Primate of the Week: Pygmy marmoset

Callithrix pygmaea



  • Suborder: Haplorrhini
  • Infraorder: Simiiformes
  • Family: Cebidae
  • Subfamily: Callitrichinae


Pygmy marmosets are new world monkeys and are considered the smallest monkey in the world. It weighs only 119 grams (Soini, 1988; Rowe, 1996). Pygmy marmosets can be split into two subspecies of C.p niveiventris and C.p pygmaea. The subspecies are generally differentiated by morphological characteristics including the different coloring of the ventral pelage (Groves, 2001).


Pygmy marmosets have brown gold fur and light yellow to white ventral fur. They also have long tails that have black rings Pelage color differs for infants and adults. Infants are lemon yellow with a dark grey head and yellow fur around their ears. Infants will lose this pelage color by the end of their first month of life (Soini, 1988). Pygmy marmosets can turn their heads 180 degrees allowing them to better see predators (Kinzey, 1997). Pygmy marmosets have claw like nails or tegulae. They differ from other primates that have flat nails or ungulae. The trait of tegulae was likely adaptive to the arboreal lifestyle (Kinzey, 1997; Sussman, 2000). Pygmy marmosets also have an enlarged cecum to help break down plants gums (Sussman, 2000). Their incisors are also elongated and sharp in order to help eat plant gum (Sussman, 2000).


Pygmy marmosets will quadrepedally run up and down tree trunks. They will also vertically cling on trees while feeding on sap (Kinzey, 1997). They are also able to leap up to 15 feet (Rowe, 1996; Kinzey, 1997).


Pygmy marmosets live in mature evergreen forests (Soini, 1988). Their diet it mainly gum and other exudates. They will eat gum, sap resin or latex (Soini, 1988). They will also eat insects such as grasshoppers but will also eat spiders, orthopterans, butterflies, moths, beetles and ants (Soini, 1988). Pygmy marmosets will have a primary exudate tree within their home range until the yield of gum decreases and they will move to a new area (Ramirez et al., 1977; Soini, 1988).


Groups of pygmy marmosets have two to nine individuals with an average group size of five (Soini, 1993). Groups have one dominant and reproductive female and a reproductive male and their children (Soini, 1993). Additional females and males may also be in the group but they did not reproduce. A dominance hierarchy exists in which the reproductive female is dominant over all members of the groups, the dominant male is dominant over all the males and depending on the age the siblings out rank each other (Soini, 1988).


Cooperatively breeding occurs with pygmy marmosets where the subordinate sub adults and adults will help care for the dominant female’s offspring (Soini, 1982; 1988; Schropel, 1998). Sub adult pygmy marmosets when reaching puberty will often be reproductively suppressed and they will remain in their natal group (Carlson et al., 1997). Pygmy marmoset mating is not seasonal but will generally occur during May/June and November/January (Soini, 1982). A large proportion of females will also give birth to twins (Ziegler et al., 1990). Gestation is approximately 141 days and the interbirth rate tends to be between five to seven months (Soini, 1988; Ziegler et al., 1990).


Work Cited

Groves C. 2001. Primate taxonomy. Washington DC: Smithsonian Inst Pr. 350 p.

Kinzey WG. 1997. Synopsis of New World primates (16 genera). In: Kinzey WG, editor. New world primates: ecology, evolution, and behavior. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. p 169-324.

Ramirez ML, Freese CH, Revilla C J. 1977. Feeding ecology of the pygmy marmoset, Cebuella pygmaea, in northeastern Peru. In: Kleiman DG, editor. The biology and conservation of the Callitrichidae; 1975 Aug 18-20; Washington DC. Washington DC: Smithsonian Inst Pr. p 91-104.

Rowe N. 1996. The pictorial guide to the living primates. East Hampton (NY): Pogonias Pr. 263 p.

Schröpel M. 1998. Multiple simultaneous breeding females in a pygmy marmoset group (Cebuella pygmaea). Neotrop Prim 6(1): 1-7.

Soini P. 1982. Ecology and population dynamics of the pygmy marmoset, Cebuella pygmaea. Folia Primatol 39: 1-21.

Soini P. 1986. A synecological study of a primate community in the Pcaya-Samiria National Reserve, Peru. Prim Cons 7: 63-71.

Soini P. 1988. The pygmy marmoset, Genus Cebuella. In: Mittermeier RA, Coimbra-Filho AF, da Fonseca GAB, editors. Ecology and behavior of neotropical primates, Volume 2. Washington DC: World Wildly Fund. p 79-129.

Soini P. 1993. The ecology of the pygmy marmoset, Cebuella pygmaea: some comparisons with two sympatric tamarins. In: Rylands AB, editor. Marmosets and tamarins: systematics, behaviour, and ecology. Oxford (UK): Oxford Univ Pr. p 257-61.

Sussman RW. 2000. Primate ecology and social structure. Volume 2, New world monkeys. Needham Heights (MA): Pearson Custom. 207 p.


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