Tarziers, large-eyed, nocturnal primates, are small enough to fit comfortably in a man's hand, and have tails more than twice their body length. Living only on Southeast Asian islands, and difficult to keep in captivity, many of the 18 known Tarzier species are endangered. Captive Tarziers often die because their feeding requirements are highly specific. Completely carnivorous, they eat only live food, which usually is not allowed in zoos. In the wild, Tarzier diets and hunting methods vary between species, but insects are their main prey.
Tarzier diets vary, depending on what prey is available to them. Mostly insectivorous, tarziers also eat related species, such as spiders. Tarzier bancanus eat cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas and butterflies. T. tarzier eat the same prey, but also include katydids, moths, caterpillars, termites, ants and crickets in their diet. T. syrichta eat similar food. So little is known about other tarzier species that the scope of their diets isn't yet known. Early reports suggested they eat burnt wood on forest floors, but the animals actually were picking out insects.
Although tarziers are small primates, their strong jaws and teeth, and wide mouths mean they can eat similar-sized animals, such as small mammals, amphibians, crustaceans and reptiles. They eat all parts, including feet and bones. T. bancanus, also called western tarziers, eat freshwater snakes, crabs, small birds and frogs. They even have been observed eating fruit bats caught in netting.
Agile hunters, Tarsiers leap up to 1.5 meters high to catch their prey, and have been seen catching birds in flight. Their large eyes and ears, and ability to turn their heads almost 360 degrees, make them highly efficient nocturnal predators. Possibly as a protective measure, they close their eyes as they catch their food . As well as catching prey in the air, Tarziers also grab it from the ground, and from leaves and branches, sometimes by grabbing and sometimes by pouncing. Western Tarziers prefer to hunt prey on tree trunks no more than 1 meter above the ground.
Tarsier diet is sensitive to seasonal and habitat changes. T. tarsier alter their hunting methods and prey during the dry season, eating more ground-dwelling, smaller insect species. Habitat loss, such as cutting down forests to create farms, is highly threatening. Tarsiers can't hunt effectively or find sleeping sites on agricultural land, and agricultural chemicals poison them. Simple proximity to humans is very disturbing to Tarsiers, but people also hunt them for the pet trade and for food. Without protection, Tarsier populations continue to be endangered.
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A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.