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Basic Data


The isolation and small size of the Philippine islands has prevented both the development and migration of larger mammals such as are found in nearby Borneo and Java. However there are some 2,500 species of animals excluding insects and other invertebrates. The only indigenous mammals of significant size are two types of buffalo, the carabao or water buffalo, and the tamaraw, a small buffalo, found only in inner Mindoro.

The Spanish imported ponies and horses. There are, of course ownerless wild cats and dogs. Imported cattle do not thrive well in the tropics but efforts are being made to cross breed Indian cows with American breeds. Many goats, wild and domestic pigs and a few sheep have been introduced.

Rats and mice are the most numerous mammals. Rats fattened in the rice fields are captured, cooked and eaten. There are also a few species of monkeys, bats, the Philippine deer, a dwarf deer - Calamian which is found only in the Calamianes island group (an adult weights about 35 Kg or 70 lbs), mongoose and the porcupine. The Philippine tarsier, reddish brown, nocturnal, smaller than a rat, feeds on insects and small lizards, is restricted to Samar, Leyte, Bohol and Mindanao. The greyish black bear cat of Palawan which looks more like a bear than a cat and is the largest indigenous mammal on the island feeds on fruit and small animals. Other species of mammals are the dugong, Mindanao gymnure, cloud rat and slender tailed cloud rat, and the slow lory.

There are between 950 to 975 species of birds, e.g. blue napped parrot, cockatoo, martines (talking bird), giant scops owl, wild duck, sparrows, pusit (singing bird), Mindoro imperial and bleeding heart pigeons, maryakapra (a black bird with a long and constantly moving tail), Palawan peacock pheasant, Cebu black shama, Eastern Sarus crane, Rufous Hornbill, Negros fruit dove, Kock's pitta, and the Philippine eagle (sometimes called the monkey eating eagle). with a wing span of seven feet (2.2 m), nesting 30 ft (about 9 m) above the ground and rare in Luzon, Mindanao, Samar and Leyte. Aside from uninhabited regions, they are not found in large numbers since man, the only predator, kills them for fun and profit and in the mistaken belief that all birds eat rice. The animal the normal Filipino regards with most tolerance and affection is the rooster, mostly for the prestige in the fowl sport of cockfighting.

Among the cold blooded animals there are 70 to 80 species of amphibians and 240 to 250 species of reptiles. The Philippine crocodile is a fresh water species, small and relatively non-aggressive unlike some salt water species in and south of Mindanao. The hawksbill turtle is favored for its shell and flesh. There are both frogs and toads, a house lizard, the gecko, which feeds on insects but has the disturbing night cry of Toe-Ko. Thirty-two genera of land snakes are found in the Philippines as well as three genera containing 13 species of sea snakes. Sea snakes generally have a vertically flattened tail for swimming, are passive and seldom bite. Several species of cobra (Naja), vipers (Trimeresurus) and other venomous snakes are common.

Hundreds of species of butterflies and moths make the Philippines a collector's paradise but many make some species extinct. At dawn and dusk there is a changing of the guard. When the flies begin their sleep the mosquitos become active and vice-versa. There are some biting flies (nik-niks) and also fireflies which have a greenish glow.

The seas teem with marine fauna with some 2400 species of fish many of which are very colorful, 485 species of coral, starfish as well as many species of mollusks and pearl oysters are found in the surrounding waters. There are some poisonous corals, stinging jellyfish, manta rays as well as sharks in some waters.

Many kinds of fish, both fresh and salt water, are used for food (see Philippine cuisine) and notable ones include: Carp a fresh water bottom feeder; Tilapia niger, a black indigenous fresh water fish, rather like a bass, which can and is grown in fish-ponds as well as an imported species Tilapia nileticus; dalag (Ophiocephalus strictus) a fresh water mud-fish found throughout India, China and the Philippines; and Catfish. In spite of its many bones, Bangus (milk-fish) is highly prized and is both caught from the sea and grown in brackish water fish-ponds. Many sea bass (spiny-finned food and game fish), rock cod (food fish), and groupers (large fish found in warm seas) of some 40 species are grouped under the heading of lapulapu. They are all carnivorous, large-mouthed bottom feeders. Some will attain the size of 50 kg (110 lbs) but are then called kalatan. Although according to sport fisherman Vicvic Villavicencio there doesn't seem to be any connection between the word lapulapu and the native chieftain of Cebu, still certain wits may ask, "if Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan then who killed Lapu-Lapu?" And will quickly answer if you don't know, "the cook."


Plants number about 12,000 species of which 3,800 are trees. About 100 of them are of commercial value, including hard woods as apitong, ipil-ipil, yakal, lauan, white and red narra, camagong, and mayapis. Acle (Albizzia acle) is indigenous to the Philippines with dark, hard wood used in making furniture and guitar sides. Aranga (Homalium luzoniense) is found in the provinces of Batangas and Camarines is teredo worm resistant and is thus useful for salt water piles. Ilang-Ilang (Cananga odorata) bears a large number of greenish fragrant blossoms from which a valuable oil can be extracted. Ipil (Intsia bijuga) a member of the Narra family and common throughout the Philippines. Principally used for furniture, telephone poles, and railroad ties. Molave (Vitex pariflora) A member of the Verbenaceae family widely distributed throughout the archipelago with a hard and durable wood. Narra (Pterocarpus indicus) Belonging to the Leguminoseae (pea) family and commonly called Philippine mahogany, its wood is hard, durable and dark. It takes a beautiful finish and is valued for fine furniture and interior furnishings. Tindalo (Pahudia rhomboidea) is also a member of the Leguminoseae (pea) family and is botanically closely related to both narra and ipil. It is noted for its hardness and beautiful grain.

Palma A term applied to trees of the palm variety of which there are more than 100 species in the Philippines. The most characteristic includes the fan palm (Palma brava) and the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) nipa palms grow in coastal swamps. Nipa is useful in making simple structures and houses. The green young coconut provides a refreshing beaverage and its meat is used in making so-called buko pies while the mature coconut yields grated coconut meat used in baking and cooking and, of more economic importance copra. From copra, the dried meat of the mature coconut, coconut oil is produced. Some 90 percent of the economy of the province of Laguna is based on copra and the world price of copra. There are also rubber yielding trees although rubber has never become an important product. Mangroves of some 16 species grow in coastal swamps.

A member of spice plants are found including cinnamon, clove, bay (laurel), very hot peppers, and oregano. Near the end of the 16th century the Spanish galleon "San Clemente" brought 200 ounces of tobacco seed from Cuba. The Cagayan Valley and the Ilocos region in northern Luzon seem to be the best area for growing this crop.

Flowers abound as about 8,500 species of plants are flowering. Azucena (Polianthes tuberosa) A plant native to Mexico but introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish at an early date because of its fragrant flowers. Begonia (Begoniaceae) Some 50 indigenous species of this genus are found in the Philippines. Gardenia There are several native species of this genus as well as Gardenia florida, a plant with large white fragrant flowers, which was introduced by the Spanish. There are hundreds of kinds of orchids, many aromatic flowers, roses, the red, yellow, white flowers of the bougainvillea, sunflower, many colored flowers of the suntan, margarita, pink daisy, and the national flower Sampaguita which has a very nice fragrance.

Many herbs are collected and used in the treatment of ailments. Of useful fiberous plants Manila hemp used for rope making. Pina (Ananas sativa) The pineapple was introduced from Latin America by the Spanish in early days. In addition to the fruit, the leaves supply a fiber used in making a sheer cloth. (for others also see handicrafts)

Seaweed is plentiful and the Eucheuma variety yields a semi-processed substance, carageenan, which can be used in food preparations, pharmaceuticals, perfumes, jellies and other products. The Philippines is one of the world's largest exporters of carageenan which is sustained by seaweed farms.

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