Spectral Tarsier

By Rani Iyer

Spectral Tarsier

Scientific Name: Tarsius tarsier

You can hold this primate in your palm! Meet the world’s smallest primate, Spectral Tarsier (Tarsius tarsier). Weighing about 20 pennies and long as your new pencil, this is primate has a special place in animal kingdom.

Spectral Tarsier is found only on the Island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. To spot one, you might want to wait at dusk in any of their sleeping sites. Chances of spotting them are great in sites such as- dense thickets of grass, bamboo, pandanus, tangles of vines, epiphytic ferns, or aerial roots of strangler figs. Occasionally Tarsiers rest in a tree hole, especially if they have multiple holes to escape from.

If you have waited until after sunset, you might be greeted by a group of tarsiers, ranging from 2 to 6 individuals. Carnivorous tarsiers feed on moths, termites, crickets, dragonflies, cockroaches, and beetles. Although they live on trees, they hunt at low heights, usually below 9 meters. Hunting is a family activity and the group remains in visual contact of each other.

But wait, did you look at the eyes? They are huge! Tarsiers have the largest eyes relative to their body size among mammals. The huge eyes help the tarsiers, to see in the dark and grab insects. However, unlike the chameleon, the eyes are not mobile. The tarsiers have other tricks to help them. They can rotate their heads 180 degrees and spot their favorite bugs. Not even a rustle escapes their sharp ears!

Although they have no natural predators, the tarsiers are alarmed at the sight of a slithering snake. And jump more than 5 meters (18 feet) away. That is when we will notice the long hind limbs. They also sound the alarm to alert others in the group about the danger.

Tarsiers are a singing family. They emit many different kinds of vocal calls. When in a romantic mood, the male and female tarsiers sing a vocal duet. But the same song can be used to chase off an intruder who has wandered into their territory. Dawn is the best time to hear the tarsier duet.

Spectral tarsier clings vertically to trees and lianas that are less than 3 meters high. To move to their nesting and resting place, they travel high up on the trees. Wonder how they get there? Tarsiers can climb, hop, or walk on all fours to the top of trees.

Tarsier mothers give birth to single twice a year- in April/May (when rainy season begins) and November/ December (when rainy season ends). For the first three weeks, she carries the young ones in her mouth and nurses them. Then, the juvenile females take over the role of mother by transporting the infant, sharing the food, babysitting, grooming and playing.

The spectacular tarsiers are entirely adapted to their forest life. Although, they are not endangered, the forest they live in is being cleared for timber. Can you imagine how a tarsier would survive without forests and trees and all the bugs it eats? Neither can I. The only thing left for us to do is to protect the forests they live in.

For teachers:

Movie on Spectral Tarsier to incorporate in lessons

Pictures for coloring

Six ideas to incorporate Spectral Tarsier in lessons: Viewing the complete lesson plans requires subscription.

More pictures of tarsiers

Mother tarsier and baby

Tarsier Hunting




Eastern Tarsier (Tarsius tarsier)

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Spectral Tarsier
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