Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Philippine tarsier

with 49 comments

One of the smallest primates in the world is the Philippine tarsier (Carlito syrichta, formerly Tarsius syrichta). When we visited the island of Bohol on December 21, 2019, we stopped at a reserve to see some tarsiers. Unfortunately the sky was heavily overcast, even drizzly for some of the time we were there, and the tarsiers individually took shelter beneath leaves on trees. The result was that even after someone working there pointed a stick in the direction of a tarsier to show us where it was, we could barely make it out in the shadows. Taking a picture of something you can hardly see and that you’re not allowed to get close to or use a flash on isn’t easy, so I ended up making this portrait at ISO 3200 and cropping heavily in on the image afterwards. We do what we can with what comes our way. Fortunately this was one time when the camera saw better than my eyes did.

The American Heritage Dictionary gives this etymology for tarsier: “French, from tarse, tarsus (from its elongated ankles), from New Latin tarsus.” The New Latin was made from Greek tarsos, meaning ‘ankle.’

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2020 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , ,

49 Responses

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  1. It’s so cute, and don’t you love how the camera can see better than we can sometimes!
    I love those BIG eyes.


    February 8, 2020 at 7:14 AM

    • I find that usually I can see better than my camera, so I was grateful for this role reversal.

      Of all mammals, tarsiers, which are primarily nocturnal, have the largest eyes for their body size.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 7:34 AM

  2. Superb capture of a tarsier considering the rather poor condition you had to work with, Steve! At ISO 3200 I expected some graininess, but there appears to be very little of it.

    Peter Klopp

    February 8, 2020 at 7:32 AM

    • Oh, there was lots of graininess in the photo. I used my software’s noise-reduction capability to get the grain down to a more-tolerable amount. Displaying the image at the small size shown here also keeps the grain down.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 7:45 AM

  3. An excellent shot! You’d never know the lengths you had to go to get it. This really is such an adorable creature, beautifully portrayed here.


    February 8, 2020 at 7:56 AM

    • I spelled out the lengths I had to go to so people would understand how hard getting a decent picture was. My 100–400mm telephoto lens would have come in handy to deal with the tarsier’s small size and the distance between it and me, but I’d left that lens home to reduce the weight of my equipment by three-and-a-half pounds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 8:06 AM

  4. Goggle-eyed but cute. Looks like a great shot to me!

    Robert Parker

    February 8, 2020 at 9:13 AM

    • It turned out better than I had reason to expect. That’s the kind of surprise I can live with.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 11:10 AM

  5. Wow!


    February 8, 2020 at 9:17 AM

  6. Sometimes it is good to shoot even if you don’t think it will work – this one did! Beautiful.


    February 8, 2020 at 9:47 AM

    • The digital world these past two decades has made that the normal approach now, unlike the years when we had to pay for film and developing. I didn’t think I’d gotten anything usable and was sorry to think about having lost the opportunity, but this time things worked out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 11:13 AM

  7. What a shot! I never heard of this animal before…just looked it up to see how small it is. Amazing looking little thing.

    Marcia Levy

    February 8, 2020 at 9:57 AM

    • Though I took only still pictures, one of the tarsiers bounded back and forth a couple of times between two trunks. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of this animal. It’s well known in the Philippines, understandably, and a big tourist attraction. We each bought a tarsier T-shirt, which you may get to see in warm weather sometime.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 11:19 AM

  8. They are incredibly cute !!


    February 8, 2020 at 12:37 PM

  9. It’s an adorable little animal and those shining eyes are captivating. I like the way the back foot toes are gripping within each other.

    Steve Gingold

    February 8, 2020 at 2:31 PM

    • The toes grabbed the branch, and the interweaving of those toes grabbed you and me. As for those huge eyes, I mentioned to another commenter that of all mammals, tarsiers, which are primarily nocturnal, have the largest eyes for their body size.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 2:56 PM

  10. When I was very young, my Grandma had a photo above her bed. I believe it was of two of these cuties on 2 fingers of a man’s hand. Thanks for choosing this to share & in so doing, reminding me of what they were.

    Dawn Renee

    February 8, 2020 at 3:46 PM

    • I’m glad I could invoke that happy memory for you. You’re the first person I’m aware of who has even an indirect connection to tarsiers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 4:42 PM

  11. It’s easy to believe that these guys have the largest mammal eyes relative to body size; giant squid have the largest eyes relative to body size, of all the animals


    February 8, 2020 at 6:25 PM

    • I didn’t know that about giant squid. (If I can be flippant, I’ll imagine those large eyes living on Squid Row.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2020 at 6:51 PM

  12. I’ve never seen a Star Wars film, but it’s been impossible to avoid images of Baby Yoda, and there’s an uncanny resemblance between him and some of the tarsier photos I’ve seen since looking at this one. I can’t help wondering if someone drew inspiration for Baby Yoda from this delightful creature.

    You certainly did a fine job capturing this tarsier’s image; it’s amazing that he’s nearly life-sized in your photo. Lucky for the tarsiers that many people consider them unlucky, and prefer to leave them in their habitat; unlucky for the tarsiers that their habitat is shrinking.


    February 9, 2020 at 10:20 AM

    • I had to look at pictures of Baby Yoda to see what you were getting at. I see why tarsiers made you think of that character.

      It’s strange that Filipinos would consider tarsiers unlucky, but then by my lights Filipinos are especially given to superstitions. As for the loss of habitat, you’re right that it’s a big problem. The population of the country is now about 110 million people, or close to twice as much as when I first visited in 1987.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2020 at 7:15 PM

  13. I think your camera saw amazingly well, Steve. What intriguing eyes this creature has.


    February 9, 2020 at 7:46 PM

    • Usually I see better than my camera. This was a welcome exception, and it made this post possible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 10, 2020 at 7:17 AM

  14. Oh my goodness, what a precious creature – and it’s a powerful image to prompt smiles – surely from everyone who sees this! What an amazing experience!

    Watching the virus news, I marvel often that your trip ended ‘just in time’ and \I’m glad that your overseas travel is finished… Thanks for sharing a diverse range of images that transport us there – especially to witness the precious tarsier! It looks like a potential star for a space-creature movie!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    February 10, 2020 at 2:32 PM

    • For once I can rival some of your tropical fauna—but only because I went to the Philippines. I’ll leave it to you to arrange for the space-creature movie based on the tarsier. Just give me a percent of the movie’s gross.

      Like you, I’ve thought about our luck in leaving eastern Asia before the coronavirus problem. We spent more than five hours in Taiwan waiting for our flight to San Francisco, although even now I don’t think Taiwan has been much affected by the virus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 10, 2020 at 4:34 PM

      • Sí, I’ve thought of you and Eve a lot – and yes, so glad your timing was just ahead of the problems. It must be stressful right now to be traveling anywhere via international flights. Whew!

        I loved your stories of the snow – and they help me grasp what’s happening with the weather/jet streams, etc…

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        February 11, 2020 at 8:13 PM

        • The airlines and cruise ships that have routes to China are taking a hit now. Even outside that area people are worried because apparently even those who are infected but don’t yet show symptoms can infect other people. The count of infected people in the U.S. is up to 13 today.

          Snow is a once-every-several-years thing in Austin, so naturally I was thrilled with the chance to do snow pictures. In retrospect, I should probably have stayed out even longer than I did and should have gone to other places.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 11, 2020 at 8:21 PM

  15. You did great under the circumstances. How big are they?


    February 13, 2020 at 9:28 AM

    • I was surprised that the picture turned out usable, which is not what I thought at the time I took it. From what I found online, tarsier height ranges from 3 1/3 to 6 1/3 inches.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 13, 2020 at 8:33 PM

  16. I have never seen one of these before. I’m glad you went to the lengths you did to photograph it. My but they’re tiny!


    February 15, 2020 at 11:13 AM

    • Because Eve is from the Philippines and I’d visited the country 4 times before, I’d heard of the tarsier but had never seen one until this trip (unless I saw one in a zoo decades ago and don’t remember). Tiny they are.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2020 at 12:43 PM

  17. That is an incredible picture considering the circumstances! I remember seeing them when I was in Bohol, they are an absolute delight to watch.


    March 3, 2020 at 2:24 PM

    • Thanks. It’s good to hear that you got to see the tarsiers, too. I’d heard about them for decades and finally took the chance to see some, even if not under the best conditions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 3, 2020 at 3:40 PM

      • I hadn’t heard of them at all and all of a sudden I was in front of the most adorable animal on the planet. I bet it was satisfying to finally see them!


        March 3, 2020 at 10:39 PM

        • Yes, along with the Chocolate Hills, which inclement weather had kept us from seeing on two previous visits to the Philippines.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 4, 2020 at 6:10 AM

  18. Those were fun too! My girlfriend and I went there by ATV.

    I do know the feeling of activities being cancelled due to the Philippine’s weather though


    March 4, 2020 at 8:09 AM

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