firoozeh M, Pouryaghoub G, Shahryari M, Rahimi M, Hesamian M, & Fardi A (2009). Restless Legs Syndrome in shift workers: A cross sectional study on male assembly workers. Journal of circadian rhythms, 7 PMID: 19747404

Clemens S, Rye D, & Hochman S (2006). Restless legs syndrome: revisiting the dopamine hypothesis from the spinal cord perspective. Neurology, 67 (1), 125-30 PMID: 16832090

more about “Understanding Restless Legs Syndrome …“, posted with vodpod

Focus of the Day: Trisikad or Potpot

This is a picture of a trisikad, also known as potpot, from Ginatilan, Cebu. Trisikad is a combination of two words, tri and sikad. Tri refers to the number of wheels that this vehicle has and sikad means to kick in Cebuano. In Baybay, Leyte, they are called potpot which comes from the sound of the horn attached near the handlebar grip. When the circular black rubber of the horn is squeezed, the air goes through a short and winding metal, creating a sound that is akin to a snappy honk of a goose.

The driver pinches the horn’s rubber for many reasons. When there is a “huge” traffic jam of trisikad, the sound of a hundred potpot can be heard for miles that, at times, one can mistake them for a flock of geese. Traffic comes too in these narrow rural roads, especially during the feast of the saints. The flock of trisikad slowly navigating through the mud and potholes appear like a bunch of lumbering birds. Some white as ibis with flecks of brownish mud at the bottom, others black as crows. Many are flamingo pink and kingfisher blue while quite a few are cardinal red or flycatcher yellow.

The honk also serves as a warning to other vehicles (and jaywalkers) that a speeding trisikad is on the way. If the target of the honking takes offense, s/he honks back and the honking goes back and forth: the noisy war only stops when the honking enemy is out of earshot. A long syrupy honk is reserved for prospective passengers. Anyone standing by the wayside is a potential passenger. When the person waves an arm high up in the air or flick the pointer finger down to the ground, a honk of acknowledgment is elicited and the rider is tucked inside until the destination is reached.

This small three-wheel contraption can transport up to six passengers all at the same time. If the load is too heavy, the first to give way is not the driver’s calves but the wheels, or more specifically the rim that holds the rubber tire. From a perfect circle, the tire turns into a nice figure eight, almost like a flattened waist of a corseted ballerina. But this seldom happens, the passenger at the back usually jumps out of the cab and pushes for the driver to gather momentum. For his effort, the pusher-passenger rides free of charge.

In many parts of the Philippines, this pedal-powered vehicle is the main mode of transportation, sort of like a taxi that zooms from one point to the next. Aesthetically pleasing, earth-friendly, and healthy, a trisikad plying the streets is a joy to watch. Yet their days are numbered. Sedan-riding ultramodern politicians will phase them out in the name of “development.” Soon, really soon, gas-guzzler vehicles will rule our roads. And the streets will not be ours anymore.

****an ode to Bittersweet, our potpot, which helped me and my siblings get an education.