16 Interesting Facts About Tarsiers

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What is Tarsier?

Tarsiers are small nocturnal primates found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. They are part of the infraorder Tarsiiformes and the family Tarsiidae. There are several genera and around 13 species of tarsiers identified so far. Some key features that distinguish tarsiers are their large eyes, elongated tarsus bones in their feet, elongated fingers, claws on their toes, and long tails. Their huge eyes help them see well at night to catch insects, but they cannot move their eyes within the eye sockets. Tarsiers also have very good hearing and a good sense of smell. They use various vocalizations to communicate within their social groups.

Philippine Tarsier, Bohol
Philippine Tarsier, Bohol by . Ray in Manila is licensed under CC BY 2.0 ccby.
  1. Tarsiers have enormous eyes. Their eyes are larger than their brains. Their huge eyes help them see well at night to locate prey.
  2. They can rotate their heads almost 360 degrees. Tarsiers have specially adapted neck vertebrae that allow them to turn their heads nearly all the way around. This gives them great peripheral vision to spot prey and predators.
  3. Tarsiers are the only purely carnivorous primates. Unlike other primates that eat plants, fruits, or insects, tarsiers are strict meat-eaters. They prey on insects, small reptiles, and birds.
  4. Their legs and feet are elongated to aid in leaping. Tarsiers have specially adapted hind limbs and feet to propel themselves forward. They can leap up to 10 feet between trees to catch prey.
  5. Tarsiers have grooming claws on their feet. On each of their hind feet, tarsiers have a specialized grooming claw that is used for scratching and cleaning their fur.
  6. They are the smallest known primates. Most tarsier species weigh between 3-6 ounces as adults. Some pygmy tarsier species weigh less than 2 ounces.
  7. Tarsiers do not thrive in captivity. Due to their shy nature, specific dietary needs, and social behaviors, tarsiers have very high mortality rates in captivity. Most captive tarsiers do not survive more than 6 months.
  8. They have unique placenta adaptations. Tarsier placentas have a special shape and blood flow pattern that may help minimize the risk of maternal-fetal blood incompatibility. This suggests an early evolutionary adaptation.
  9. Tarsiers communicate with ultrasonic calls. Tarsiers can vocalize to communicate with each other using high-frequency calls of up to 91 kHz. This is well above the hearing range of humans and many predators.
  10. They practice unusual sleeping habits. Tarsiers sleep vertically clinging to tree trunks. Their long toe pads allow them to tightly cling to surfaces without effort.
  11. Their taxonomy is debated. There is disagreement over the number of tarsier species and how they should be classified. Most sources recognize between 13-16 species, but some argue there are only 7. More research is still needed.
  12. Several species are endangered or critically endangered. Due to habitat destruction, hunting and the pet trade, many tarsier species have declining populations. About 75% of tarsier species are considered threatened.
  13. Tarsiers likely once lived across Europe. Fossil evidence suggests tarsiers were present across Europe, North America and Asia over 40 million years ago. Only populations in Southeast Asia still survive today.
  14. They have unique adaptations to aid tree-climbing. Besides elongated legs, tarsiers have several other adaptations that help them climb vertically up tree trunks with ease, including a prehensile tail, gripping toe pads, and sharp claw-like fingernails.
  15. Tarsiers may have influenced legends of fairies and elves. It has been proposed that European fairy and elf myths were inspired by fossil remains of ancient tarsiers that once lived across Eurasia.
  16. The oldest tarsier fossil dates back over 50 million years. Several fossils provide evidence that early tarsier-like primates were present across the Northern Hemisphere since the early Eocene period over 50 million years ago.

In conclusion, tarsiers are fascinating nocturnal creatures that have many exceptional adaptations. From their enormous eyes to their incredible leaping abilities, tarsiers have features and behaviors that make them unique among primates. Learning more about these unusual animals provides insight into primate evolution and diversity. While many tarsier species are now threatened, continued conservation efforts can help protect these captivating creatures for future generations.


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