Does the milk of callitrichid monkeys differ from that of larger anthropoids?

Michael L. Power, Olav T. Oftedal, Suzette D. Tardif

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49 Scopus citations


The generalization that anthropoid primates produce dilute milks that are low in protein and energy is based primarily on data from large monkeys of the families Cebidae and Cercopithecidae, as well as humans. The marmosets and tamarins (Callitrichidae) are not only much smaller in body size, but also typically raise multiple offspring during a relatively brief lactation. We hypothesized that selection for small body size and high reproductive rate might favor secretion of milk of higher energy and protein concentrations. To test this hypothesis, 46 milk samples collected from 10 common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus, ca. 350 g) were assayed for dry matter (DM), crude protein (CP), fat, and sugar; and gross energy (GE) was calculated from these constituents. We also assayed five samples collected from three golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia, ca. 700 g) and six samples collected from a single pygmy marmoset (Cebuella pygmaea, ca. 150 g) over two lactation periods. All samples were collected between days 10 and 57 post partum, representing mid lactation for these species. The milks of these three species were similar, containing 14.0%, 16.1%, and 13.7% DM; 2.7%, 2.6%, and 2.9% CP; 3.6%, 5.2%, and 3.7% fat; 7.4%, 7.2%, and 7.8% sugar; and 0.76, 0.90, and 0.82 kcal/g for common marmosets, golden lion tamarins, and the pygmy marmoset, respectively. These species produced milks with energy values that were within the range reported for large anthropoids, albeit with slightly higher protein concentration. However, milk composition did vary substantially among individual common marmoset females, especially in the proportion of milk energy derived from fat. In contrast, CP as expressed as a percent of GE was remarkably constant among common marmoset females. Callitrichid milk appeared to be similar to that of larger anthropoid primates in GE, but was higher in CP and in the proportion of GE from CP. However, the small sample sizes for the golden lion tamarin and the pygmy marmoset, and the wide variation in milk composition found among common marmoset females cautions against definitively characterizing the milks of callitrichids from these data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-127
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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