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New species of primate is named for A&M anthropologist who found it

A small animal on a woman's head

Image: Research Communications and Public Relations

A new species of primate has been named for the Texas A&M University anthropology professor who discovered it.

Professor Sharon Gursky is one of the world’s leading experts on tarsiers – tiny nocturnal primates exclusive to the islands of Southeast Asia. She discovered Tarsius spectrumgurskyae in Indonesia, a region in dire need of conservation due to its biodiversity.

“I am honored and overwhelmed that my colleagues respect me and the work I have been doing to the extent that they renamed a tarsier species after me,” Gursky said. “It is quite rare. Most often animals are named for the region in which they reside or for a specific anatomical feature.”

While they are named for their long tarsal bone, tarsiers are most recognized by their enormous eyes; each eyeball is the size of their brain. They are also small, weighing no more than a stick of butter. It’s no coincidence that May 4 is both International Tarsier Day as well as Star Wars Day; some biologists believe these animals are the inspiration for Yoda, the Jedi master.

The naming of the animal was announced in the most recent edition of the journal Primate Conservation.

“My favorite part of what I do is hiking through rainforests,” she said. “Also, it is important to me that my work on these enigmatic primates may make a difference in their ultimate survival. They have been around for 50 million years so ensuring their future survival is critical.”

Gursky was the recipient of the 2012-2016 Cornerstone Fellowship, and has been published in several books and journals. She is on several boards, has received thousands of dollars in research grants, and has been a speaker at several symposia.