Birds and All Nature: The Tarsier


A LONG with Tagals, Ygorottes, and other queer human beings Uncle Sam has annexed in the Philippine islands, says the Chronicle, is the tarsier, an animal which is now declared to be the grandfather of man.

They say the tarsier is the ancestor of the common monkey, which is the ancestor of the anthropoid ape, which some claim as the ancestor of man.

A real tarsier will soon make his appearance at the national zoological park. His arrival is awaited with intense interest.

Monsieur Tarsier is a very gifted animal. He derives his name from the enormous development of the tarsus, or ankle bones of his legs. His eyes are enormous, so that he can see in the dark. They even cause him to be called a ghost. His fingers and toes are provided with large pads, which enable him to hold on to almost anything.

Professor Hubrecht of the University of Utrecht has lately announced that Monsieur Tarsier is no less a personage than a “link” connecting Grandfather Monkey with his ancestors. Thus the scale of the evolution theorists would be changed by Professor Hubrecht to run: Man, ape, monkey, tarsier, and so on, tarsier appearing as the great-grandfather of mankind.

Tarsier may best be described as having a face like an owl and a body, limbs, and tail like those of a monkey. His sitting height is about that of a squirrel. As his enormous optics would lead one to suppose, he cuts capers in the night and sleeps in the daytime, concealed usually in abandoned clearings, where new growth has sprung up to a height of twenty feet or more. Very often he sleeps in a standing posture, grasping the lower stem of a small tree with his long and slender fingers and toes.

During his nightly wanderings he utters a squeak like that of a monkey. During the day the pupils of his eyes contract to fine lines, but after dark expand until they fill most of the irises. From his habit of feeding only upon insects he has a strong, bat-like odor.

John Whitehead, who has spent the last three years studying the animals of the Philippines, foreshadows the probable behavior of the tarsier when he arrives at the national “zoo.” The Philippine natives call the little creature “magou.”

“In Samar,” says Mr. Whitehead, in a report just received at the Smithsonian, “where at different times I kept several tarsiers alive, I found them very docile and easily managed during the day. They feed freely off grasshoppers, sitting on their haunches on my hand. When offered an insect the tarsier would stare for a short time with its most wonderful eyes, then slowly bend forward, and, with a sudden dash, would seize the insect with both hands and instantly carry it to its mouth, shutting its eyes and screwing up its tiny face in a most whimsical fashion. The grasshopper was then quickly passed through the sharp little teeth, the kicking legs being held with both hands.

“When the insect was beyond further mischief the large eyes of the tarsier would open and the legs and wings were then bitten off, while the rest of the body was thoroughly masticated. My captive would also drink fresh milk from a spoon. After the sun had set this little animal became most difficult to manage, escaping when possible and making tremendous jumps from chair to chair. When on the floor it bounded about like a miniature kangaroo, traveling about the room on Its hind legs with the tail stretched out and curved upward, uttering peculiar, shrill, monkey-like squeaks and biting quite viciously when the opportunity offered.”