We Should Stop Calling the Philippine Tarsier the World’s Smallest Primate

IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Charles J Sharp, Klaus Rudloff

In today’s edition of Wrong Things I Learned From School, we correct a long-held misconception that the Philippine tarsier is the world’s smallest primate. 

For decades, textbooks claimed that the famous tarsiers from Bohol hold the record for being the world’s smallest monkey. It was a lie. 

Tarsiers are not monkeys and neither are they the world’s smallest primates. That title rightfully belongs to Madagascar’s pygmy mouse lemur. Tarsiers, lemurs, and monkeys are three species that are distantly related to each other. Tarsiers belong to the suborder Tarsiiformes, while monkeys belong to the suborder Haplorhini

A Cute Little Mouse Lemur

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Chalres J Sharp.

Brown Mouse Lemur, Nosy Mangabe, Madagascar


Dethroned But Still Cute: Philippine Tarsier

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / wtoz.

A surprised tarsier


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Mouse lemurs are not rodents, monkeys, or tarsiers. They belong to a separate suborder called Strepsirrhini. In terms of size, the pygmy mouse lemur easily dethrones the Philippine tarsier as the world’s smallest primate. The pygmy mouse lemur’s body measures only two and a half inches long, but its tail could be as long as five inches. In comparison, the Philippine tarsier’s body measures up to 15 centimeters long

ALSO READ: We Should Stop Calling Taal the World's Smallest Volcano

The Philippine mouse-deer is not the world’s smallest deer either. 

Another famous misconception taught in schools is that the Philippine mouse-deer is the world’s smallest deer. This is wrong. 

The Philippine mouse-deer is not a deer at all. It is more closely related to goats. Locally known as pilandok, the mouse-deer belongs to the species called Tragulidae, while deers belong to Cervidae.

Not a Mouse, Not a Deer: The Philippine Mouse-Deer

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Klaus Rudloff.

One characteristic that gives away the true identity of the Philippine mouse-deer is the horizontal pupils of its eyes. Deers don’t have horizontal pupils, goats do. In fact, the mouse-deer’s genus Tragulus means “little goat.”

Don’t worry though, because the mouse-deers are still considered the world’s smallest hoofed animal. 

ALSO READ: Filipino Invention Myths We Totally Fell For

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