Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and northern Bolivia in South America


Along rivers, lowland forests, and bamboo thickets

Mini monkeys

High in the rain forest canopy of South America lives a tiny animal. It dodges behind tree trunks and branches, freezing and dashing, just like a squirrel. It also has brown fur and a long tail like a squirrel—but it's a pygmy marmoset, the world's smallest monkey!

Marmosets and their cousins, the tamarins, are some of the tiniest primates around. Yet pygmy marmosets are different enough for scientists to group them apart from other marmoset species.

An amazing tail

A full-grown pygmy marmoset could fit in an adult human's hand, and it weighs about as much as a stick of butter. But there is nothing tiny about a pygmy marmoset's tail: it's longer than its body! The tail is not prehensile, but it helps the little monkey keep its balance as it gallops through the treetops.

The word marmoset comes from the French word “marmouset,” meaning shrimp or dwarf.
The pygmy marmoset is the smallest monkey but not the smallest primate—that title belongs to the mouse lemur.
The pygmy marmoset's claw-like nails are called tegulae. The flat nails that other primates have are called ungulae.

Our first pygmy marmosets arrived in 1938 as part of the Hancock Expedition. They produced offspring for several years. Unfortunately, none of the offspring from this pair lived long enough to reproduce. It was not until 1978 that another zoo facility, the Skansen Aquarium in Sweden, had reproductive success. So, members of our staff traveled there in 1990 to learn what we could. Many of the techniques used in Sweden were
incorporated into our new pygmy marmoset exhibit. On October 16, 1994, we celebrated the birth of triplets! Happily, all three were healthy and survived their early years.

Today, A family group of pygmy marmosets lives in an off-exhibit area of the Zoo we call the “marmosetery.” As the tiny primates can’t eat a lot of food, keepers have to get extra creative with other methods of enrichment. Wood shavings, perfume and spice scents, and mirrors are offered at different times to keep these busy monkeys content. Often, just moving things around in their habitat makes for new interest.

If the current rate of habitat destruction can be slowed, these tiny monkeys will have a big chance at long-term survival in their forest home. Their largest threat is the pet trade, due to their tiny size, cuddly appearance, and appealing face. We cannot express this enough: monkeys do not make good pets. The United States has banned the import of primates, and most South American countries don't allow primate exports anymore.

You can help us bring other primate species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.