Lactation, maternal behavior and infant growth in common marmoset monkeys (Callithrix jacchus): Effects of maternal size and litter size

Suzette D. Tardif, Michael Power, Olav T. Oftedal, Rachel A. Power, Donna G. Layne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


We examined the relationship between lactation performance and infant growth in a captive population of common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) that varied in both maternal and litter size. Though common marmosets display a typical primate pattern of dilute milk and relatively slow infant growth rates (factors associated with low daily lactation investment and minimal maternal size effects), we hypothesized that the marmoset's small body size would make lactation investment more sensitive to maternal size than is true for larger-bodied primates. Smaller mothers rearing twins had lower milk fat, lower gross energy in milk samples collected in mid to late lactation and lower nursing-bout frequencies than did large mothers nursing twins. Lactation performance and maternal behavior did not differ between large and small mothers when rearing singletons, with a single exception: small mothers had a lower gross energy in mid-lactation milk samples. Relative growth rates in twins but not singletons were affected by maternal size, such that small mothers supported more growth per infant when rearing singletons while large mothers supported more growth per infant when rearing twins. Among the larger mothers, only, older mothers supported somewhat, though not significantly, less growth per infant, regardless of litter size. Twin infants of small mothers appeared to respond to below-optimal levels of milk yield by initiating maternal carrying less often. The relative energy intake of mothers was similar regardless of litter or maternal size. Small mothers rearing twins drew more heavily on reserves, reflected in a linear weight loss during lactation; however, the reserves drawn upon were inadequate to meet the lactation demand, resulting in lower milk energy output. In addition, small mothers rearing twins were more likely to be ill and less likely to be fertile in the year following lactation than were large mothers of twins or mothers of any size rearing singletons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Lactation
  • Litter size
  • Marmoset
  • Maternal size
  • Reproductive investment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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