In general, the bigger an animal’s eyes are, the cuter they are. Just think of kittens, who have huge eyes and are freaking adorable. But there are certainly exceptions to this rule, and tarsiers are one of them. Their eyes are so big that these guys just look creepy.
Tarsiers are primates, and make up the family Tarsiidae. The exact number of tarsier species is up for debate, as well as what genera they are placed in. All extant species can be found in southeast Asia, in places such as Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and the Philippines, though tarsier fossil records have been found in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Tarsiers are built for living in trees, and all species are arboreal. They like very dense, tropical forests, though different species can be found at different altitudes. Tarsiers roost in hollow trees or clusters of vines, so availability of roost sites is important for tarsier habitats.
Tarsiers are very small primates, with their bodies only being ten to fifteen centimetres long. Tarsiers have soft, floofy fur, which is dark brown or greyish, to blend in with dead leaves or bark. They have very long hind legs, which can be twice as long as the body. These are specialized for clinging and leaping among the trees.
The length of tarsiers’ hind legs is due to the elongation of the tarsal bones in their feet, hence the name ‘tarsier’. In most animals with long hind legs, this lengthening is due to an elongation of the metatarsals, not the tarsals. Tarsiers are unique in this respect, and the elongation of the tarsals means that they can have long limbs without losing any dexterity in their toes.
Of course, the most notable feature of tarsiers is their absolutely ridiculously huge eyes. They are each about 16 mm in diameter, and each weighs almost as much as a tarsiers brain. These giant eyes help tarsiers track their prey at night, though they also have extremely acute hearing which helps them detect any tasty meals that flutter by.
You see, tarsiers have a very odd diet — in fact, they are the only truly carnivorous primates. They feed mainly on insects, including moths, butterflies, ants and beetles. Tarsiers will also feed on larger prey, such as birds, snakes and lizards.
Tarsiers give birth to one offspring, after a gestation of around six months. The young are large, weighing 25 to 30% of their mothers’ body weights – the largest birth weight relative to maternal mass of any mammal. They can climb the day they are born, and reach sexual maturity within two years. Though some tarsier species are solitary, others live and roost in family groups.
Tarsiers rely very heavily on the habitats that house them; as such they are very vulnerable to habitat destruction. The key to protecting this very unique family of animals is to protect the forests they live in. Hopefully we can preserve the forests and preserve these super cool (if very ugly) primates!