Common marmosets are New World primates. Their original range was limited to north eastern Brazil, but habitat destruction in that area is widespread. Wild populations of the common marmoset are now located in south eastern Brazilian coastal rainforest. (Parker, 1990)
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
The common marmoset has a body length of about 12 - 15 cm, with a tail length of 29.5 - 35 cm. Distinguishing characteristics of common marmosets include white ear tufts, and a white blaze on the forehead. Their head fur is usually dark brown, while their back fur is a greyish brown color with light transverse striping. They also have very pronounced transverse tail stripes.
Range mass: 300 to 360 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.848 W.
Common marmosets can be found around the edges of the forest as opposed to deep within it. They live in many forest types, including plantations. (Parker)
Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest
Habitat and Ecology
Marmosets and tamarins are distinguished from the other monkeys of the New World by their small size, modified claws rather than nails on all digits except the big toe, the presence of two as opposed to three molar teeth in either side of each jaw, and by the occurrence of twin births. They eat fruits, flowers, nectar, plant exudates (gums, saps, latex) and animal prey (including frogs, snails, lizards, spiders and insects). Marmosets have morphological and behavioural adaptations for gouging trees trunks, branches and vines of certain species to stimulate the flow of gum, which they eat, and in some species form a notable component of the diet (Coimbra-Filho 1972; Rylands 1994). They live in extended family groups of between four and 15 individuals. Generally, only one female per group breeds during a particular breeding season.
Callithrix jacchus is a gum-feeding specialist, with gouging lower incisors to excavate holes in gum-producing trees to guarantee gum year-round. This allows it to live in very seasonal habitats, including deciduous forests and scrub in the north-east of Brazil. Associated with its specialization in gum-feeding, it defends home ranges that are much smaller than are typical of the genus: 0.72 to 5.2 ha. Castro (2003) recorded home ranges of 0.3 to 2.4 ha at Níisia Floresta National Forest, Rio Grande do Norte. Maier et al. (1982) and Alonso and Llangguth (1989) recorded home ranges of 2-5 ha in the urban district of João Pessoa, Paraíba, and Mendes Pontes and Monteiro da Cruz (1995) of 4 ha in an urban park in Recife, Pernambuco. Group sizes have been recorded to range from 2 to 15 at the Tapacurá State Ecological Station, Pernambuco (Hubrecht 1985; Scanlon et al. 1988). Usually one female breeds in each group. Twins are produced twice a year.
While the common marmoset generally feeds on tree sap, this species has also been found to eat insects, spiders, fruit, flowers, and nectar. Less frequently, they have been observed feeding on small lizards, bird's eggs, nestlings, and frogs.
Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit; nectar; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Eats sap or other plant foods)
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: wild: 10.0 years.
Status: captivity: 12.0 years.
Status: wild: 10.0 years.
Status: captivity: 16.0 years.
Status: captivity: 15.7 years.
Status: captivity: 16.8 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
It was originally thought that common marmosets were monogamous creatures, forming pair bonds and raising their offspring as a team. This was believed because captive marmosets only bred successfully in a pair situation. However, it has recently been discovered that the common marmoset, along with other species of marmosets and tamarins, is actually polyandrous (one female mates with multiple males). In the wild, groups of two males and a female form in order to mate and rear offspring. The female mates nearly equally with both males while in estrus.
Mating System: polyandrous ; cooperative breeder
After gestating for approximately 148 days, the female gives birth to the offspring, usually twins (Smuts et al., 1987).
Average number of offspring: 2.
Average gestation period: 148 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 26.5 g.
Average gestation period: 144 days.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 382 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 477 days.
The twins combined can equal up to 40% of the female's body weight. The males assist the female in carrying the infants, and it is generally thought that polyandry in this species is due to the large size of these babies and the energy needed to raise them.
Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Callithrix jacchus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Common marmosets are one of the most endangered callitrichid species. The complete destruction of their habitat in north eastern Brazil has severely threatened the species, but their numbers in reserves in south eastern Brazil seem to be growing.
(Smuts et al., 1987)
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2003Least Concern(IUCN 2003)
- 2003Least Concern
Sete Cidades National Park (6,221 ha) PI
Serra da Capivara National Park (97,93 ha) PI
Ubajara National Park (563 ha) CE
Serra Negra Biological Reserve (1,100 ha) PE
Saltinho Biological Reserve (548 ha) PE
Pedra Talhada Biological Reserve (4,469 ha) AL
Guariba Biological Reserve (4,321 ha) PB
Mamanguape Ecological Station (9,992 ha) PB
Seridó Ecological Station (1,116 ha) RN
Itabaiana Ecological Station (1,100 ha)* SE
Uruçuí-Una Ecological Station (135,000 ha) PI
Aiuaba Ecological Station (11,525 ha) CE
Foz do São Francisco Ecological Station (5,322 ha) AL
Raso da Catarina Ecological Reserve (99,772 ha)* BA
Ponta do Cabo Branco State Park (379 ha) PB
Guaramiranga State Park (55 ha) CE
Dunas Costeiras State Park (1,160 ha) RN
Buraquinho State Biological Reserve (471 ha) PB
Tapacurá State Ecological Station (392 ha) PE
Níisia Floresta National Forest (170 ha) (RN) (Castro, 2003)
The Tijuca National Park (3,200 ha), and the Poço das Antas Biological Reserve (5,065 ha), state of Rio de Janeiro, contain an introduced population of C. jacchus.
This species is listed on Appendix II of CITES.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Because they have adapted to life on the edge of the forests of south eastern Brazil, common marmosets have also learned to take advantages of the plantations in the area. In greater numbers, they may become pests to human farmers. (Smuts et al., 1987)
When zoos are able to obtain these tiny creatures, they are very popular attractions.
The common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) is a New World monkey. It originally lived on the Northeastern coast of Brazil, in the states of Piaui, Paraiba, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Bahia. Through release (both intentional and unintentional) of captive individuals, it has expanded its range since the 1920s to Southeast Brazil (its first sighting in the wild for Rio de Janeiro was in 1929) and became there an invasive species, raising concerns about genetic pollution of similar species, such as the buffy-tufted marmoset (Callithrix aurita), and predation upon bird nestlings and eggs.
Physical description and morphology
Common marmosets are very small monkeys with relatively long tails. Males and females are of similar size with males being slightly larger. Males have an average height of 188 mm (7.40 in) and females have an average height of 185 mm (7.28 in). Males weigh 256 g (9.03 oz) on average and females weigh 236 g (8.32 oz) on average. The pelage of the marmoset is multicolored, being sprinkled with brown, grey, and yellow. It also has white ear tufts and the tail is banded. Their faces have pale skin and have a white blaze on the forehead. The coats of infants are brown and yellow coats with the ear tuft developing later.
As with other members of the genus Callithrix, the common marmosets have claw-like nails known as tegulaes on most of their fingers. Only their halluxes (big toes) have the flat nails or ungulaes that most other primates have. Marmosets have an arboreal locomotion similar to squirrels. They can hang on to trees vertically and leap between them, as well as run across branches quadrupedally. Tegulaes are an adaptation of this type of locomotion. Other Callithrix traits shared include enlarged, chisel-shaped incisors and specialized cecums for their diet.
Range and ecology
Common marmosets are native only to east-central Brazil. They have been introduced into other areas and live within the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Marmosets can be found in a number of forest habitats. They live in Atlantic coastal forests as well as semi-deciduous forests farther inland. They can also inhabit savanna forests and riverine forests. Marmosets are successful in dry secondary forests and edge habitats.
The common marmoset’s claw-like nails, incisor shape, and gut specialization reflect their unique diet which is primarily made of plant exudates and insects. Common marmosets feed on gum, sap, latex, and resin. They use their nails to cling to the side of a tree and, with their long lower incisors, chew a hole in the tree. The marmoset will then lick up the exudates or swoop them with the teeth. 20-70% of the marmoset’s feeding behavior is made of eating exudates.
Exudates provide marmosets with a reliable food source in the marmoset’s seasonal habitat. They rely on these foods particularly between January and April, when fruit is not abundant. A marmoset may visit a tree hole multiple times; including those made by other animals. In addition to exudates, insects also prove an important food source for marmosets, making 24-30% of their feeding time. The small size of the marmoset allows them to subsist on insects, as well as stalking and ambush them. Marmosets will also eat fruits, seeds, flowers, fungi, nectar, snails, lizards, tree frogs, bird eggs, nestlings, and infant mammals. It is possible that marmosets compete for fruit with birds, such as parrots and toucans, and with woolly opossums.
Common marmosets live in stable extended families with only a few members allowed to breed. A marmoset group can contain as many as 15 members, but a more typical number is nine. A marmoset family usually contains 1-2 breeding females, a breeding male, their offspring and their adult relatives, be it their parents or siblings. The females in a group tend to be closely related and males less so. Males do not mate with breeding females that they are related to. Marmosets may leave their natal groups when they become adults, in contrast to other primate species who leave at adolescence. Not much is known of the reasons marmosets leave their natal groups. Family groups will fission into new groups when a breeding male dies. Within the family groups, the breeding individuals tend to be more dominant. The breeding male and female tend to share dominance. However, between two breeding females, one is more dominant. In addition, the subordinate female is usually the daughter of the dominant one. For the other members, social rank is based on age. Dominance is maintained though various behaviors, postures and vocalizations and subordinates will groom their superiors.
Reproduction and parenting
Common marmosets have a complex mating system. It was thought that they were monogamous, however both polygamy and polyandry have also been observed. Nevertheless, most matings are monogamous. Even in groups with two breeding females, the subordinate female often mates with males from other groups. Subordinate females usually do not give birth to fit offspring. Nevertheless, mating with extra-group males may allow the female to find potential mates in the future. Females that mate successfully but lose their young move to other groups and may gain dominant breeding positions.
The breeding individuals in a group need the other members to help raise their young. Thus the pair will behaviorally and physiologically suppress the reproduction of the other members of the group. Since these suppressed individuals are likely related to the breeding pair, they have an incentive to care for the young as they share genes with them. In addition, the presence of a related male affects female ovulation. Laboratory studies have shown that female ovulation does not occur when their fathers are around, but does occur when an unrelated male is there instead. They will also display aggressive behavior towards their mothers, possibly to displace them.
When conditions are right for them to breed, adult females breed regularly for the rest of their lives. Females flick their tongues at males to solicit mating. The gestation period lasts for five months, and females are ready to breed again around ten days after giving birth. There are five months in between each parturition and they give birth twice a year. Marmosets commonly give birth to two non-identical twins. Because of this, females are under stress during pregnancy and lactation, and need help from the other members of the family. Infant marmosets instinctively cling to their mothers back and do not voluntarily let go for the first two weeks. After that, they become very active and explore their environment. The breeding male (likely the father) will begin handling the twins, and all members of the family will care for them. In the following weeks, the young spend less time on their mother’s back and more time moving around and playing. Infants are weaned at three months. At five months they enter their juvenile stage. At this time, they have more interactions with family members other than their parents, and there is rough play for to establish their future status. Another set of infants may be born and the previous young will carry and play with them. Marmosets become sub-adults between nine and 14 months, act like adult and go through puberty. At 15 months, they reach adult size and are sexually mature but can not breed until they are dominant.
Common marmosets employ a number of vocal and visual communications. To signal alarm, aggression, and submission, marmosets use the "partial open mouth stare," "frown," and "slit-stare", respectively. To display fear or submission, marmosets flatten their ear-tufts close to their heads. Marmosets have two alarm calls: a series of repeating calls that get higher with each call, known as "staccatos"; and short trickling calls given either intermittently or repeatedly. These are called "tsiks". Marmoset alarm calls tend to be short and high-pitched. Marmosets monitor and locate group members with vibrato-like low-pitched generic calls called "trills". Marmosets also employ "phees" which are whistle-like generic calls. These serve to attract mates, keep groups together, defend territories, and locate missing group members. Marmosets will use scent gland on their chests and anogenital regions to mark objects. These are meant to communicate social and reproductive status.
The common marmoset remains an abundant species and are not currently threatened. Nevertheless its habitat had been degraded at a large rate, with around 67% of the cerrado region cleared for human use in the 1990s and around 80% cleared for cultivation more recently. In addition, marmosets are captured and traded as pets. Though popular as pets, they become difficult to control as they get older and are thus abandoned or killed. Common marmosets have also been used for medical experiments. They are used as such in Europe more so than in the United States, and are the most common non-human primates to be experimented on. They are used as model organisms in areas of research such as teratology, periodontal disease, reproduction, immunology, endocrinology, obesity, and aging.
The genome of a female marmoset was published in 2014. It became the first non-human primate, among the New World Monkeys, to have its complete genome sequenced. The genome size is 2.26 Gb, and contains 21,168 genes. Segmental duplications added a total of 138 Mb of non-redundant sequences (4.7% of the whole genome), slightly less than observed in human or chimpanzee (~5%), but more than in orangutan (3.8%).
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