BBC’s Faulty Tarsier Video

Here is a video from BBC on the tarsiers of Bohol. Nice but faulty.

The nice part. I am glad to see Nong Lito Pizarras being interviewed. He knows these primates better than anyone. He has no graduate degree to his credit but his knowledge about the primate is worth a library of books. His experience working with tarsiers has proved indispensable in the conservation efforts of the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, Inc. Absolutely no tarsier research project has ever been done in Bohol without the help of Nong Lito. While graduate students have moved on, Nong Lito remains in Bohol, dutifully attending to the conservation demands of this primate species.

The faulty part. There are glaring errors in the BBC tarsier report. While the tarsier is indeed a fascinating primate, it is not the world’s smallest nor the oldest primate species as BBC contends. With regards to the claim that the tarsier is the smallest primate, Philippine tarsiers’ head and body length is 11.7-12.7 cm while its average weight is 67-112 g. Compare this for example to a mouse lemur species (M. jollyae), its average head and body length is at 5.3 cm and average weight is 61.3 g. Is the Philippine tarsier the oldest primate? A cursory look at fossil primates automatically disqualifies the tarsier as the oldest primate. Besides, primatologists are of the consensus that the Philippine tarsiers are more recent than the other tarsier species from Borneo and Indonesia. In a previous post, we noted that ” Philippine tarsiers may have migrated from Borneo through the Sulu archipelago, arriving sometime in the late Miocene to mid-Pleistocene.” Furthermore, there were a bunch of primate species whose existence can be traced back to the late Eocene like the lemurs of Madagascar.

The worst offense in the BBC video report is classifying tarsiers as marsupials. This completely removes the T. syrichta from the primate order. Tarsiers do not put their infants in a pouch but “park” their infants. Relative to the mother’s size, tarsiers have one of the largest infants in the entire animal kingdom (30% of the mother’s body weight). Mothers have to leave their infants in order to forage and then return to pick the infant up (this is called “parking”). I cannot imagine tarsiers having an over-sized infant inside a marsupium. This would render the primate immobile and break all the ankle bones of this vertical leaper and climber if it attempts to jump to the next branch. Suffice it to say that BBC, please, not all animals that leap are kangaroos.

Here is BBC’s video:

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more about “BBC’s Tarsier Video“, posted with vodpod
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12 thoughts on “BBC’s Faulty Tarsier Video

  1. I hadn’t seen this video before now. It’s a shame that an organisation with such a well reputed Natural History unit has made such glaringly obvious mistakes.

    1. Sorry for the double post but I had no way to edit my first comment.

      I should have noted that your size statement re: Jolly’s mouse lemur noted the wrong unit of measurement, that being cm instead of inches. Pygmy tarsiers and pygmy mouse lemurs are pretty closesly matched in the smallest primate stakes (though lemurs do seem to have less mass).

      That still leaves the BBC at fault regarding marsupialism and species ‘age’.

      1. You’re absolutely right, do accept my apologies. I was aware of species around 3.6in+ (M. berthae) but hadn’t read the information on M. jollyae. I evidently need to brush up on my cheirogaleids.

        It’s worth noting though that Louis et al. do state in their article that the individual was a juvenile female. Regadless, your point is perfectly valid.

      2. I appreciate your comment. I have to reread it too, just to check if I got my facts right. Thanks for reading. BBC, with all their funds and biologists, has a worse problem than us bloggers. 🙂

  2. I’m glad you bring up this video’s mistake. It seems that they need to double check their script or editing. She did said tarsiers were primates at the beginning of the segment and had said that they were marsupials towards the end. Weird.

    With regards to size, Microcebus bethae is definitely the smallest.

    1. They stopped by the field station of the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, Inc. They could have grabbed one of the brochures there and educated themselves.

  3. Note: just to clarify an info, with regards to “Nong Lito Pizarra’s name”. Nong is actually short for “Manong”, a title given to someone who is older or perceived to be older than the speaker — at times used to address big brothers, older strangers, or uncles.

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