Cute and Fuzzy: Tarsier Taxonomy and Fact Sheet

One of the smallest primates around today, Tarsiers are found in densely forested areas of Southeast Asia, namely the islands of Sulawesi, Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines. These adorable animals were previously categorized as strepsirhines. However, they are now classified as haplorhines. They have characteristics that resembles those of monkeys, apes and also prosimians.

The Tarsier family is composed of seven species and a single genus. Tarsiers are nocturnal creatures with large ears and a small body size. Their mandible or lower jaw is unfused. These traits are commonly associated with prosimians. They also share traits with anthropoids which include similar DNA arrangements, enclosed eye sockets and a dry nose due to a lack of naked rhinarium.

A trait that distinguishes a tarsier is its large eyes – each bigger than the tarsier brain, and a neck that is capable of rotating up to 180 degrees. These two traits greatly increase their ability to catch their prey specially at night, since tarsiers are nocturnal and are mainly insectivores.

As already mentioned, tarsiers are tiny creatures. These primates almost never weigh more than a half kilo and span as small as four inches. Another unique tarsier trait is their grooming claws. These are used to remove dirt and parasites from their bodies and also as cleaning tools for their fur. They are named tarsier because of their prominent tarsus bones.

A tarsier is capable of leaping up to seven feet. They can also move up vertical surfaces due to suction pads located at the end of their fingers. Although tarsiers are more apt to stay in vertical places such as trees, they can hop using their legs while on the ground. A tarsier tail is incredibly nimble and flexible. This serves as a balancing tool of sorts while they move and as a support while resting.

Tarsier diet is composed exclusively of animal prey. Although they are mainly insectivores, tarsiers also eat lizards, small birds and even snakes. They usually catch their prey by jumping and grabbing them. Like most primates, tarsiers are social animals. Some tarsier species live in pairs, while some thrive in groups that includes two to six tarsiers, while others remain solitary.

Tarsiers do not fare well in captivity. There are reported cases wherein caged tarsiers injured and even killed themselves due to the stress caused by their captivity. This should serve as a reminder that however tame tarsiers may look, they are best left alone in their natural habitat.

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