Spectral tarsiers, Tarsius tarsier, are endemic to the Indonesian islands of Southeast Asia including Sulawesi, Pulau Peleng, and Pulau Selajar. The greatest densities of this species are found in the northern peninsula of Sulawesi Island.
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
- Wright, P., E. Simons, S. Gursky. 2003. Tarsiers: past, present, and future. United States of America: Rutgers University Press.
Spectral tarsiers have a small, round body covered in soft, velvety fur. Their pelage ranges from gray to buff-gray in color. They have long scaly tails with tufts of fur only present on the distal third of the tail. Spectral tarsiers exhibit sexual dimorphism: females weigh 102 to 114 g while males weight 118 to 130 g.
Members of the genus Tarsius possess long, slender hands, feet, and digits. Their hands are thought to be the longest of any living primate relative to body size. These extremely elongated hands are designed for clinging and gripping despite the lack of opposable thumbs. The third finger of T. tarsier is extremely long and slender and is only 15% shorter than the humerus. This trait is not symmetrically reproduced from the anterior to the posterior, as the fourth digit is the longest of the hindlimb digits. The second and third digits of the hindlimb are equipped with specialized toilet claws. Spectral tarsiers are thought to be the most primitive tarsiers, as they lack disks on the ends of their fingers.
Tarsiers are among the smallest known primates. Their head-body length ranges from 9.5 to 14 cm and tail length ranges from 20 to 26 cm. Total length ranges from 29.5 to 40 cm. Spectral tarsiers have long legs that are specialized for their saltatory form of locomotion; they can jump more than 40 times the length of their body. The tibia and fibula are fused together and act as a shock absorber when the animal jumps from tree to tree. The hindlimbs of tarsiers are twice as long as their head-body length. The femur, the bones of the lower leg (the fused tibia and fibula), and the bones of the foot are each roughly equal in length.
Tarsiers have the biggest eyes of any mammal relative to their body weight. In fact, their eyes are larger than their brain. Interestingly, tarsiers lack a tapetum lucidum, a highly reflective layer behind the retina that is characteristic of most nocturnal mammals. Instead tarsiers have extremely large eyes and a well-developed fovea to maximize light-gathering capacity and to allow the development of highly resolved pin-sharp vision. These adaptations have bestowed tarsiers with the most acute night vision of all primates. The eyes of spectral tarsiers are immobile due to their large size, but this is compensated for by the ability to rotate the head 180 degrees.
The ears of spectral tarsiers are thin and membranous and are able to move independently. Tarsiers possess sharp, heterodont teeth and quadrate molars. The dental formula of tarsiers is: I2/1, C1/1, P3/3, M3/3 = 34. Spectral tarsiers have a low basal metabolic rate and a low body temperature. They do not exhibit torpor, yet brown adipose tissue can be found in adults within the interscapular area; this is likely a retained paedomorphic trait.
Range mass: 102 to 130 g.
Range length: 9.5 to 14 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
- Rosenberger, A. 2010. The Skull of Tarsius: Functional Morphology, Eyeballs, and the Nonpursuit Predatory Lifestyle. International Journal of Primatology, 31: 1032-1054.
- MacDonald, D. 2006. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File.
- MacKinnon, J., K. MacKinnon. 1980. The behaviour of wild spectral tarsiers.. International Journal of Primatology, 1(4): 361-379.
- McNab, M., P. Wright. 1987. Temperature regulation and oxygen consumption in the Philippine tarsier Tarsius syrichta. Physiological Zoology, 60: 596-600.
- Napier, J., P. Napier. 1985. The Natural History of the Primates. Great Britain: MIT Press.
Catalog Number: USNM 218071
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): H. Raven
Year Collected: 1916
Locality: Laboea Sore [= Labuasore], N of Parigi, Celebes, Sulawesi Tengah, Indonesia, Asia
- Type: Miller, G. S. & Hollister, N. 1921 Jun 30. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 34: 103.
Spectral tarsiers are found in primary and secondary rainforests, though they prefer secondary growth forests. This is likely due to the greater abundance of food items in secondary growth forests. Their habitat ranges from the lowland evergreen rainforest near sea level to the lower montane rainforest up to 1500 m. Spectral tarsiers have also been found in mangroves and scrub forest.
Range elevation: 0 to 1500 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
Spectral tarsiers feeds exclusively on live animals. They primarily prey on flying insects such as moths, locusts, beetles and cicadas. They occasionally eat small vertebrates, such as lizards or bats. Spectral tarsiers listen with their independently moving ears to locate potential prey. Once a prey item is targeted, a tarsier ambushes its prey with a sudden lunge, grasps it with its long, slender fingers, and bites to kill it. The tarsier then returns to its perch to consume its prey. This form of ambush hunting requires excellent hand-eye coordination. Spectral tarsiers can collect their prey out of the air, on the ground, or off leaves and branches. Tarsiers can eat 10% of their own body weight every 24 hours, and they drink water several times throughout the night.
Spectral tarsiers appear to take advantage of the moonlight when foraging. This is an unusual behavior, as most small, nocturnal mammals exhibit lunar phobia as a predator avoidance mechanism. Tarsiers cope with this increased risk of predation by foraging in groups.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore )
- Shekelle, M., A. Salim. 2008. "Tarsius tarsier" (On-line). In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. Accessed November 08, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/21491/0.
Spectral tarsiers may influence populations of their insect prey. They host intestinal parasites such as hookworms and tapeworms. A related species, Tarsius bacanus, hosts various species of intestinal worms such as Moniliformes tarsii and Moniliformes echinoseroxi; spectral tarsiers may be susceptible to these parasites.
Potential predators of spectral tarsiers include arboreal snakes, civets, monitor lizards, owls and other raptors, and feral cats. If a predator, particularly a snake, is identified, they emit an alarm call. This initiates mobbing behavior, in which numerous tarsiers gather and approach the predator as a group, screaming, lunging, and even biting. Mob groups usually consist of adult males from neighboring groups, which is interesting as most spectral tarsier social groups only contain one territorial adult male. This grouping by neighboring males suggests some form of cooperation among males during predator mobbing. If spectral tarsiers spot a bird of prey such as an owl, they sound an alarm call and participate in avoidance mechanisms such as moving further away from the predator and increasing cryptic behaviors.
- arboreal snakes
- monitor lizards
- other raptors
- feral cats
- Gursky, S. 2005. Predator mobbing in Tarsius spectrum. International Journal of Primatology, 26(1): 207-221.
Life History and Behavior
Species-specific vocalizations of spectral tarsiers include trills and twitters, alarm calls, duet songs, and family choruses. Twitters and trills are used to converse or to make their location known to other group members while foraging. Alarms calls serve as a warning system to others when a predator is spotted and also encourage predator mobbing. Duet songs and family choruses convey territoriality and function as a mate guarding mechanism. As morning approaches, the female of the duet pair initiates a song once she has returned to the family’s sleeping site. The male and female sing very different but equally high-pitched songs, which can be heard up to 100 m away. Species-specific vocal acoustics are used in conjunction with morphogenetics to assess classification of tarsiers.
Spectral tarsiers use their urine as well as secretions from the epigastric gland, ano-genital gland, and circum-oral gland to mark the boundaries of their territory. Males scent mark twice as frequently as females.
Physical contact appears to contribute to tarsier sociality, and members of the same group often rest and socialize while touching. Spectral tarsiers sit next to one another and intertwine tails and are know to snuggle.
Visual communication appears to be most effective when group members are in close contact with one another. They communicate by changes in facial musculature and body posture. Folded ears seem to convey uneasiness, and a crouched posture is taken when defensive. When aggressive, a tarsier stands on its hind feet with its mouth open.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: duets ; choruses ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
- Burton, J., A. Nietsch. 2010. Geographical variation in duet songs of Sulawesi tarsiers: Evidence for new cryptic species in south and southeast Sulawesi. International Journal of Primatology, 31: 1123-1146.
- Gursky-Doyen, S., J. Supriatna. 2010. Indonesian Primates. New York: Springer. Accessed November 08, 2011 at http://www.springerlink.com/content/n17q23/#section=651387&page=3&locus=48.
One spectral tarsier was 10 years and 9 months of age at the conclusion of a mark and re-capture study, and the only signs of aging in this individual were gray/light hair on the face. Therefore, this probably does not represent the longest lifespan of spectral tarsiers in the wild.
A female tarsier greater than 5 years of age currently resides at the Singapore zoo. A closely related species, Tarsius bancanus has a lifespan of 17 years and 7 months in captivity. It is likely that T. tarsier has a similar lifespan in captivity.
Status: wild: 10 years.
- Shekelle, M., A. Nietsch. 2008. Primates of the Oriental Night. West Java: West Java : Indonesia Institute of Sciences, Research Center for Biology.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The majority of tarsiers are monogamous; however, spectral tarsiers may practice facultative monogamy or polygyny. Monogamy appears to be the prevalent mating system in this species due to limited numbers of high-quality sleeping sites. Each individual female requires a high-quality sleeping site for herself and her young. Fig trees with large diameters are preferred but rare, which generally leads males and females to share sleeping sites and thus to form monogamous pairs.
Polygynous groups occur 19% of the time. Monogamous groups often consist of two or three females with one reproducing female and one territorial male, while polygynous groups consist of six or more individuals with multiple reproducing females and a single male. The presence of large testes in T. tarsier suggests that polygyny is fairly common, as large testes have been related to promiscuous mating systems.
Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous
Spectral tarsiers breed twice a year, and copulation occurs during either May or November. The gestation period is approximately 6 months, and births also usually occur during May or November. Females give birth to a single offspring, which is born fully furred and with its eyes open. Newborns are precocial and are able to climb at just one day of age. Among mammals, tarsier offspring are the largest relative to the mother's body mass. Newborns weigh on average 23.7 g, nearly 22% of the mother's body mass. A large proportion their weight is invested in the brain mass, eyes, and cranium.
Lactation generally lasts up to 80 days. Weaning occurs between 4 and 10 weeks of age, and independence occurs directly after weaning as offspring are capable of hunting on their own. Spectral tarsiers reach sexual maturity at 17 months of age. Females possess a bicornuate uterus and haemochorial placenta.
Breeding interval: Spectral tarsiers breed twice yearly.
Breeding season: Copulation May and November
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average gestation period: 6 months.
Range weaning age: 21 to 80 days.
Range time to independence: 4 to 12 weeks.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 17 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 17 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Young spectral tarsiers are precocial and receive only maternal care. Mothers pick up and carry their infants by mouth for the first 3 weeks and cache them trees while they forage. Offspring are left alone for an average of 27 minutes at a time, and then they are moved to new locations. Mothers generally remain within 4 m of their young when foraging. Caching young in trees reduces the energetic cost of foraging, as carrying offspring is costly and offspring can weigh up to one third of the mother’s weight. Mothers sling offspring older than 3 weeks of age under their bellies while leaping and moving from tree to tree.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents
- Gursky-Doyen, S. 2010. Infraspecific variation in the mating system of Spectral Tarsiers. International Journal of Primatology, 31: 1161-1173.
- Gursky, S. 2010. Dispersal Patterns in Tarsius spectrum. International Journal of Primatology, 31: 117-131.
- Gursky, S. 2002. The behavioral ecology of the Spectral tarsier, Tarsius spectrum. Evolutionary Anthropology, 11: 226-234.
- MacDonald, D. 2006. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File.
- Napier, J., P. Napier. 1985. The Natural History of the Primates. Great Britain: MIT Press.
- Roberts, M. 1994. Growth, development, and parental care in the western tarsier (Tarsius bancanus) in captivity: evidence for a “slow” life-history and non-monogamous mating system. International Journal of Primatology, 15: 1-28.
Spectral tarsiers are currently abundant on the island of Sulawesi, particularly among the northern peninsula with a density ranging from 156 to 800 individuals per square kilometer. However, this species is still considered vulnerable due to habitat destruction caused by logging. Logging reduces tarsier densities through the destruction of preferred sleeping sites such as strangler fig trees. Strangler figs are removed from human-utilized forests because they are seen as a threat to other commercially valuable trees.
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
T. tarsier, sensu lato, has an estimated extent of occurrence of 149,136 km2. Within this are 1,782 km2 of old growth forest and 33,980 km2 of good habitat, yielding an estimate of 35,852 km2 of tarsier habitat that is considered good or better. Additionally, there are 27,528 km2 of fair habitat. This produces an estimate of 63,380 km2 of potentially usable tarsier habitat. Assessed in the broad sense, T. tarsier is easily the least endangered tarsier found in Wallacea. On the other hand, T. tarsier, sensu stricto is sympatric with Macaca maura, and by analogy is likely to be highly threatened. Thus, under the current taxonomy T. tarsier should be considered to have a conservation status of no greater than Vulnerable and possibly as little as Least Concern, but in the more restricted sense it would likely be a candidate for Critically Endangered. This example illustrates the urgent need for more taxonomic work on Sulawesian tarsiers. The problem is not trivial, since at least 17 potentially new taxa have been discovered within the population of tarsiers that Niemitz (1984) classified as a single subspecies. This is particularly true since, owing to the conservation threats to some of the smaller populations with restricted ranges, there is the possibility that they may go extinct before they have even been named. This is turn argues in favor of the most conservative conservation estimate that can be justified for T. tarsier.
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Spectral tarsiers kept as pets frequently host parasites, such as intestinal worms, that can be transmitted to humans. Tarsiers do not survive well as pets due to their high energetic diet requirements.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease)
Tarsius tarsier is important to evolutionary biologists and taxonomists as it is thought to be the most primitive of the tarsiers; therefore it can be studied to better understand primate evolution.
Spectral tarsiers are primarily insectivorous, and may aid in the mitigation of insect pest populations. Tarsiers also draw tourists to the Indonesian islands and are beneficial to humans financially as a form of ecotourism. Tarsiers are occasionally kept as pets, though they do not survive well.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; ecotourism ; research and education; controls pest population
The spectral tarsier (Tarsius tarsier) is a species of tarsier found in Indonesia. It is apparently less specialized than the Philippine tarsier or Horsfield's tarsier; for example, it lacks adhesive toes. It is the type species for the Tarsius genus. While its range used to include both the population on the island of Selayar as well as on nearby southwestern Sulawesi, the latter populations has been removed to a separate species, Tarsius fuscus.
When considered to include Tarsius fuscus in measurements females weigh between 102 and 114 grams (3.6 and 4.0 oz) while males are 118 to 130 grams (4.2 to 4.6 oz). It has a head-body length of 9.5 to 14 centimetres (3.7 to 5.5 in) and its tail length ranges from 20 to 26 centimetres (7.9 to 10 in). The average lifespan in the wild is thought to be 10 years, however in captivity the closely related Horsfield's tarsier can live up to 17 years and it is thought the spectral tarsier may have a similar longevity.
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- Shekelle, M. & Salim, A. (2008). Tarsius tarsier. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 1 January 2009.
- Groves, C.; Shekelle, M. (2010). "The genera and species of Tarsiidae". International Journal of Primatology 31 (6): 1071–1082. doi:10.1007/s10764-010-9443-1.
- Mogk, K. (2012). "Tarsius tarsier". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
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