Are Tarsiers, The Adorable-Looking Mammal, Distant Cousins Of Humans?

First Posted: Oct 10, 2016 05:10 AM EDT

The scientists discovered that tarsiers, the small and carnivorous primates, are the distant cousins of humans. This finding was based on the tarsier genome the researchers analyzed.

The study was published in Nature Communications on October 6, 2016. It was led by researchers from University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The study indicates that tarsiers belong to an important branch of the primate evolutionary tree with the same branch as great apes, monkeys and humans, according to Science Daily.

Wesley Warren, Ph.D., and associate professor of genetics and the senior author of the study said that they sequenced the tarsier not only to know where they fit in primate evolution but because their physiology, anatomy and feeding behavior are very unique. In the study, the researchers sequencing the complete genome of the tarsier. The teeth and jaws of tarsiers are similar to "wet-nosed" primates like lemurs. On the other hand, their eyes and noses are the same to "dry-nosed" primates like monkeys and humans. The team then placed tarsiers in the dry-nosed category.

The researcher also examined and compared the DNA sequences, which are also referred as transposons or jumping genes, of the families of humans, tarsiers, bush babies (a wet-nosed primate) and squirrel monkeys. This involves jump from one part of the genome to another, often reproducing themselves. They discovered that tarsiers had the same transposon families with humans and squirrel monkeys and only the oldest ones with bush babies. This also shows that tarsiers belong to the dry-nosed primates.

Tarsiers belong to the family of Tarsiidae. They are found in the islands of Southeast Asia particularly in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. They have big eyes, which is about 16 mm in diameter and bigger as their brain. They have strong auditory sense due to its distinct auditory cortex.

Tarsiers also have long hind limbs and elongated ankle bone known as tarsus, in which they are named. Their head and body measures from 10 to 15 cm in length. Their heads can rotate 180 degrees in each direction and can detect prey easily. They eat insects, lizards, rodents and small birds.

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