Distribution and Habitat:
These marmosets are found in the Upper Amazon basin east of
the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Northern Bolivia and
Brazil. They have a patchy distribution in mature and secondary
lowland rain forest, especially seasonally flooded forests,
river margins, flood plains, and stream sides. They are rarely
seen in the trees above 60 feet (18 m) or on the ground.
Pygmy marmosets are the world’s smallest true monkeys.
(The smallest primate is the pygmy mouse lemur.) Pygmy marmosets
are not sexually dimorphic. Adults are about five inches (13
cm) long with an eight-inch (20 cm) tail and weigh four to
seven ounces (113 to 199 g). The fur is buff and gray with
yellow and green striations, which give it a grizzled effect
on the head and back and a vague banded effect on the tail.
They have long hair on their heads and chests giving the appearance
of a mane. Their coloration provides great camouflage for
their lives in the trees.
They are active and agile creatures, running, jumping, and
occasionally leaping among trees and shrubs. These little
monkeys move quadrupedally through the trees in an upright
position. Their forelimbs are shorter than their hind limbs
and they often feed while clinging upright to a trunk or branch
with their sharp claws. They have claws on all digits except
the big toe, which has a flat nail.
Their cryptic coloration and small size, along with movements
that include squirrel-like dashes, sloth-like oozing over
tree trunks and abrupt and frozen stillness can make them
quite difficult for predators to see.
Pygmy marmosets are arboreal and diurnal—they live in trees and are active during the day. They are also usually
docile and gentle. Mutual grooming is often seen between members
of a group as part of their social bonding. Pygmy marmosets
are very territorial and mark and defend territories from
25 to 100 acres. They mark their territory
with scent glands located on the chest and suprapubic area.
Defense of territory involves calls, displays, and sometimes
chasing away others.
They are found in groups of two to six. The group is made
up of an adult pair and its offspring. The monogamy practiced
by this species is notable because monogamy is fairly rare
in both mammals and primates. Pygmy marmosets sleep in tree
holes or vine tangles located near their current primary feeding
They communicate using scent markings and calling (high bird-like
sounds). They also communicate with members of their groups
through facial expressions and posture. In addition to the
high-pitched whistles and twitters, pygmy marmosets also produce
an ultrasonic cry expressing hostility that is inaudible to
Basic calls include:
- Open mouth trill: loud, alarm
- Closed mouth trill: squeaky, contact
- Twitter: submissive
Reproduction and Development:
Fraternal twins every five to six months are the reproductive
norm of these marmosets (although one or three offspring may
also occur). Mating takes place during a postpartum estrus
about three weeks after birth between the dominant male and
The dominant female is the only member of the group that
produces offspring. The presence of an adult female may suppress
ovulation in other female members of the family. Gestation
lasts 4.5 months. After the first 24 hours, young are most
often carried by the adult male or juveniles and returned
to the adult female for nursing. This practice relieves the
energy drain on the mother and gives siblings practice for
At birth the young weigh approximately .5 ounces (15 g).
An individual nurses until about three months and is sexually
mature by one to 1.5 years. They generally reach adult size
by age two. Juveniles usually stay with the group through
two subsequent birth cycles.
Pygmy marmosets live into their early 20s in zoos; their life
span in the wild is about 11 to 12 years.
Diet in the Wild:
Pygmy marmosets are gumophores, which means that they gouge
holes in trees and feed primarily on tree sap or gum. They
also eat insects, small lizards, spiders, and some fruits.
In fact, 67 percent of their feeding time is spent eating
tree exudates or preparing new food sources by gnawing tree
trunks or large branches, from which they will later collect
Gums are particularly important for pygmy marmosets because
their home ranges are so small that they cannot rely on fruit
year round. As an adaptation for gnawing, marmosets have long,
forward turned, lower incisors that are the same length as
their canines; this is the case in all marmosets and is termed
the short-tusked condition. (Tamarins, another group of small
monkeys, have lower canines that are longer than their lower
incisors.) They also have two molars as opposed to three in
most other monkeys.
Pygmy marmosets are currently not endangered. However they
are listed as special concern or somewhat threatened. Because
of their size, mobility and coloration, it is almost impossible
to count the pygmy marmosets living in the South American
forests. A threat to these small monkeys is the pet trade.
The main predators of the pygmy marmoset are birds of prey.
These monkeys are flexible and adapt to environmental changes
caused by humans. For example, they have been found living
in small groups of trees on the edges of farms that have been
created by clear cutting. They have also been known to use
secondary forest habitats if there is suitable food available.