pygmy marmosets are also known as finger monkeys (you can use the two names interchangeably) or pocket monkeys, and for good reason. They are the smallest species of monkey in the world – and one of the smallest primates extant today. Rather than climbing up your arm or your leg, a mere finger may suffice for a climbing frame.

Finger monkeys, or pygmy marmosets, are all the rage now. People who like to have exotic pets want to adopt these little critters and keep them under their care, and this has caused a sudden explosion in their popularity. Like piranhas and pythons before them, finger monkeys are becoming increasingly easy to find in the cities and in people’s homes.

They are social creatures, so they travel and live in groups. Turf wars can get nasty and they are known to be savagely territorial. A family of finger monkeys usually have about 6 to 9 members with an equal number of males and females. That is one of the reasons why it is a lot better to have at least two monkeys together if you want them as pets. They thrive with company, and are known to be smart enough to have language skills and even be able to ‘’speak’’ with different monkeys using different patterns.

Life Expectancy Of A Finger Monkey

The average lifespan of a pygmy marmoset or finger monkey is up to 12 years.

Their lifespan in the wild is 10 to 12 years.

However, they live longer in captivity for about 16 to 20 years due to special care, proper diet, and protection from natural threats.

Finger Monkey Behavior

  • Pygmy marmosets are social and live in groups, the number of individuals of which ranges from 2 to 9.
  • Most of the groups have one adult reproductive female, one or two adult males, and their offspring.
  • The number of adults, subadults, and juvenile group members has a special positive relation.
  • The reproductive female individual dominates the group and also has feeding priority on the males who have less time for feeding and food searching.
  • When an infant pygmy marmoset develops, it makes vocalizations or babbling to get extra care from the family members.
  • In the care of infants, all the group members including the parents and siblings participate due to which the juveniles learn the parenting skills at an early age.
  • The average number of caregivers to the infants in a group is up to five. The caregivers have the responsibility of finding food for the infants and also helping the father in patrolling and vigilance.
  • Male pygmy marmosets have more responsibility for taking care of the infants as they also carry them on their backs.
  • Male and female pygmy marmosets also exhibit different feeding and foraging (food searching) behaviors.
  • Female individuals select those males as their mates who can spend more time in the care of infants and the surveillance of predators.

Finger Monkey Life Cycle

  • The pygmy marmoset is monogamous (have one mate at a time) in nature and both the male and female mates have long-lasting relationships.
  • Females reproduce twice a year and have a 135 to 145 days gestation period.
  • They usually give birth to twins (about 80% of all births).
  • The infants are fed by the mother milk and are weaned after about 8 weeks (2 months) of their lives.
  • All the group members share the responsibility of taking care of the infants.
  • The younger ones usually stay in their groups for about two successive birth cycles.
  • The female individuals become sexually mature at the average age of 1 year and 8 months (684 days) while the male individuals at 1 year 7 months (638 days).
  • The lifespan of pygmy marmosets in the wild is 10 to 12 years and 16 to 20 years in captivity.

Finger Monkey Predators and Threats

As you may have guessed, these marmosets have many predators due to the fact that these monkeys are so small. Some of their predators include hawks, snakes, ocelots, and eagles, specifically the harpy eagle.

Since these marmosets stay high up in the trees, they are especially vulnerable to eagles, hawks, and other birds. Plus, there are many snakes that climb trees such as the pit viper. The pygmy marmoset’s speed and ability to hide are its only defenses against these predators.

The habitat of these marmosets is threatened when trees in the rainforest are cut down and cleared. This takes away their home as well as their food source.

Humans are a threat to these animals in another way. Sometimes these animals are caught and sold as exotic pets throughout the world. This is another thing that reduces their population.

The official conservation status of the pygmy marmoset is Threatened. Their habitat is threatened when trees are cleared, but if this could be slowed it would help increase the population of this monkey.

There are laws against buying and selling wild animals as pets. This includes the pygmy marmoset. Enforcement of these laws can contribute to keeping the pygmy marmosets safe in their natural habitat.

How to care for Finger monkeys

Finger monkeys are highly social animals. A model troop consists of 6 monkeys. So if you are thinking of adoption 1 finger monkey, think again! Take them on in pairs (or groups of more than 2!) to ensure they always have someone their own size to play with. This will take the pressure off you, and increase the likelihood of your pygmy marmoset settling into its new captive environment without a hitch.

Finger monkeys are physically active, too. They are avid and able climbers, and as such need vertical space in their enclosure.  They also require a lot of sunlight – the most important vitamins in a pygmy marmoset diet as C and D3. These vitamins are essential for the health of a finger monkey (more on diet below). To provide D3, that means lots of sun, or a UV light.

Note on ill health: finger monkeys are prone to several diseases and viruses, much like humans. Maintain excellent cage hygiene by cleaning it thoroughly and frequently, and be mindful of any unusual behavior. Report strange movements to your registered veterinarian doctor immediately. Take your marmoset to be checked if problems persist.

A finger monkey’s cage should mimic its natural environment as close as possible. This means:

Large cage with space to jump, climb and stay active

Installing swings, artificial or real trees and a steady supply of clean (de-chlorinated) water

Direct sunlight for at least a few hours a day, and a heat lamp or UV light if you cannot provide this

You should AVOID enclosures which:

  • Are wide and shallow, because they will not provide your marmoset with enough vertical space in which to climb;
  • Are very small, because marmosets are social and physically active and like to be grouped together. One may be small, but two or three can take up a bit more space!
  • Have opaque lids, because they will not let in enough sunlight
  • Are barren – spruce things up with some climbable objects!
  • Are too dark.

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