Tarsier – 36+ Questions Answered (with examples, photos & videos)

The first time I saw a tarsier, I was perplexed! Is this animal for real? One second they look like they’re plotting to take over the world and the other they are just the cutest animal on the planet.

Tarsier plotting something
Tarsier plotting something

Unfortunately, their future does not look bright. They only live on a couple of islands, some smaller than 60 square miles so space is getting tight. But that is just one of their problems.

Below you’ll find all the facts on their size, habitat, diet and why they’re not suitable to be pets and why they’re endangered.

Table of Contents


What is a tarsier?

Tarsiers are small, tree-dwelling primates with enormous eyes that can only be found in the islands of Southeast Asia.

How many species of tarsiers are there?

As of 2010, there are 14 living species of tarsiers. Wallace’s tarsier (Tarsius wallacei) is the most recently described species of tarsier.

Genus Carlito
Philippine tarsier, Carlito syrichta

Genus Cephalopachus
Horsfield’s tarsier, Cephalopachus bancanus

Genus Tarsius
Dian’s tarsier, T. dentatus
Makassar tarsier T. fuscus
Lariang tarsier, T. lariang
Niemitz’s tarsier, T. niemitzi
Peleng tarsier, T. pelengensis
Sangihe tarsier, T. sangirensis
Gursky’s spectral tarsier, T. spectrumgurskyae
Jatna’s tarsier, T. supriatnai
Siau Island tarsier, T. tumpara
Pygmy tarsier, T. pumilus
Wallace’s tarsier, T. wallacei

How to pronounce tarsier?

Break tarsier down into sounds: [TAA] + [SEE] + [UH] 

What does tarsier mean?

Tarsiers have especially long ankle bones which are called tarsals, hence the name tarsier.

Where do tarsiers live?

All of the tarsier species are found in the islands of Southeast Asia.

Western Tarsiers are found in lowland primary forests or low mountain forests on the islands of Borneo, Sumatra, Bangka, Belitung, Kalimantan, and other small surrounding islands.

Eastern Tarsiers can only be found on Sulawesi and the surrounding islands but seem to be more adaptable to habitats at different levels of the forest, with the exception of the Pygmy Tarsier which is restricted to a very high mountainous forest.

Philippine Tarsiers tend to prefer lowland forests and are distributed across a number of islands in the southern Philippines including Bohol, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao.

What do tarsiers eat?

Tarsiers are unique among primates in a sense that they are the only completely carnivorous primates. They are primarily insectivorous, and catch insects by jumping at them. They also eat lizards, snakes, beetles, spiders, cockroaches, grasshoppers, walking sticks but even small birds and bats.

Tarsier’s anatomy?

There are many differences between species, including eye size, ear size, behavior, vocalizations etc.

What is the tarsier’s size?

They range in size from 10 to 15 centimeters in length, which is a size of a grapefruit, and are some of the world’s smallest primates.

What is the tarsier’s weight?

The weight of tarsiers varies by species. For example, the pygmy tarsier weighs only around 2 (50 g) ounces while the spectral tarsier can weigh 7 ounces (200 g).

What is the tarsier’s brain size?

Incredibly, tarsiers brain is smaller than one of their eyeballs. But then again, their eyes are huge.

What is the tarsier’s eye size?

Their eyes are disproportionately large, having the largest eye-to-body size ratio of all mammals.

Each eyeball is approximately 0.63 inch (16 millimeters) in diameter and is as large as, or in some cases larger than, its entire brain. These huge eyes provide this nocturnal animal with excellent night vision.

Tarsier’s eyes are also uniquely for mammals fixed in its skull so they cannot move in their sockets. But they can rotate their head 180°.

Why do tarsiers have big eyes?

They evolved to have big eyes because they are nocturnal hunters and this helps them maximize the available light (moonlight) during the night. The better an animal can see in the dark, the better hunters they are and safer they are against other predators.

Is tarsier a monkey?

Tarsier is not a monkey. Monkeys and tarsiers are both Haplorhines (or the “dry-nosed” primates), but tarsiers are not monkeys.

Haplorhini or haplorhines or the “dry-nosed” primates is a suborder of primates containing the tarsiers and the simians (Simiiformes or anthropoids), as sister of the Strepsirrhini, “moist-nosed”.

Is tarsier diurnal or nocturnal?

Tarsiers are nocturnal, though some individuals may show more or less activity during the daytime.

Are tarsiers endangered?

The majority of Tarsier species are now endangered or threatened, and some are designated as critically endangered. Tarsiers are a conservation dependent species meaning that they need to have more and improved management of protected habitats or they will definitely become extinct in the future.

Why is tarsier endangered?

Tarsiers are extremely shy animals that are sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and physical contact. Human actions like habitat destruction, hunting, trafficking, agriculture and other behavior have a detrimental effect on tarsiers as well as many other animals.

Many tarsiers are losing more than half of their original habitat as forests are often destroyed for palm or coffee plantations, mining, logging or turned into grazing land for cattle or put to other agricultural use.

When did the tarsier become endangered?

Each species was assessed individually, and still are so different species of tarsier made it on the IUCN red list in different years.

For example, the Philippine tarsier was first assessed as endangered by the IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre in 1986, and last time assessed in 2008 as near threatened, which is a slightly better status. Its population trend is still decreasing.

The Siau Island tarsier was assessed for the first and last time in 2010 as critically endangered. It lives on Siau Island in space that is less than 100 km² big.

Find the whole IUCN list for all the tarsiers here.

How many tarsiers are there still left?

Population trend for all the tarsier species that were assessed is on the decline.

How many tarsiers in the Philippines?

it is estimated that there are only between 5,000 and 10,000 Philippine tarsiers left in the wild.

Are tarsiers dangerous?

Tarsiers are not dangerous to humans, only to insects like crickets that tarsiers feed on.

Do tarsiers bite?

A tarsier could bite you if it felt threatened, but its bite isn’t nearly as dangerous as a bite from a slow loris with which they are often compared.

Tarsier’s predators?

Tarsiers are prey to many predators such as snakes, owls, lizards, and feral cats. Even people hunt them for food as it has been documented on Siau Island and may be one of the reasons why the Siau Island tarsier is so endangered.

How does tarsier sleep?

Because tarsiers are nocturnal, they sleep during the day. Some species sleep clinging to a vertical tree branch or vine while others like the Philippine tarsier sleeps in dark hollows close to the ground, near tree trunks and shrubs deep in the impenetrable bushes.

How do tarsiers reproduce?

Philippine tarsier (Carlito syrichta)

Philippine tarsiers are able to reproduce by the time they are between one and two years old. They have only one baby at a time and mating can take place at any time of the year. The gestation period is around six months and the newborn weighs 25g. Babies are born with fur and with their eyes open, can cling to branches within one hour of birth which helps protects them from predators soon after birth.

Spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum)

Spectral tarsiers have two mating seasons, between April and June and between October and November, so the babies are born in spring, early summer and winter. The average gestation period is 6.3 months long.

How do tarsiers adapt to their environment?

Because they spend most of their lives in trees, tarsiers have adapted to become skilled hunters so they can catch their live prey like crickets, lizards or other insects. Thanks to their huge eyes, they have excellent vision day or night.

Although they cannot move their eyes, they have evolved to move their whole head by 180 degrees.

What does the tarsier do?

Tarsiers spend most of the day sleeping and most of the night hunting for live prey and looking out for predators like owls that want to snatch them of the tree branches.

Why is tarsier suicidal?

Tarsiers are extremely shy animals that would rather hide in the dark than interact with people or their kids. Artificial lighting in captivity or camera flashes for example hurt their huge eyes and improper nutrition, which should only include live prey, make tarsiers bang their heads in despair.

Because they have thin skulls, this unfortunate behavior leads to extremely premature deaths and very, very low survival numbers in captivity.

I’ve seen opinions that they are not banging their small heads in an attempt to kill themselves but rather as a poor attempt of getting out of the enclosure.

Best place to see tarsiers?

Probably the best place to see tarsiers is in Bohol, Philippines. They have several wildlife sanctuaries where you can see tarsiers in their natural environment.

Chocolate Hills are an attraction on their own and when you couple that with seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, it is surely a bucket list trip.

You can have a look on TripAdvisor for the best tours.

Can you buy a tarsier?

You can buy anything if you have enough money, including tarsiers. There are many breeders in Florida that readily sell them online.

Can you pet a tarsier?

If you pet a tarsier, your hand will shrivel and fall off. Of course I’m kidding, but the consequences for tarsiers are not as harmless. We already learned that they do not cope well in captivity or around humans. For that reason, you should avoid petting a tarsier even if you get a chance.

Can you have a tarsier as a pet?

Tarsiers do not make good pets and might die soon after you acquire one. They are best left alone in the wilderness.

Don’t take them as pets, they’re very boring animals to be kept as pets. All day they just sit around and sleep and at night they like to travel and hunt”.

Joannie Mary Cabillo, Philippine Tarsier Foundation Inc. (PTFI)

Can you eat a tarsier?

You can and people in Asia do hunt them for food actually, especially on the on Siau Island and may be one of the reasons why the Siau Island tarsier is so endangered.

Is tarsier the smallest primate?

Some species of tarsiers are some of the smallest primates in the world, but not the smallest.

The smallest primate in the world is the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae).

What does the tarsier sound like?

They are capable of vocalizations with a dominant frequency of 70 kHz which is ultrasound. The type of vocalizations produced varies between species – spectral tarsiers for example have 15 different groups of vocalizations which include alarm calls, food calls, infant calls and even play whistles while on the other side, the western tarsiers have only four groups of vocalizations.

Are tarsiers venomous or poisonous?

Tarsiers are not venomous or poisonous unlike another primate they’re often compared to – the slow loris. Slow lorises are the only known venomous primates.

Do tarsiers have night vision?

Tarsiers have huge eyes that actually give them great nigh vision that helps them hunt for live prey during the night.

Philippine Tarsier

Philippine tarsier
Philippine tarsier

GENUS: Carlito

NAME: Carlito syrichta

SIZE: 85 to 160 mm (3.35 to 6.30 in)

WEIGHT: 80–160 g (2.8–5.6 oz) for males (females are a bit smaller)

LIFESPAN: Up to 24 years

Philippine Tarsier (Carlito syrichta) is endemic to the Southern Philippine islands of Bohol, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. Each subspecies has a very precise and limited distribution:

  • C. s. syrichta is found on the islands of Leyte and Samar,
  • C. s. carbonarius is found only on the island of Mindanao and
  • C. s. fraterculus only lives on Bohol.

Locally, the Philippine tarsier is known as mamag, mago, magau, maomag, malmag, and magatilok-iok.

Spectral Tarsier

Spectral tarsier
Spectral tarsier

GENUS: Tarsius

NAME: Tarsius spectrum

SIZE: body length of 240 mm (9.45 in)

WEIGHT: 200 g (7 oz) for males

LIFESPAN: Up to 17 years

Spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum or Tarsius tarsier) is found on the island of Selayar and was previously thought to also be found nearby on Southwestern Sulawesi, but recently this population has been considered as a separate species: Tarsius fuscus or ‘Fisher’s Tarsier’ and is found around Makassar.

Pygmy Tarsier

Pygmy tarsier
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20304188

GENUS: Tarsius

NAME: Tarsius pumilus

SIZE: head-body length of 95 to 105 mm (about 4 inches)

WEIGHT: 57 g (2 oz)

LIFESPAN: Up to 20 years

Pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) was believed to have become extinct in the early 20th century but was accidentally rediscovered by scientists in 2000 in central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Also known as the mountain tarsier or the lesser spectral tarsier.

Horsfield’s Tarsier

Horsfield's tarsier
Horsfield’s tarsier

GENUS: Cephalopachus

NAME: Cephalopachus bancanus

SIZE: head to body is 121–154 mm (4.7 to 6 inches)

WEIGHT: 122 to 134 g (4.3 and 4.8 oz) for males

LIFESPAN: Up to 15 years

Horsfield’s tarsier (Cephalopachus bancanus) is endemic to the islands of Borneo, Sumatra, Bangka, Belitung, Kalimata and small surrounding islands.

As with the Philippine tarsiers, the subspecies of C. bancanus have specific distributions which help to distinguish them:

  • C. b. borneanus is found in lowland areas of Sabah, Brunei, Sarawak and West Kalimantan and the Kelabit highlands in Northern Sarawak,
  • T. b. bancanus is found on Bangka Island and some areas of Southern Sumatra to the Southwest of the Musi River,
  • C. b. saltator inhabits only the island of Belitung and
  • C. b. natunensis only the island of Serasan.

Siau Island Tarsier

Siau Island tarsier
By Ariefrahman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51413522

GENUS: Tarsius

NAME: Tarsius tumpara

SIZE: head-body length of 100 to 150 mm (4 to 6 in)

WEIGHT: 100 to 120 g (3.5 and 4 oz)


Siau Island tarsier (Tarsius tumpara) is restricted to the small island of Siau, 130km North of Sulawesi.