Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Can See You, But I Can Hear You Better: A little known fact about Tarsiers.

Well considering it is Monkey Day 2010, it is a perfect opportunity to promote primate species awareness.  So following in the footsteps of the December issue of the International Journal of Primatology I decided to write about an odd but extremely interesting primate, the Tarsier!

Tarsiers are nocturnal primates that live in the rainforests on the islands of SE Asia.  They are small, with humongous eyes and are most famous for the elongated tarsus bones in their feet (hence the name).  They tend to show variation in their social structure, but typically they are found in small groups with a single adult female, adult male and their dependent offspring [Gursky-Doyen, 2010]. Their diet primarily consists of insects, but occasionally they also eat lizards and small birds. This makes them the only existing fully carnivorous primates!
Tarsiers have been extremely difficult to classify in the Primate order.  This is mainly because they most likely diverged early on in primate evolution and are quite distinct from other primates.  With their big eyes, tarsiers do have a heavy reliance on vision especially for hunting.  However, a recent study found that their auditory cortex is more developed than other primates [Wong et al., 2010].  This suggests that they do rely on auditory cues in their environment more than previously thought. This could be why these little creatures are notoriously difficult to find in the wild.  They literally can hear you from a mile away!

According to the IUCN red list, all species of Tarsiers are vulnerable, with some being endangered.  The loss of habitat in SE Asia due to a high rate of deforestation puts all primates and animals at risk, including the Tarsier.  This deforestation is primarily for the creation of palm oil plantations (SE Asia is the largest producer in the entire world).  Palm oil is actually used in 50 percent of all consumer goods including soaps, detergents, various food products and biofuels. If you want to learn more about Palm Oil and how you can make a difference, check out the website for the Rainforest Action Network (http://bit.ly/aQStcB).

Also, the International Journal of Primatology has made their publication free access until the end of the year. If you are interested in reading more articles about Tarsiers here is the link for the December issue http://bit.ly/fX0dJZ.

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