The islands of southeast Asia is an amazing place and there are lots of mysteries that have excited people for centuries. One of them is the Chocolate hills of Bohol. Some even say that these odd shaped hills are caused by aliens who left a little pet behind. This little bet is the odd looking tarsier. The tarsier may not be an alien from outer space, but it definitely looks alien. Even some of their characteristics are as alien as their features.  

What is the Tarsier?

The tarsiers are the world's smallest primate. They are often called the smallest monkey, but they aren't really monkeys. Instead they are in a class of their own and have features and characteristics similar to monkeys and some that are similar to lemurs.  

Big Eyed Tarsier

History of the Tarsier

Fossil records show that the tarsier is an amazing little creature. It has been around for about 35 million years and it hasn't changed a whole lot in all that time. The tarsiers used to range throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Their current range is only in the southeast Asian islands. There are a large number of extinct tarsiers. Currently there are four well described species of tarsiers alive today and more research is expanding our knowledge of them. This includes several newly described species and subspecies.

Characteristics of the Tarsiers

Each species is a little different than the other kinds. However, all of them are small enough to fit in the hand of an adult. The largest ones are about 5 inches. They are all a light brown or tan colored and all of them have very large eyes. Each species has a very long tail that is 1.5 times to 2.5 times the length of their bodies. Another feature that they all have is their very long fingers with their middle finger the same length as their upper arm.  

Tarsier on Tree

The most well known tarsiers include the Philippine tarsier (which many believe there are several subspecies of), the spectral tarsier, the western tarsier, and the pygmy tarsier.

The Philippine Tarsier -

The Philippine tarsier is the most commonly known. Physically it has gray to brown fur, large eyes, and is one of the largest tarsiers (currently living). They also have a naked tail until you get to the bottom where it has a tuff of fur. It has rounded finger pads that really hold onto the branches. The Philippine tarsier is the one we have the most information about because they have done some research on them.

The Philippine tarsier lives alone and males have a six hectares of land as their territory. The females range will cross over into a males territory and their territories are smaller, but still around 3 hectares. The space that they need makes the shrinking forests a huge concern.

When breeding time comes, the male will go into the females territory and chase her around until she consents to mating. He leaves a plug behind so that no one else can mate with her. Gestation is six months and one baby is born. The mother carries the baby around in her mouth like a cat does a kitten for several days and then leaves the baby behind to hunt. If a male comes across the baby he will kill it so that he can breed with the mother.

The Spectral Tarsier -

This species is not as developed as the Philippine Tarsier. It doesn't have the finger pads, but has the same general look. It also doesn't have the tuff of fur at the bottom of it. It is also a littler smaller than the Philippine tarsier.

The Western Tarsier-

The western tarsier has a lot of features that are similar to its cousins, but a few that make it unique. They have the longest tail of the tarsiers and it is finished with a tuff of fur. Other differences include having two grooming claws on each foot instead of just one. Beside these small differences, the western tarsier is more commonly seen with its legs stretched out so that it looks more monkey like.

Another major difference in these creatures is their social life. While the Philippine tarsier is a solitary creature who rarely mates, the western tarsier lives in pairs and is monogamous. The male and female frequently mate and when she is not pregnant they may mate as often as one time a night. She too gives birth to a single baby who she carries around with her.

The Pygmy Tarsier-

I think that the most interesting of the tarsiers is the pygmy tarsier. It isn't the behavior or even it's look that makes it special. In 1923 the creature was spotted. Then for nearly 80 years it was believed to be extinct. In 2000, Indonesian researchers were trapping rats and a pygmy tarsier was caught (and killed in the net). This lead to a research project in 2008. The team used radio collars on a small group of pygmy tarsier. They took lots of photos and videos, proving that the creature is very much alive today.  

Behavior of the Tarsiers

While there are some differences with each type of tarsier, they all have some basic behavior that is the same for the entire group.

  • Tarsiers are nocturnal. Even with people around they don't move a whole lot during the day and only become active after dark. Another interesting fact is that their eyes lack the reflecting layer of most nocturnal animals and don't “glow” in the dark.
  • Each tarsier is an amazing jumper. They jump up to 3 meters or about ten feet. They can jump from the ground, but often jump from branch to branch and tree to tree. They pounce on their prey while jumping these amazing distances.
  • The tarsier is the only primate that is a true carnivore. They eat a large amount of nocturnal insects, but will also catch snakes, lizards, bats, and even birds. They are so good that they can snatch a bird out of the air as it flies by.
  • Tarsiers have long been sought after as pets. Many people kept them in their homes, but the tarsiers usually died after two or three months. Even in captivity where they are provided a natural habitat such as a zoo their lifespan is often really short. They will die ager two or three years instead of living to be 20 or 30 (their natural lifespan). They are even know for getting stressed and trying to commit suicide.  

So, while these cute little creatures aren't aliens left behind by extraterrestrials, they are great little creatures worth our time. It will be awesome as studies reveal more about them. We definitely need to work to keep them around so that everyone can enjoy them for years to come. The tarsier is a great creature.