Spectral tarsier, between threats to its existence and curiosity


Spectral tarsier, between threats to its existence and curiosity

Spectral tarsier lives mainly in the lowlands of the islands of Sulawesi and Selayar, Indonesia: it prefers areas of secondary rainforest, razed to the ground for some reason and then regrown. Probably, this preference is attributable to the greater presence of bamboo, bushes and tall grass in this type of forest compared to the primary type.

In the areas where it lives, the tarsier acts as a totem animal: the Iban headhunting tribes venerate it as they are convinced that this animal has its head detached from its body, due to its ability to twist its neck even by 180°.

The Iban are also convinced that it is taboo to call the animal by its name, as disturbing it in this way brings its wrath on the offender's house. The other Sulawesi ethnic groups keep this animal in captivity due to its gentle disposition and its intelligence: however, the breeding of the tarsier can be very problematic, as it needs live food to maintain itself and in the absence of this it dies in a few days. Furthermore, if by capturing an animal it is separated from its mate, it is easy for both to starve themselves: again, the tarsier is an extremely sensitive animal, and the trauma of capture can frighten it to such an extent as to reduce it to madness, leading it to banging the head against a wall or the bars of the cage.

These are predominantly insectivorous animals, which do not disdain to supplement their diet even with small vertebrates, even managing to capture bats on the fly.

The prey is identified mainly thanks to hearing: often the animal even closes its eyes at the moment of the attack, probably in order to defend them. When the prey is sighted, the tarsier approaches cautiously, then jumps on it in a flash and bites it off: once killed, the animal takes it to a chosen branch and consumes it starting from the head.

The tarsier eats all of its prey: feathers, beak, exoskeleton and bones. The eyes are enormous: the eye socket alone is larger in size than the stomach and the brain itself. This is because, despite being a nocturnal animal, the tarsier lacks the tapetum lucidum, a reflective membrane placed on the inner surface of the eye.

The eyes are also fixed in the sockets: to overcome this, the tarsier can rotate its head by more than 180°. The ears are spoon-like and rest on short tubular handles. Although large, the head and body together hardly reach half the length of the hind legs, which are divided into the thigh, shin and hand, all very elongated and of more or less equal length to each other.

The tibia and fibula of these animals are fused together at the end, so as to absorb the shock created by the impact with a surface as the animal jumps from branch to branch. The hands have very elongated fingers ending in swollen pads, which allow the animal a secure grip even on almost smooth surfaces: the adhesive pads, however, are less evolved than those of other species, such as Carlito syrichta. The index and middle fingers are equipped with special claws for grooming.