Callithrix penicillatablack-pencilled marmoset

Geographic Range

Black-pencilled marmosets are found in the Neo-tropical gallery forests of the Brazilian Central Plateau. They live along the Brazillian coast ranging from Bahia to Sao Paulo, and as far inland as Goias, between 14 and 17 degrees S. (Boudet, 2004; Elliot, 1913; Miranda and Faria, 2001)


Black-pencilled marmosets live in rainforests, usually residing high in the trees, under the canopy. Marmosets have rarely been observed at or near ground level. (Barros, et al., 2004; Miranda and Faria, 2001; Barros, et al., 2004; Miranda and Faria, 2001)

Physical Description

Black-pencilled marmosets typically have some sparse white hairs on their faces, with a dark brown or black head. Their upper body and limbs are gray and their rump is usually black. The marmosets' undersides are black with a gray abdomen. Their tail is ringed with black and white and is not prehensile, but is used for balance. They are characterized by the black tufts around their ears. Black-pencilled marmosets do not have an opposable thumb and their nails tend to have a claw-like appearance. (Boudet, 2004; Elliot, 1913; Rosenberg, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    454 g
    16.00 oz
  • Average mass
    307 g
    10.82 oz
  • Range length
    22.86 to 27.94 cm
    9.00 to 11.00 in


Black-pencilled marmosets are monogamous and typically live in family groups which include the reproducing couple and their offspring. (Miranda and Faria, 2001)

Black-pencilled marmosets breed twice a year and produce between 1 and 4 offspring, however they generally have twins. The gestation period is 150 days and offspring wean at about 8 weeks. The marmosets reach sexual maturity at approximately 18 months old. However, they typically mate very late. (Guerra, et al., 1998; Rosenberg, 2004)

  • Breeding interval
    Black-pencilled marmosets usually breed twice a year
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    2, twins
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    150 days
  • Average weaning age
    8 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    13 to 20 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    13 to 20 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    18 months

There is considerable parental investment by both parents; infants are extremely dependent on their parents. The offspring are raised with the aid of other juvenile siblings. Offspring are weaned at 8 weeks and then taught to search for food. (Guerra, et al., 1998; Miranda and Faria, 2001; Rosenberg, 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory


The life-span of a wild black-pencilled marmoset is unknown, however the average lifespan in captivity is 15 years. (Rosenberg, 2004)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15.4 years


Black-pencilled marmosets are diurnal and live in groups of 2 to 14, which typically consist of a reproductive couple and their offspring. Offspring are cared for by both the mother and father, as well as older siblings in the family. As twins are very common among marmosets, additional support for the mother is often required. Though they live in small family groups, they often share sap trees with many other families in their species. They do engage in scent marking, but it is believed this is to deter other species from entering the area, and not other groups of their own species. Black-pencilled marmosets also appear to be nomadic, moving throughout the forests as seasons become dry or wet. (Barros, et al., 2004; Lacher, et al., 1981)

Communication and Perception

The communication of black-pencilled marmosets has not been fully studied, however, it is believed that they communicate mostly through vocalizations. They appear to have predator-specific cries when they are threatened and have many vocalizations in addition to predator warnings. Black-pencilled marmosets also use scent marking, though it is unclear whether this is a form of communication, as many different family groups simply ignore the markings that another family group has left. (Barros, et al., 2004; Lacher, et al., 1981)

Food Habits

Black-pencilled marmosets commonly feed on tree sap. During food shortages or droughts their diet also includes fruit and insects, and they have even been known to eat various arthropods, molluscs, and small vertebrates. (Miranda and Faria, 2001)

  • Primary Diet
  • herbivore
    • eats sap or other plant foods
  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • sap or other plant fluids


Black-pencilled marmosets are vulnerable to a wide range of both terrestrial and aerial predators. Aerial predators, large raptors, are considered the marmosets greatest threat, but they are also preyed upon by a variety of snakes and wild cats. Black-pencilled marmosets use a series of predator-specific vocalizations as well as visual scanning in their antipredation strategies. (Barros, et al., 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

Black-pencilled marmosets are mutualists with many tree species, dispersing seeds of the fruit that they consume. They also act as parasites of other species of trees because they create sores in the trees in order to extract sap, while not positively affecting the tree in any way. They also serve as a source of prey for many larger animal species that reside in the forests, including large birds of prey, snakes, and wild cats. (Barros, et al., 2004; de Figueiredo and Longatti, 1997; Lacher, et al., 1981)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Species Used as Host
  • trees
Mutualist Species
  • Fruit trees

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Black-pencilled marmosets are considered highly valuable and exotic pets. They are also used often in zoo exhibits as well as many different types of scientific studies. (Mittermeier, 1986)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of black-pencilled marmosets on humans.

Conservation Status

Black-pencilled marmosets have no special status with the IUCN Red List or the Unites States Endangered Species Act List. They are listed in Appendix II of CITES and are not currently considered an endangered or threatened species.


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Valerie Ackley (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Barros, M., C. Alencar, C. Tomaz. 2004. Differences in Aerial and Terrestrial Visual Scanning in Captive Black Tufted-ear Marmosets (Callithrix penicillata) Exposed to a Novel Environment. Folia Primatologica, 75/2: 85-91.

Boudet, C. 2004. "Mammal's Planet" (On-line). Accessed March 30, 2004 at

Elliot, D. 1913. A Review of The Primates. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

Guerra, R., E. Takase, C. Santos. 1998. Cross-fostering between two species of marmosets (Callithrix jacchus and Callithrix penicillata). Revista Brasileira de Biologia, 58/4: 665-669.

Lacher, T., G. Bouchardet da Fonseca, C. Alves, B. Magalhaes-Castro. 1981. Exudate-Eating, Scent-Marking, and Territoriality in Wild Populations of Marmosets. Animal Behavior, 29/1: 306-307.

Miranda, G., D. Faria. 2001. Ecological Aspects of Black-Pincelled Marmoset (Callithix penicillata) in the Cerradao and Dense Cerradao of the Brazilian Central Plateau. Brazilian Journal of Biology, 61/3: 397-404.

Mittermeier, R. 1986. Primate Conservation Priorities in the Neotropical Region. Pp. 221-240 in K Benirschke, ed. Primates: the road to self-sustaining populations. West Hanover, Massachusetts: Springer-Verlag.

Rosenberg, S. 2004. "PENICILLATA MARMOSET: (Callithrix Penicillata)" (On-line). Accessed March 31, 2004 at

de Figueiredo, R., C. Longatti. 1997. Ecological Aspects of the Dispersal of a Melastomatacae by Marmosets and Howler Monkeys in a Semideciduous Forest in Southeastern Brazil. Revue d'Ecologie La Terre et La Vie, 52/1: 4-5.