Science

pygmy tarsiers, gremlins, Furby electronic toys
Aaron Favila/AP
The philippine tarsier, relative of the
pygmy tarsier.

Gremlin-Like Creatures Rediscovered in Indonesia

November 20, 2008 06:55 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Believed to be extinct, the tiny pygmy tarsier has been found alive for the first time in more than 80 years.

Scientists Rediscover Pygmy Tarsier

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Scientists announced Tuesday that they were able to trap three pygmy tarsiers, one female and two males, on a mountaintop in central Sulawesi, an Indonesian island.

Pygmy tarsiers weigh only about 2 ounces and unlike most other primates, have claws instead of fingernails. The creature is one of the world's tiniest and most unusual primates: Their large eyes and ears invite comparisons to the creatures from the 1984 movie "Gremlins" or to the Furby electronic toys.

The three tarsiers were found on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park. Scientists weathered damp, difficult terrain above 6,000 feet in elevation during their search.

According to Reuters, these nocturnal insectivores have not been seen alive since 1921. In 2000, scientists accidentally trapped and killed one in the Sulawesi highlands while trapping rats. The accidental find prompted primatologists to search for a live specimen.

"Until that time, everyone really didn't believe that they existed because people had been going out looking for them for decades and nobody had seen them or heard them," said Sharon Gursky-Doyen, a Texas A&M University professor of anthropology, to Reuters.

One of the creatures took a bite out of Gursky-Doyen, who was part of the expedition that discovered the tarsiers, while she was trying to attach a radio collar for tracking purposes. "I'm the only person in the world to ever be bitten by a pygmy tarsier," Gursky-Doyen said to Reuters.

Indonesia was the site of another unusual find: the 2004 discovery of ancient bones and a skull belonging to hobbit-like "little people," or what some scientists have dubbed Homo floresiensis. Skeptics, however, say that the bones belong to small humans deformed by genetic or pathological disorders.

Background: New species, endangered species

In nearby New Zealand, researchers announced that while studying a rare and endangered penguin species, they discovered remains of the Waitaha penguin, a previously unknown penguin species that disappeared about 500 years ago. Research suggests that early humans on the island nation hunted the Waitaha to extinction in 1500.

Despite concerns about widespread extinction and endangerment, scientists continue to discover new species. A new species of snake, called the "Leptotyphlops carlae," was found in Barbados this year. Scientists also discovered new species of fungus and dolphin in August alone.

Though scientists welcome new additions to the animal kingdom, they also continue to issue warnings about environmental threats to species. A five-year survey of 5,500 mammal species has found that one in four are in danger of extinction, about half are in decline and more than 1,100 face extinction. The researchers who put together the Red List of Threatened Species 2008, released in October by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said the findings are "bleak and depressing" and unlikely to improve in the near future.

Related Topics: The strangest creatures on earth

Pygmy tarsiers may be one of the stranger-looking creatures in the world, but they have plenty of good company, both on land and sea. The environmental site TreeHugger claims that the “weird” animals of the Earth are as important to the environment as the cuter, furrier variety. Unfortunately, they are also among the most endangered.

Though pygmy tarsiers may be about the size of mice, some mice have mutated into giant, carnivorous rodents. Last summer, scientists reported that common mice on the remote Gough Island in the Atlantic have mutated into giant rodents that are endangering rare seabirds by eating baby chicks at night.
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