These two weird primates are endangered or so rarely seen in the wild that their status is unknown. They are also relatives of us humans who are primarily responsible for their perilous status.
They are also rather odd-looking relatives of ours. Those of us familiar with the Furby craze of a few years ago might recognize one of the above creatures.
Gremlins from the movie of the same name bear a striking resemblance to the other frightening looking primate. Many primates have made it to the endangered species list. A large majority of those creatures are from the Island of Madagascar as is the gremlin-looking primate – the Aye-aye. Wouldn’t want to meet this creature in a dark alley – would you? The Furby lookalike, the Tarsier, on the other hand is a cute-looking ball of fur. Its cuteness belies the carnivorous nature of this tiny beast.
Weird Primates: The Endangered Aye-aye
The Daubentonia madagascariensis or Aye-aye as it is known locally is a lemur found only on Madagascar. This lemur is a primate although looking at its gremlin-looking face it is hard to believe it is one of our relatives although a more distant one. The Aye-aye has the following characteristics:
- its fur is dark brown or black
- it has a bushy tail, longer than its body
- it has huge eyes, slender fingers and large very sensitive ears
- it has dangerous-looking pointed claws on all fingers and toes except the opposable big toes
- it lives in rain-forest trees and rarely comes down to the ground
- it is nocturnal
- it spends the day curled up in a ball-like nest of leaves and branches shaped as a closed sphere with a single entry hole
- it is a strepsirrhine primate which includes lemurs and other primates with smaller brains than most primates but with a bigger olfactory lobe meaning smell is a primary sense; they have eyes with a reflective layer to improve night vision meaning most are nocturnal
Aye-ayes have a unique means of obtaining food. They are primarily insectivores and use their long middle finger to tap trees to get wood-boring insect larva moving. They listen for these grubs and then use the same finger to root them out of the trunk. They also use this middle finger to scoop coconut flesh and other fruits it also eats.
Native populations think of the Aye-aye as a bad-luck omen. It is thought of as a death omen. Sighting an Aye-aye means someone will die soon. For this reason, these creatures are often killed on sight. This hunting and habitat destruction have contributed to its endangered status. Today, it is protected by law and has protection through the new reserves recently created in Madagascar.
Weird Primates: Pygmy Tarsier status unknown
Tarsius pumilus more commonly known as the Pygmy tarsier is a tiny human relative living in the montane cloud forests of the Lore Lindu National Park in central Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is one of the least known primates alive because it has been rarely seen. Since sightings of living individuals in the 1920’s, it has only recently been captured alive in August of 2008 when three animals were captured, tagged and rereleased for study. This cute human cousin bears a striking resemblance to a popular child’s toy of the 90’s, the Furby. The following are some interesting facts about our cute, strange cousin, the Pygmy Tarsier:
- it is nocturnal carnivore
- it is primarily an insectivore although it will also prey on small vertebrates
- it weighs in at only 2 ounces (57 grams)
- it has silky fur, red-brown in color, big eyes compared to the size of its head and small ears
- its round head sports a big snout
- it lives in moss-covered coniferous forests that are clammy, cold and wet
- it is a haplorhine primate meaning it is more closely related to humans than the Aye-aye as we also belong to the same sub-group of primates
- haplorhine primates have down-facing nostrils and larger brains with vision as their primary sense; their upper lip which is not directly connected to the nose or gum allows them a great deal of facial expression a characteristic not found in strepsirrhine primates such as the Aye-aye
- pygmy tarsiers have the ability to rotate their heads nearly 360º
Logging of the montane cloud forests in the 1970’s has resulted in some fragmentation of the habitat. As the Pygmy tarsier leaps between the trees, relying on darkness to avoid predation, the gaps in the forest which allow more moonlight to penetrate result in higher predation of these animals by birds other predators. Tarsiers have been found to emit ultrasonic calls and it is possible these calls are species specific. These calls are also beyond the range of human-hearing making it more difficult to locate these elusive creatures. It is difficult to determine if the population of Pygmy tarsiers has declined significantly because of these human pressures due to lack of data.
There are many primates endangered in the world today. Many live in Madagascar like the Aye-aye. Tropical areas in Africa and Indonesia are home to many others. Any endangered species is harmful but it is so very sad that we are having such a negative impact on our own relatives – animals very closely related to us in the evolutionary tree. Conservation efforts are moving forward but is it enough or soon enough. Only time will tell how many of these disappearing species will be left for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy and benefit from.