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The Second Smallest Species of Primate

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In this post we’re going to get familiarized with the second smallest species of primate in the world – the Tarsier.

tarsier second smallest species of primate

Primates are a group of mammals characterized by their advanced brain development, opposable thumbs, and stereoscopic vision. They include monkeys, apes, lemurs, tarsiers, and humans. Primate physiology is distinct from other mammals, with features such as flat nails, forward-facing eyes, and large, complex brains.

Studying primates is vital to understanding our evolution, behavior, and physiology. It offers a remarkable opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of our own human origins and evolutionary history.

This article, though, will be focusing on one primate in particular – namely the second smallest species of primate on our planet: the tarsier. Tarsiers are small, nocturnal primates with enormous eyes that are larger than their brains. They display a wide range of physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to thrive in their environments, from the arboreal lifestyles of many monkeys to those of apes.

Join us as we embark on a captivating exploration of the world’s second smallest primate species – the tarsier – and discover the invaluable contributions that primate studies make towards our understanding of the natural world and ourselves.

Key Points

  • Tarsiers are the second smallest species of primate in the world.
  • Tarsiers have unique physical features, such as large eyes and ears.
  • They also possess remarkable sensory abilities, communication skills, and reproductive traits.
  • Studying primates has implications for anthropology, biology, psychology, and medicine – offering insights into human social organization and behavior.
  • Comparative studies of primate physiology and genetics aid in understanding the origins of human diseases and adaptations.
  • They are currently facing threats due to habitat loss, illegal hunting, and the illegal pet trade, making conservation efforts necessary.

Importance of Studying Primates

the second smallest species of primate

Studying primates has numerous implications for anthropology, biology, psychology, and medicine. By examining primate social behavior, researchers can gain insights into the roots of human social organization. 

Comparative studies of primate physiology and genetics can help us understand the origins of human diseases and evolutionary adaptations. Furthermore, conservation efforts for primates are critical due to habitat loss and poaching.

Moreover, primates serve as vital indicators of environmental health and ecosystem balance. Their presence or absence can reveal important clues about the well-being of their habitats and the potential impact of human activities.

A Brief Overview of the Second Smallest Species of Primate


The second primate in the world is the pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus), native to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. These tiny primates weigh only 2 ounces and measure less than 4 inches long, making them smaller than some rodents(Learn about the an even smaller primate here.)

Pygmy tarsiers were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 2008, and they remain critically endangered due to habitat loss and hunting.

Meet the Tarsiers

tarsier second smallest species of primate

If you’re looking for an exciting and unique primate, look no further than the tarsier.

Physical Features of Tarsiers

One of the first things you’ll notice about tarsiers is their large eyes. Their eyes are so large that they cannot move them within their sockets – instead, they rely on their long, flexible necks to look around. 

Tarsiers also have enormous ears, adapted to pick up the high-pitched sounds of insects and other prey. Their bodies are small and delicate, with long, slender fingers and toes and soft, fuzzy fur.

Habitat and Range of Tarsiers

Tarsiers reside in a variety of habitats, from primary rainforest to secondary growth and even human settlements. They are most commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Sadly, though, their ranges are continuing to shrink as forest destruction and human activity encroach on their environments. 

Many species of tarsier are endangered or threatened, making them a conservation priority for many organizations and governments.

Diet and Behavior of Tarsiers

As nocturnal hunters, tarsiers feed mainly on insects like grasshoppers, beetles, and moths. Their unique method of capturing their prey involves silently stalking their targets before leaping on them with their powerful hind legs. 

Despite their small size, tarsiers are incredibly agile and can jump distances of up to 40 times their body length in a single bound. During the day, they sleep in tree holes or other protected areas, often clinging tightly to branches with their sticky fingers and toes.

In addition to their physical adaptations, they have quirky vocalizations and social behaviors. They use a range of calls to communicate with each other, including chirps, whistles, and even ultrasound. 

While they are generally solitary animals, tarsiers do form monogamous pairs during the breeding season, with males and females sharing the task of caring for their young.

The Unique Characteristics of Tarsiers

the second smallest species of primate

Tarsiers’ Sensory System

Tarsiers also possess a unique sensory system, particularly their remarkable visual abilities. These primates possess large eyes that can be up to 150% of their own skull size, allowing them to have some of the largest relative eye sizes among all primates. Their eyes are also adapted for low-light conditions, enabling them to hunt at night and avoid predators during the day.

Moreover, tarsiers have remarkable hearing abilities. They have complex inner ear structures that enable them to detect and locate high-frequency sounds beyond the range of human hearing. 

Tarsiers’ Communicative Skills

Tarsiers communicate with a range of vocalizations, including danger calls, territorial calls, and mating calls, among others. They are remarkably active communicators and use their communication skills to maintain social bonds, attract mates, and avoid predators.

Interestingly, tarsiers also possess unique vocal folds that allow them to produce ultrasonic vocalizations beyond the range of human hearing. This has suggested that tarsiers may use these ultrasonic calls for communication and echolocation.

Tarsiers’ Reproductive System

Tarsiers have a unique reproductive system characterized by long gestation periods, short interbirth intervals, and large offspring. Females carry their offspring for approximately six months, one of the longest gestation periods among primates relative to their body size. 

Additionally, tarsiers typically give birth to single or twin offspring, which are relatively large compared to the mother’s size.

Interestingly, male tarsiers have a congenital absence of a baculum, a bone found in the penis of other primates, including humans. This characteristic has led to suggestions that tarsiers may have evolved unique mating strategies and sexual behaviors compared to other primates.

In summary, tarsiers possess unique characteristics that make them remarkable primates. From their exceptional sensory and communication abilities to their unique reproductive traits, tarsiers demonstrate a range of adaptations that have enabled them to survive and thrive in their environment.

Conservation Status of Tarsiers

the second smallest species of primate

Tarsiers are sadly on the brink of extinction due to various threats. These tiny creatures are native to Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. 

These remarkable creatures used to be plentiful, but their populations are declining rapidly due to several factors. (Another primate that is facing endangerment is the gorilla – find out how many them are left in this post.)

Threats to tarsiers can be attributed to habitat loss, illegal hunting, and illegal pet trade. Deforestation, land development, and mining have destroyed many tarsiers’ natural habitats. Oftentimes they are hunted for their meat and as pets for the illicit pet trade. All of these threats have caused a severe decline in tarsiers’ populations, putting them on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Despite the grim situation faced by tarsiers, several conservation efforts are underway to protect them. The government has established several conservation areas and national parks in Indonesia to protect tarsiers and their habitat. 

Local communities are also involved in conservation efforts through education programs that raise awareness about tarsiers’ importance and their conservation needs. Additionally, several international organizations are partnering with local governments to safeguard these endangered creatures.

Tarsiers and Humans

Tarsiers play an essential role in research and scientific studies. Since they are unique animals only found in Southeast Asia, scientists use tarsiers for various experiments that explore the impacts of many factors on primate biology. 

Scientists also study the unique sleeping patterns, vision, and communication of tarsiers, which are characteristics that differ from other species of primates.

Eco-tourism is another avenue that can help protect tarsiers. Tourists can visit conservation areas to catch a glimpse of tarsiers and learn about their biology and conservation needs. This raises awareness about tarsiers, provides economic benefits to local communities, and encourages them to engage in sustainable practices.


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In conclusion, tarsiers are an essential part of Southeast Asia’s biodiversity and play a crucial role in research and scientific studies. Sadly, tarsiers are endangered due to their various threats, including habitat loss, illegal hunting, and the pet trade. 

Conservation efforts are critical to protecting these magnificent creatures, and eco-tourism can provide additional growth to the conservation program. Every person can help raise awareness about tarsiers and contribute through various conservation efforts. The responsibility falls upon us to protect and preserve tarsiers before it’s too late.

Thank you for reading this article about the second smallest species of primate in the world! To learn more about another one of our primate cousins, get to know the Gibbon.

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