View a family of common marmosets live via
Life span: 12 years (wild)
Total population: Unknown
Gestation: 5 months (148 days)
Height: 188 mm (M), 185 mm (F)
Weight: 256 g (M), 236 g (F)
Species: C. jacchus
Other names: true marmoset or white-tufted-ear marmoset; ouistit (French);
penseelaapje (Dutch); sagui-comum or sagui-do-nordeste (Portuguese); marmosett,
silkesmarmosett, vit silkesapa, or vitörad silkesapa (Swedish)
Common marmosets are small-bodied New
World monkeys that are a mottled brown, grey, and yellow color with
white ear tufts and long, banded tails (Rowe 1996). They have pale skin
on their faces, which darkens with exposure to sun, and a blaze of white
on their foreheads (Groves 2001). Infants are born with a brown and
yellow coat and develop the white ear tufts and forehead blaze as they
age. Males and females are about the
same size, with males measuring, on average, 188 mm (7.40 in) and females having
an average height of 185 mm (7.28 in). Males have slightly higher average weights
than females at 256 g (9.03 oz) and 236 g (8.32 oz), respectively (Rowe 1996).
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
Members of the genus Callithrix, common marmosets have
a few adaptations unique to this group and necessary for their diet and
arboreal lifestyle. On all but the hallux (big toe), they have
claw-like nails called tegulae instead of the characteristic flat nails
(ungulae) of other primates, including humans (Garber et al. 1996). The
presence of claw-like nails instead of true nails helps common marmosets
in their squirrel-like locomotion patterns. They cling vertically to
trees, run quadrupedally across
branches, and move between trees by leaping (Rowe 1996; Kinzey 1997).
Other rare traits exhibited by callitrichines are their enlarged,
chisel-shaped incisors and specialized cecum (part of the large
intestine) which are adaptations for a very specialized diet (Rowe 1996;
Sussman 2000). Finally, members of this group have a tendency to give
birth to non-identical twins, which is unusual for primates (Sussman
The average lifespan of a wild common marmoset is 12 years (Rowe 1996).
CURRENT RANGE MAPS (IUCN REDLIST):Callithrix jacchus
Common marmosets are endemic to
Brazil. They range in the northeastern and central forests from the
Atlantic coast and inland as far west as the Rio Grande and are found in
the states of Alagoas, Pernambuco, Paríba, Rio Grande do Norte,
Ceará, and Piauí. Common marmosets have been introduced
to areas outside of their natural geographic range in Brazil and can be
found living within the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires,
Argentina (Rylands et al. 1993).
Captive common marmosets have been studied extensively in the lab since
the early 1960s (Rylands 1997). Because of their small body size and
the habitat in which they are found, marmosets can be difficult to study in the field. Despite these challenges, extensive studies on the behavior and ecology of wild common marmosets have been carried out at sites in Brazil: João Pessoa, Paraíba, Nísia Floresta, near Natal, and Tapcurá, Pernambuco (Rylands & de Faria 1993; Digby 1995; Albuquerque et al. 2001).
Common marmosets inhabit a variety of forest types including the extreme
northern Atlantic coastal forest, dry, seasonal,
forests, riverine forests
in dry thorn scrub habitat or caatinga, and
savanna forest or cerrado in central Brazil (Rylands & de Faria
1993; Rylands et al. 1996). These forests of the dry central region of
South America are markedly different from the humid rainforests of
Amazonia and are relatively more hostile environments with shorter
canopies (only 65 to 98 ft). They are also less species-dense and
species-rich and have more seasonal fluctuations in temperature and
rainfall than the rainforest of Brazil (Rylands et al. 1996). Members
of the genus Callithrix, including common marmosets, excel in dry secondary and disturbed forests or
edge habitats but they also show great elasticity in the type of
habitats in which they can live (Kinzey 1997; Sussman 2000).
In the caatinga region, the annual average temperature is 24 to 26°
C (75 to 79° F) and the yearly average rainfall is between 300 mm
(11.8 in) and 1000 mm (3.28 ft). The dry season is intense and lasts for 7 to 10 months.
Irregular rainfall during the rainy season supports semidesert
vegetation including spiny shrubs, low trees, and thorn forests (Eiten
1975). The cerrado region has a slightly less harsh dry season and
cooler annual temperatures. Cerrado habitat is characterized by
yearly average temperatures between 20 and 26° C (68 to 75° F)
and rainfall between 750 and 2000 mm (2.46 and 6.56 ft). The dry season only lasts about
five months (Eiten 1975). The Brazilian Atlantic forest region has
annual average temperatures between 19 and 25° C (66 and 77° F)
and rainfall between 1000 and 2000 mm (3.28 and 6.56 ft) per year (Eiten 1975).
The specialized morphological
adaptations of common marmosets can be best understood by reviewing
their specialized diet and arboreal lifestyle.
Common marmosets are exudativore-insectivores and their claw-like
nails, incisor morphology, and gut specialization reflect this
interesting diet. Though all callitrichines feed on plant exudates,
common marmosets utilize gum, sap, latex, and resin much more than other
species (Rylands & de Faria 1993; Kinzey 1997; Sussman 2000). With
lower incisors that are the same length as their canines, common
marmosets systematically gnaw the bark of plants to stimulate the flow
of edible exudates while vertically clinging with their claw-like nails
to the trunks of trees (Stevenson & Rylands 1988; Ferrari & Lopes
Ferrari 1989). Once a wound to a tree has been inflicted, the monkey
licks or scoops out the exudates with its teeth (Stevenson & Rylands
1988). Gum, sap, latex, and resin are good, non-seasonal food sources
in the most extremely seasonal parts of common marmosets' range and make
up a significant part of their total diet; anywhere from 20 to 70%
of the time spent foraging is devoted to exudativory (Ferrari & Lopes
Ferrari 1989; Power 1996; Rowe 1996). Exudate feeding is particularly
frequent from January to April, when fruits are scarce (Scanlon et al.
1989; Rylands & de Faria 1993). Marmosets often revisit previously
gouged holes and use holes made by other animals and natural injuries to
trees to harvest gum and resin. The potential for competition between
common marmosets and other frugivorous and exudativorous animals
exists and some of the prime potential competitors include birds
(parrots and toucans) and woolly opposums (Stevenson & Rylands 1988).
Because plant exudate is such an abundant resource, inter- and
intraspecies competition may not be important.
In fact, the exudativorous behavior exhibited by common marmosets makes it possible
for them to live at extremely high population densities, as high as
eight animals per hectare (Ferari & Lopes Ferrari 1989).
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
The other important food source for common marmosets is insect prey and
they spend between 24 and 30% of their time foraging for insects
(Digby & Barreto 1998). Because of their small body size, marmosets are
able to utilize insects to fulfill their protein and fat requirements,
unlike larger-bodied primates (Sussman 2000). In the understory and
middle layers of the forest, small-bodied marmosets can silently stalk
and then pounce on large mobile insects (especially orthopterans) (Rylands & de Faria
1993). Common marmosets also include in their diet fruits, seeds,
flowers, fungi, nectar, snails, lizards, tree frogs, bird eggs,
nestlings, and infant mammals (Stevenson & Rylands 1988; Digby & Barreto
Home range size varies from .005 to .065 km² (.002 to .03 mi²)
and is selected based on densities of gum trees. Common marmosets are found in home ranges with densities of gum trees no less than 50 trees per hectare (124/acre) (Scanlon et al. 1989). Average day range is only between .5 and 1.0 km (.30 and .62 mi) and common marmosets preferentially use areas of their home ranges centered around clusters of gum trees (Stevenson & Rylands 1988). Though they do not travel great distances during the day, common marmosets are active for 11 to 12 hours per day, usually from 30 minutes after sunrise to about 30 minutes before sunset (Stevenson & Rylands 1988; Kinzey 1997).
After leaving their sleep site, common marmosets feed intensively for
about an hour and then spend the rest of the day alternating between
feeding, resting, and socializing (Stevenson & Rylands 1988). They
spend about 35% of their time moving and foraging, 10% on
social activities, 12% feeding, and 53% of their time is spent
stationary (Kinzey 1997). When they rest, common marmosets adopt a
sprawling position and can spend long periods of time (over 30 minutes)
without moving (Stevenson & Rylands 1988). At the end of the day,
common marmosets enter sleeping trees about one hour before sunset;
these areas are usually in dense, vine-covered vegetation (Sussman
2000). The group sleeps together in a sleeping site presumably for
safety from predators.
Because of their small body size, common marmosets are vulnerable to
predation by mammals and birds. Some common predators include mustelids, felids, arboreal snakes, owls, and
raptors (Stafford & Ferreira 1995; Kinzey 1997; Sussman 2000). Common
marmosets are very vigilant and have specialized alarm calls which
elicit certain avoidance responses from other members of the group as
well as mobbing behaviors toward potential predators (Kinzey 1997;
Content last modified: May 18, 2005
Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Toni Ziegler.
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 May 18. Primate Factsheets: Common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/common_marmoset>. Accessed 2017 April 30.