New Primate Species Named For Anthropology Professor

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Sharon Gursky

By Susannah Hutcheson, Texas A&M University College of Liberal Arts

College of Liberal Arts professor Sharon Gursky discovered a new primate species, and it is being renamed in her honor.

Gursky, from the Department of Anthropology, 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.

 Gursky’s spectral tarsier Tarsius spectrumgurskyae

Gursky’s spectral tarsier, “Tarsius spectrumgurskyae”

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.

“The College of Liberal Arts has been an amazing place to work,” she said. “It is incredibly supportive both financially and intellectually. Although my own research is very science based, my colleagues have encouraged me to incorporate the humanities perspective which has given my work a fuller understanding of the relationship between tarsier and humans.”

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This story by Susannah Hutcheson was originally posted on the College of Liberal Arts website.


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