THE COMMON MARMOSET
Habitat and Distribution:
Marmosets and tamarins are found primarily in the tropical rainforests of
South America with a few remnant populations located in Central America. The
common marmoset is distributed throughout the Atlantic Coastal Forest of
- Translocated populations of the common marmoset also flourish in the ranges
of other Brazilian marmoset and tamarin species, such as around Rio de Janiero,
well beyond their native coastal forests.
The home range of a marmoset group can vary from 5,000 to 65,000 square
meters (1.2-16 acres). On any one day a marmoset group will travel about 500 to
The common marmoset is entirely arboreal (tree
dwelling) and prefers secondary or disturbed forests and edge habitat.
- This species may also be found in coastal and upland scrub forest, gallery
forests and even gardens and parks of South American cities, such as Natal and
- Wherever they are found, their home range will typically include a variety
of habitat types.
Although the common marmoset utilizes a mixture of habitats, there are two
criteria which usually must be met for the habitat to be appropriate:
- Enough trees must produce exudates (saps and gums)
- Sufficient hiding places for cover from predators, such as raptors and
Coat color and appearance:
- Black and gray fur with black fur over head and neck
- Prominent white ear tufts in adults and juveniles.
- Infants lack ear tufts and have gray fur over head and neck.
- Tail has alternating wide dark bands and pale narrow bands.
- Adult weight: 300-500 grams
- Adult body length (without tail): 14-19 centimeters
- Specialized lower incisors. These teeth are enlarged and chiseled to enhance
the ability to gnaw holes in trees.
- Short canines
- Life span: 12 years
- Age at maturity: 18 months
- Age at first reproduction: 17-20 months
- Gestation: 144 days
- Number of offspring: usually 2
- Seasonal births every 6 months
- Age infant weaned: 2 months
- Quadrupedal running, vertical clinging and leaping on branches. Replacement
of nails with claws assists in locomotion.
Common name: Common marmoset
The common marmoset belongs to a family of primates popularly called the
- It is estimated that there are 11 species of marmosets and 16 species of
tamarins within the Callitrichid family. However, the
exact taxonomic relationships are debated and new species are still being
discovered, such as Callithrix mauesi, C. nigriceps, and C. saterei found since
1990 in Brazil.
Callitrichids belong to a class of monkeys called New
World monkeys, or Platyrrhines.
- New World monkeys are found exclusively in Central and South America.
- Fossil evidence indicates that monkeys first appeared in the New World
approximately 30 million years ago during a time period called the Oligocene.
- In addition to marmosets and tamarins, New World monkeys include species
such as the squirrel monkey, the spider monkey, the capuchin, the uakari, the
owl monkey, and the muriqui monkey.
New World monkeys can be distinguished from Old World
monkeys and apes and prosimians.
Old World monkeys and New World monkeys share much in common, but there are
- Old World monkeys have 32 teeth and most New World monkeys have 36 teeth
(but not marmosets which have 32).
- Most New World monkeys have a prehensile tail. This means that the
tail is used as a fifth limb.
- All New World monkeys are arboreal. Old World monkeys include both arboreal
and terrestrial species.
- The nostrils of the New World monkeys face sideways while those of the Old
World monkeys face downwards.
Both Old World monkeys and New World monkeys can be distinguished from the
- Examples of apes include gibbons, gorillas,
chimpanzees, and orangutans.
- Fossil and genetic evidence suggests that apes, particularly the chimpanzee,
share the closest relation to humans.
- The easiest way to distinguish an ape from a monkey is by the tail. Apes do
not have a tail, while monkeys do.
Prosimians are considered the most primitive group of primates.
- Examples of prosimians include the indri,
sifakas, and lorises.
- Prosimians have relatively smaller brains and rely more on the sense of
- Prosimians have structural differences in their skull and reproductive
- All lemurs and lemur-like prosimians are endemic
to Madagascar. Some nocturnal prosimians inhabit parts of Africa and Asia.
Callitrichids share much in common with other New World monkeys. However,
they also display several traits that set them apart as a group:
- small body size
- Fewer teeth (32 vs. 36) because of their small body size and specialized
lower dentition because of their diet
- Claws replace nails on all digits but the big toe
- Non-identical twins are born rather than one infant
- Lack of a prehensile tail
While Callitrichids share the above traits, they are also a very diverse
group of primates, especially in appearance.
- Some examples of Callitrichids include the moustached tamarin, the
golden-handed tamarin, the emperor tamarin, the bare-faced tamarin, the
cotton-top tamarin, the golden lion tamarin, the black tufted-eared marmoset,
the common marmoset, the buffy-headed marmoset, and Geoffroyi's tufted-eared
The common marmoset, like other marmosets and tamarins, relies on a diet of
tree exudates (gums and saps), small animal prey, and fruits.
- Marmosets gain access to exudates from a variety of tree species by gnawing
holes in the tree bark. The specialized dentition of the common marmoset acts as
a tool facilitating access to gums and saps
- Examples of animal prey include: grasshoppers, cicadas, crickets, and
- Fruit sources range in size from small to large and tend to be sweet and
Dependence on tree exudates is very common among marmosets, but is much less
so among tamarins. Among marmosets, but not among tamarins, exudates often serve
as an important food source when others are limited.
Group size and composition of the common marmoset varies from group to group
in the wild.
- Once formed, groups are stable.
- Average group size is 8-10 individuals, but some groups may have up to 15
- Group composition may include multimale/multifemale, one male/multifemale,
or one female/multimale groups.
- Usually groups contain only one breeding pair. They are the highest ranking
male and female. Reproduction is frequently suppressed in other adult females.
- Several sets of offspring remain in the group. The older twins aid in
cooperative rearing by assisting in the raising of younger siblings.
- Groups may contain 1-2 immigrants
- Much of our understanding of the unique type of social regulation of
reproduction in marmosets is based on work carried out at the Wisconsin
Primate Research Center since 1991.
Unlike several of their close relatives, the common marmoset is currently not
listed as a threatened species.
- The common marmoset is widespread and common in northeastern Brazil because
of its adaptability to different habitats.
Unfortunately, in some areas of its distribution, populations of the common
marmoset are showing signs of decline due to habitat destruction.
- Habitat destruction is the primary cause of extinction or threat of
extinction for all animals.
Captive studies have taught scientists a great deal about the behavior and
biology of the common marmoset. This information has been applied towards the
protection as well as the captive and wild breeding of other closely related
- Roughly 23% of the callitrichids have a threatened conservation status.
- Black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara): critically endangered
- Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia): critically endangered
- Cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus): endangered
- Buffy-headed marmoset (Callithrix flaviceps): endangered
- Buffy tuft-eared marmoset (Callithrix aurita): endangered
- Geoffroy's tuft-eared marmoset (Callithrix geoffroyi): vulnerable
- Black-headed marmoset (Callithrix nigriceps): vulnerable
- An example of how the common marmoset has served as a model to help with the
conservation of other primates is its use in the development of the embryo flush
at the Wisconsin Primate Research Center in 1996. This is a noninvasive
technique designed to assist in breeding of wild and captive primates.
Text and design by Kara Lascola.
Development of this web page was supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Advanced Telecommunications
Foundation, the University of Wisconsin (Extension & Systems), and
grants number RR00167 and number RR15311, National Primate Centers Program, National Center for Research Resources, National
Institutes of Health.
Page last modified:
November 18, 2003
Maintained by the WPRC Library
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