Anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the Philippines is familiar with the colorful notes we use as currency, with denominations ranging from 20 to 1000 pesos. Some people can name the historical figures on each note. A few people can even tell you which important locations are on the back of each bill. But how many people remember the animals on each bill? Why did the Bangko Sentral choose to highlight these particular creatures on our national currency?

20 Pesos: Seated snugly above the Banaue Rice Terraces is a Palm Civet from the Cordilleras, which should be familiar critter all the coffee buffs out there, or anyone who’s had a cup of coffee while waiting in line for some ube jam at Good Shepherd in Baguio. For the rest of us, the Asian palm civet (or Musang or Alamid) is a tree-living critter that likes to eat coffee beans. After digesting the beans, the civet cat does its ‘business’, and civet cat droppings are big business. Civet coffee, or kopi luwak, prized by coffee connoisseurs all over the world, is made from the digested coffee beans found in civet cat droppings. Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, selling for up to 600 US dollars a pound. That’s one expensive litter box!

50 Pesos: Lake Taal dominates the back of the 50 peso bill, and this freshwater lake is home to a population of maliputo, a huge fish that can weigh up to 80 kilograms. Also known as the giant trevally, maliputo are caught only inside Taal Lake, having made their way inside through the Pansipit River. Maliputo have firm flesh and are prized in Batangas as a delicacy. They can be grilled or cooked in sinigang. These fish used to be present in greater numbers, but have been fished to near-extinction, because of the tilapia fish cages set up by local fishermen along the Pansipit River. Fortunately the local government has ordered the total dismantling of these fish cages, and the Bangko Sentral highlighted this fish on the 50 peso bill in an effort to increase awareness about the unique freshwater fish and the conservation efforts to protect its special freshwater lake habitat.

100 Pesos: With the majestic conical shape of Mayon Volcano in the background, the whale shark or butanding is the largest known living fish species in the world. The largest recorded individual whale shark was almost 13 meters long and weighed more than 21.5 metric tons. Not actually a whale and more of a shark, the whale shark is a filter feeder, like a whale, filtering tons of plankton, krill, small fish, and other tiny ocean tidbits through its mouth and gills. Donsol, Sorsogon, is a seasonal feeding site for a large school of whale sharks, and tourists come from all over to go snorkling next to these gentle giants. The younger whale sharks have been known to play with divers too! In 1998 the Philippines banned all fishing, selling, importing, and exporting of whale sharks for commercial purposes, followed in later years by India and Taiwan. Way to go, Philippines!

200 Pesos: Clinging to a tiny branch with the Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the background is the Philippine tarsier, a very strange little animal. One of the smallest primates in the world, the Philippine tarsier has distinctively large eyes, having the largest eye-to-body ratio of all mammals. These huge eyes are fixed in the tarsier’s skull, which means they can’t roll their eyes like we can. To make up for this, the tarsier’s neck allows it to rotate its head 180 degrees. Try that during your morning stretch! (Note: Please don’t try this during your morning stretch.) In the wild, the tarsier’s main predators are feral cats and large birds, like owls, but the biggest threat to the tarsier is the encroachment by humans on their native habitats. Tarsiers inhabited many rainforests around the world over the past 45 million years, but now they exist on only a few islands in the Philippines, Borneo, and Indonesia. From being a common sight on Bohol, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation now estimates that there are only 700 left on the island.

500 Pesos: Somehow nestling on a twig in the middle of the Subterranean River in Puerto Princesa, Palawan is the blue-naped parrot, known locally as ‘pikoy’. Also known as the blue-crowned green parrot, the Luzon parrot, and the Philippine green parrot, this bird can be found throughout the Philippines as well as islands north and east of Borneo. This colorful bird, which is mostly green except for a light blue crown and nape, is being increasingly traded, along with the Philippine cockatoo and the Palawan talking mynah, in illegal trading groups operating around southern Palawan. The Katala Foundation, a group that monitors the illegal trafficking of birds and wildlife, has called attention to this threat to the blue-naped parrot in recent years, with most of the birds being captured in Palawan and transported to black markets in Manila.

1000 Pesos: Perched peacefully at the bottom of a coral reef in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Sulu is the Pinctada maxima oyster, with a big fat pearl sitting right in the middle. Pinctada maxima oysters are the only oysters that produce South Sea Pearls, which were declared the national gem of the Philippines in 1996 by then-President Fidel Ramos through Proclamation No. 905. Pinctada maxima oysters are huge, almost a foot in diameter, and are not closely related to the more familiar, edible oysters that we all love to eat. Pinctada oysters have a strong inner shell layer composed of nacre, or ‘mother of pearl’. Natural pearls are formed when a foreign particle, like sand or debris, slips inside the two shells of the oyster, and the oyster covers the foreign body with layer upon layer of nacre, until the gem is formed. Cultured pearls are formed the same way, except the pearl farmer slips the sand into the oyster on purpose.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2016 issue.