Buffy-headed marmoset (Callithrix flaviceps)

French: Ouistiti À Tête Jaune
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyCallitrichidae
GenusCallithrix (1)
SizeHead-body length: 18 – 30 cm (2)
Tail length: 17 – 41 cm (2)
Weight230 – 453 g (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

This tiny, squirrel-like monkey is named for the orangey-yellow fur on the crown and cheeks; similar-coloured tufts of hair also protrude from around the ears (2) (4). The rest of its diminutive body is grizzled black and grey, forming distinct alternating bands of blackish and pale fur on the tail (2) (4), and blending into orange or yellowish underparts (4). Like all marmosets, the buffy-headed marmoset bears claws instead of nails on all digits except the big toes (5), enabling it to cling to trees with ease whilst gouging holes in trees to feed on one of its preferred foods, tree gum (4). Despite its attractive appearance, the name marmoset is actually though to derive from an old French word meaning ‘grotesque figure’ (4).

The buffy-headed marmoset is found only in south-eastern Brazil, in the states of Espirito Santo and Minas Gerais, where just a few fragmented populations remain (2) (6).

As an inhabitant of mountainous tropical forest, at altitudes from 400 metres to at least 1,200 metres (6) (7), the buffy-headed marmoset has to tolerate harsh seasonal extremes of temperature and rainfall, with winters being significantly drier and temperatures falling to near freezing (7). Within these forests, the buffy-headed marmoset ranges from about three metres off the ground, to around 30 metres high in the canopy (6).

The buffy-headed marmoset is a diurnal monkey, spending the nights sleeping in tree holes or other shelters, and the daylight hours running and hopping through trees and bushes with quick, jerky movements as it searches for food (2). The diet of the buffy-headed marmoset includes fruit and gum, as well as insects, seeds and nectar (7). The lower canines of marmosets are perfectly suited to gouging holes in tree bark and inducing the flow of gum and sap (2), the sticky substances which act as a tree’s defence against damage to its bark (4). While this provides a year-round reliable source of food, it is not the buffy-headed marmoset’s favourite meal, as it will decrease the amount of gum it eats during times of the year when fruit is plentiful (7). When preying on insects, such as grasshoppers, the buffy-headed marmoset employs a ‘scan and pounce’ method (7). This is not only an effective way of hunting, but allows the marmoset to combine the essential activity of feeding with the equally important task of remaining vigilant in case of predators (8).

Being such a small mammal, the buffy-headed marmoset is vulnerable to a host of predators, from raptors that circle the skies above, to snakes that slither on the ground below. They are continuously attentive of their surroundings, and nearly any object passing overhead, even a falling, dead leaf, provokes a response in this wary monkey (8).

The buffy-headed marmoset lives in groups of four to fifteen individuals, typically dominated by a monogamous pair (2). Generally, only the dominant female will breed (2), nearly always giving birth to twins: a feature of the life history of all marmosets (5) (9). The young are born after a gestation period of 150 days and there is often just five to eight months between each litter (9). This particularly high rate of reproduction is made possible by the extensive care of the young that is provided by other members of the group, as well as by both parents (4). All members of the group will play some part in carrying the tiny young on their backs or sharing food with the growing twins (9).

Although believed to be a naturally rare species (4), the small range of the buffy-headed marmoset leaves it highly vulnerable to threats, such as habitat destruction, which is now pushing this diminutive monkey towards extinction. A burgeoning population and rapid development along the southeastern coastal region of Brazil has taken its toll on the natural forest habitat (2) (6). The clearance of land for coffee plantations, sugar cane, cocoa, eucalyptus, cattle pasture and, most significantly, timber extraction and charcoal production, has left just a tiny fraction of original forest (6). In addition, this threatened primate may also be hunted for the pet trade (1).

Despite the grim picture painted for the future of the buffy-headed marmoset’s habitat, it has been reported that this species may be able to adapt to secondary forest and that its future could be secured if provided with proper protection (2). Currently, this species is known to occur within the Nova Lombardia Biological Reserve and the forest within the lands of the Fazenda Montes Claros (a privately owned farm) (6). This provides the buffy-headed marmoset with some protection against the threats of habitat loss, but it has been advised that the land of Fazenda Montes Claros should be made into an official protected area, so that its future preservation can be assured (6). Indeed, the future of the buffy-headed marmoset may rest on the effective protection of strongholds such as these (6).

For further information on the conservation of primates see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. CITES (February, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Kinzey, W.G. (1997) New World Primates: Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.
  6. Thornback, J. and Jenkins, M. (1982) The IUCN Mammal Red Data Book. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  7. Ferrari, S.F., Corrèa, K.M. and Coutinho, P.E.G. (1996) Ecology of the southern marmosets: How different, how similar?. In: Norconk, M.A., Garber, P.A. and Rosenberger, A.L. (Eds) Adaptive Radiations of Neotropical Primates. Plenum Press, New York.
  8. Ferrari, S.F. and Ferrari, M.A.L. (1990) Predator avoidance behaviour in the buffy-headed marmoset, Callithrix flaviceps. Primates, 31(3): 323 - 328.
  9. Ferrari, S.F. (1992) The care of infants in a wild marmoset (Callithrix flaviceps) group. American Journal of Primatology, 26: 109 - 118.