Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Tarsius Storr, 1780

Prosimian (haplorhine) genus to which the tarsiers belong; five species described. Found in primary and secondary forests of the islands of Southeast Asia; also frequent in disturbed areas. This group of primates was problematic for systematicists because it shared traits with both prosimians and anthropoids; in addition, it was felt that a tarsiiform gave rise to the anthropoids. The solution to this problem was to abandon the traditional primate suborders and to resurrect two alternative suborders, the Strepsirhini and the Haplorhini, the tarsiers included with the anthropoids in the latter group. Arboreal; nocturnal; utilizes vertical clinging and leaping, but is saltatory on ground; short forelimbs, long hindlimbs, and elongated tarsal bones (giving name to this genus); tail longer than body, hairless and scaled in one of the species (T. spectrum) and tufted in all species. Striking anatomical features are the large eyes (the two accounting for one-third of the animal’s body mass) and the ability to rotate the head almost 359 degrees as a compensation for the inability to move the eyes. Digits two and three of the hind paw possess grooming claws. Mobile pinnae can focus on sounds; pinnae lined with rugae; hearing very acute. Body masses range from 80 to 170 g. Dental formula: 2.1.3.3/1.1.3.3; faunivorous; only extant primate never observed to consume plant matter, with one exception: Carlitos Pizarras of the tarsier sanctuary at Bohol (Philippines) reports that tarsiers medicate themselves with a local plant. Natural history poorly known. Social organization variable, depending on species. May be monogamous pairs or noyau. In some cases they mark (through scent and sound) and defend territories. Infant parking is characteristic of the females. Extant tarsiers are the remnants of a once widespread group of primates that were found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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