Friday Know Your Primate: Tarsiers

Today’s guest on ‘Friday Know Your Primate” has had more ink spilled in its’ name than any other primate I can think of…

tarsiers 1

Order Primates (primates)
Family Tarsiidae (tarsiers)
Genus Tarsius (tarsiers)
Species Tarsius bancanus (western tarsier)
Species Tarsius dianae (Diana tarsier)
Species Tarsius pumilus (pygmy tarsier)
Species Tarsius spectrum (spectral tarsier)
Species Tarsius syrichta (Philippine tarsier)

There are five species of tarsier (see above) all of which reside somewhere in Southeast Asia. They are nocturnal (and unlike other nocturnal primates they have a retinal fovea and lack the reflecting tapetum found in, say, lorises – which has lead some to argue that tarsiers where originally diurnal). They eat insects, arachnids and small vertebrates. They travel by means of verticla clinging and leaping – often leaping up to nine feet. They are all rather small, weighing between 120-140 grams.
One of the first things one notices in looking at tarsiers is the large eyes – each is larger than than animals brain, which has some interesting effects on the skull (makes it look more globular among other things).

tarsiers 2

Tarsiers share a number of traits in common with lemurs and lorises among them are: an unfused mandibular symphysis, high cusped molar teeth, grooming claws on their 2nd digits, multiple nipples and a bicornate uterus. On the other hand, Aiello (The relationships of the Tarsiiformes: a review of the case for the Haplorhini, in Major Topics in Primate and Human Evolution identified 23 traits tarsiers share in common with anthropoid primates. Amonf these are: the retinal fovea mentioned above, lack naked rhinarium, lack of sublingua, major blood supply of the brain comes from the promontory branch of the internal carotid, tympanic ring external to auditory bull and extends to form a bony tube and a sharp, deep low hafted skull. Additionally, tarsiers have some unique traits, such as a dental formula of, fused tibia and fibula, long legs and ankles and enormous hands and feet.
The above has led to several different interpretations of tarsier relationships to extent and exticnt primates. Not surprising – how do you classify something that has a bicornate uterus like lemurs and lorises and a hemichorial placenta like anthropoid primates? I don’t intend to talk about that in this post, but you can find an overview here

Tarsius Bancanus

As always, here is a picture of the tarsier skeleton:


and here is one of the skull – showing the huge eye orbits:

Tarsier skull
Update 1: Comments are closed.

28 Responses

  1. uhh… I don’t know who you think you are fooling, but, well, see the small nose, large eyes, occasional green fur, and it is very clear that those are not earth creatures at all, but ALIENS.

  2. Just keep looking into their eyes – preferably the second picture. Feeling sleepy? Good, pretty soon you will forget all about aliens…

  3. I remember these guys well (or their skulls, actually) from my primate evolution class! Those eye sockets were unreal.
    If you ever get to tamarins, I have a funny story to share about the focal follow I did of a juvenile tamarin at the Dallas World Aquarium.

  4. thanx,that was informative and clarified some things from my bio class

  5. I Love tarsier heehee. They abducted me.

  6. it’s amazing that these creatures are mostly in the philippines…and of course they are not aliens. What other animals are in the tarsier family…or at least i would like to have a pet tarsier…joke

  7. The family Tarsiidae is composed of one genera containing four species (or five depending on who you talk to).

  8. i live in the netherlands. can i have tarsier as a pet?

  9. I love tarsiers. they is sooooo cute!!! lol. is it possible to get one of the little aliens as a pet??????

  10. I think the are soooo cute and the 2nd picture looks likes hes excited or happy lol.

  11. Awee.. I think they’re ugly but yet soo cute at the same time!!
    Loveeee iT:)

  12. They aren’t aliens in fact the are our oldest living relatives (prosimians). Look at the body structure, the skull and placement. Take an anthropology class and discover your distant cousins. 🙂


  14. dude, these things are freakin awesome!!!!

  15. That’s messed up guys, You should look at this creature as a blessing, as a gift. Zoinks you should look at this creature as that friend that you don’t really like, but you keep around because they know somebody famous. Even though that boy-band has broken up, they were famous at one point, so that counts, right? god i hate myself

  16. These animals were lucky to be away from humans for a while. One look at the quality of these comments should be proof of that! Our reaction progresses from experiments to pets to aliens, and creationism to hatred and sexism. And just look at how the scientists used flash photography right in the face of one of these nocturnal tarsiers, not to mention how they’ve been rending them limb from limb for their morphological studies.
    Now that radio collars are being used to track them, their isolation from our race (and culture) is over. Soon they’ll be just as stupid as we are.

  17. Yeah, I’m on the verge of closing the comments and deleting some off topic comments (much as I would hate to do that).

  18. Tip to Yeaman, number 1 learn to spell, and number 2, do NOT take this as me hating YOUR religion, please dont make the mistake of being so arrogant and pig headed, and 3, if you need to vent your beliefs, do it else where… and 4 and this is the reason for number 2, i think all religious fanatics such as yourself need to be put in a room with padded walls, you do nothing, NOTHING, NOT A THING, to help anyone or anything, you complain, and you protest at soldiers funerals, or gay celebrations and parties, and bars, but what have you done to change all of your complaining?
    i rest my case, OH yea, as for your bible, the WORD OF GOD WAS WRITTEN BY MAN, kk im done with that
    the creature is magnificent, and im glad to have been able to come across it, a true look into human EVOLUTION, this is where we came from, isnt it exciting to see? 🙂

  19. After thinking about it I have deleted off topic and/or inappropriate comments. In the future try t keep the comments PG.

  20. Sven, you’re replying to a comment that was deleted before I got here. But you are just as incorrect IN THE OTHER DIRECTION from that ‘fanatic’. Is your reaction to pig-headedness more pig-headedness?
    FYI, Christians do not ‘do nothing to help anyone’. It is a well documented statistic that charitable giving is much higher in the red states, where they live, than in the heathen blue states. And in Presidential races, where 1040’s are made public, the Republican always has more contributions than the Dem, who are sometimes pitifully stingy.
    Thru history to the present, from Abolition to founding of hospitals, orphanages, halfway houses, even rescue from prostitution, Christians have proven themselves, w/ God’s grace, to be the major source of compassion in societies, from late Rome to modern Kenya. To say otherwise is ignorant slander.

  21. Sigh. The thread is about tarsiers – not the relative merits or demerits of christianity. Please limit your comments to that. There are plenty of other threads where one can debate the value of any given religion, find one and go there if you don’t wish to talk about tarsiers.

  22. Perhaps my confusion can be cleared up?
    As far as pygmies go, I thought the common consensus was they were extinct. I read an article saying they were rediscovered in August 2008 by a Texas A&M prof & team.
    But this guy’s blog has what appear to be pygmy tarsiers at a conservation/petting zoo in Indonesia.
    What gives??

  23. I have the same question as JH. I looked for pictures and found lots that were labeled as “pygmie tarsier”. Also, do you have any information about the population figures BEFORE people thought they were extinct? I mean were there thousands? Hundreds? What is thier gestational period and how many offspring do they usually have?

  24. leigh
    christians only do those charitable acts mainly because of fear that if they dont give money they are bad people and all bad people go to hell its not all christians that do it for that reason but 98% do because a book written over 2000 years ago said contradicting things because its false and 30+ people wrote their little short storys over several hundred years and they dont “click” with each other but enough about that.
    these tarsiers are the coolest/creepiest animals ever

  25. MS and JH – I’ll be addressing those questions in an update to the post I wrote on the subject. I will remind everyone, once again, that this is not the thread to debate the relative merits or demerits of the religion of your choice.

  26. Philippine Wildlife
    The Philippine Tarsier
    What has the tail of a rat, legs of a frog, sticky fingers of a gecko, rotating head of an owl, ears of a bat and the face of the baby?
    The Philippine Tarsier, Tarsius syrichta, is a unique animal found only in the central Philippines. The center of it’s range is the island of Bohol (map) but they are reportedly found on the islands of Leyte and Mindanao as well. Several sister species live on other southeast Asian islands (see below). According to the IUCN “Redlist”, the Philippine tarsiers are a threatened species (listed as “Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent”).
    Sometimes called the world’s smallest monkey, it is neither a monkey or even the smallest primate. Being a primate, it is part of the group of mammals that includes lemurs, monkeys, gorillas and man. Scientists say the tarsier falls somewhere between the lemurs and monkeys on the evolutionary scale. Tarsiers are certainly small — an adult can easily fit in the palm of a person’s hand but the smallest primate is the pygmy mouse lemur.
    Being small, cute and furry, the tarsier would seem to make an adorable pet. But they are shy and their nocturnal habits don’t suit them for captivity. I read on a couple of websites that a captive tarsier committed “suicide” by banging its head on the bars of its cage but this was more likely an animal dying from disease. Besides, a tarsier cage would require fine-mesh screen or wire to keep it enclosed. Tarsiers are probably more susceptible to the stress of captivity compared to their larger cousins, the monkeys, and tarsiers aren’t very long-lived.
    I’ve seen captive tarsiers on several visits to Bohol. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation runs a visitor center and habitat preserve about 14 km outside the provincial capital, Tagbilaran, near the town of Corella. Unfortunately, when I drove out there, it was late in the afternoon and the place was closed. Another place where they’re kept for display is in the town of Loboc where tourists go for the Loboc River cruises. At one of the houses of the boatmen along the river, eight tarsiers were kept in a hutch in the courtyard. The hutch was made dark with a blanket cover but wasn’t screened. The courtyard was fenced to keep out cats but not completely enclosed so apparently the tarsiers don’t wander far from their home or try to escape. The lady of the house came out and took out a few tarsiers from the dark corners of the hutch to let us hold. Their fingers and toes have “suction” pads that give them a tight grip on any surface. They’ll sit quietly and not make a peep but if they see their hutch — BOING! — they’ll take a big hop, even if it’s 2 meters away, to get back to their hiding place.
    I had mixed feelings about having the tarsiers on display like this since it encourages keeping them as pets. I held them for less than a minute before letting them back into their dark hideout. These critters seemed well cared for and healthy. The oldest tarsier in the group has been in captivity for eight years. The display does bring some awareness to the animals and the keepers only ask for donations. They also sell postcards and a few other souvenirs. The caretaker said the tarsiers are easy to find in the nearby hills — if you know where to look.
    If you’d like to see tarsiers, I suggest going to the PTF sanctuary near Corella so that you will see them in their natural habitat. Visit early in the morning — open 8-5.

  27. I noticed someone mentioned the greenish tint of the tarsiers’ fur and large eyes in comparing them to aliens. LOL. I know that was also a while back, but I’d just like to say that nocturnal primates tend to have large eyes (they help collect enough moon/starlight for night vision to be most effective). Green tint is actually caused by growth of algae in the animals fur caused by frequent rain. You’ll find similar algae growth on sloths. BB.

  28. tarsier is a new animal
    tarsier is a cute animal

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