The tiny Furby-like pygmy tarsier, presumed to be extinct, was found during a recent expedition to Indonesia. And the cuddly, huge-eyed nocturnal critter is the very definition of cute.
"They always look like they have a perpetual smile on their face, which adds to the attraction," says physical anthropologist Sharon Gursky-Doyen, who found the presumed lost species.
Gursky-Doyen of Texas A&M University traveled into the mountains of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia to confirm that the pygmy tarsier was unequivocally extinct, but ended up becoming the first person in more than 80 years to spot a live one.
Many scientific teams had previously tried but failed to find the two-ounce (60-gram) primate, which has long spindly fingers, dines on insects and can rotate its head 180 degrees like an owl. "I honestly didn't have a lot of faith," Gursky-Doyen told ScientificAmerican.com, "I had very low expectations of actually finding them."
But then she did. "It was very, very euphoric, but I was shaking like a leaf," she says about her surprising discovery. "I was shaking so much that I could barely handle him."
Over the course of two months, her team captured two more and spotted a fourth. They snapped radio collars on the fuzzy creatures to track them.
Gursky-Doyen explains that finding the pygmy tarsier means that other animals on the island may have smaller ranges than previously believed, making them more vulnerable to extinction.
Pygmy tarsiers are about half the size of other species and sport claws on their hands and feet instead of nails. Gursky-Doyen speculates that their claws may be an evolutionary adaptation to help them grasp the moss-covered trees of their damp environment.
(Images courtesy of Sharon Gursky-Doyen)