Pygmy Marmoset
Pygmy Marmoset

Location at the Zoo:
Region: South America

Pygmy marmoset

Pygmy marmosets are the smallest monkey in the world. Their general appearance is grizzled brown fur, flecked with lighter and darker shades. The back is grey to black mixed with tawny brown, sometimes with a green tint. Under parts vary from orange to tawny to white. Hands and feet are yellow to orange. Tail is indistinctly ringed with tawny and black and is non-prehensile (it cannot be used to grasp things). Forelimbs are shorter than hind limbs, thumb is not opposable. The hands and feet are elongated and all digits (except the great toe) have pointed, sickle shaped nails. Only the great toe has a flat nail.

Length of head and body: 117-152 mm; length of tail: 172-229 mm; Weight: 99-160 g.

Conservation Status: IUCN


Upper part of the Amazon basin of western Brazil, northern Peru, eastern Ecuador, and south-western Colombia.


Tropical rain forest and tropical evergreen forest of South America. Prefers low second growth forests along streams where cover is thick and visibility is good. Also lives on the edge of forests next to farms.


The mainstay of their diet is tree sap or “gum” (67%). Unlike other foods that can be seasonal in nature, tree sap is present year round. It also contains long-chained sugars and carbohydrates, and the sap is also a source of calcium. The rest of their diet includes small arthropods, fruit, nectar, leaves, and flowers.


Sexual maturity is reached at 18-24 months. Gestation is approximately 18- 20 weeks; they usually have twins and occasionally triplets (marmosets are the only primates that normally have twins). Weight at birth averages 16 grams. Offspring are weaned at three months of age. The males of the family group will carry the offspring on their backs, returning them to the female every few hours for feeding. Life span is 12 years. These primates exhibit Germline Chimerism (chimeric marmosets often transmit sibling alleles acquired in utero to their own offspring. Thus, an individual that contributes gametes to an offspring is not necessarily the genetic parent of that offspring). This characteristic is not known to occur naturally in any other primate.


Diurnal and arboreal. They are most active on cool mornings and late afternoons, and usually keep to the lower layers of the forest to avoid their main predators - birds of prey. They can make long horizontal leaps of one metre or more and can also cling and leap vertically. Movements sometimes come in sudden bursts after periods of immobility, however at times, when a quick dash might be perilous, the pygmy marmoset moves slowly out of sight, forwards or sideways, until it reaches a branch or trunk for protection. An alarmed pygmy marmoset continually turns its head in all directions. They have acute sight, good hearing and a good sense of smell.

Pygmy marmosets gouge (10-20 mm) holes in the bark of trees with their lower front incisors, possibly taking days or weeks of repeated visits to develop any particular hole to the depth at which the nutritious sap can be eaten, and then visit them each day to eat the sap. They gouge new holes daily to produce a steady supply of sap. These marmosets regularly move home ranges, depending on the availability of sap. Pygmy marmosets have a variety of vocalizations, including a trill for communications over a distance, a high sharp warning whistle and a clicking sound for threats.

Threats to Survival:

Birds of prey and other carnivores.