Image for Old big eyes

Old big eyes

Duration: 02:55

As trees spread across the globe, so did early primates. Perhaps it's surprising they never ventured out into daylight. Or did they? Charlotte Uhlenbroek is in Indonesia looking for tarsiers who may give us some clues. At nightfall they begin to emerge from their nest. Tarsiers look very much like other early primates, but their eyes are huge - each one weighs more than its brain. It has no problem spotting a gecko. Unlike bushbabies and other night animals, tarsiers do not have eyes that glow in torchlight, and this might tell us something about their past. Maybe they once lived in daylight, have now returned to the dark, and their eyes have become huge simply in order to see. Just before dawn, the tarsiers start squeaking, telling each other it is bedtime. They gather at the communal nest, their calls the equivalent of the hugs and kisses we give our own families when we come home. They won't go to bed until they are sure everyone is safely back at the nesting tree. Since a social life is more typical of daytime animals, this is further evidence that tarsiers ventured into the light. So what forced them back into the dark? It was the competition they faced from a new branch of the primate family - the monkeys and apes who dominated the daylight.

Available since: Fri 19 Feb 2010


Key talent
Key talent
Bernard WALTON
Daniel REES

This clip is from


In this first of a three part series on primates,Charlotte UHLENBROEK embarks on her global adventure to meet gorillas and early primates such as lemurs.

First broadcast: 16 Aug 2000

Image for FIRST PRIMATES Not currently available on BBC iPlayer

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss