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Monkey business: Studies show tiny callimicos have unusual characteristics

Sometimes it takes time to uncover nature's secrets. Take the case of callimicos, also called Goeldi's monkeys, a reclusive and diminutive South American primate. Discovered a century ago by Swiss naturalist Emil August Goeldi, the animals were once considered to be a possible "missing link" between small and large New World monkeys.

But new findings from the first long-term studies of the monkeys in the wild seem to indicate that this is not the case, although the animals have a unique set of anatomical, reproductive and behavioral characteristics.

Leila Porter, a biological anthropologist at the University of Washington, has spent nearly four years observing callimicos (Callimico goeldii) in the Amazon basin of Northern Bolivia. Her pioneering fieldwork has collected the first detailed data of the ecology and behavior of the animals, an endangered species, in the wild. Among other things, her observations show callimicos eat fungi during the dry season, making them the only tropical primate species to subsist on this food source for part of the year. They also have a different reproductive strategy from other small New World monkeys. Callimicos (Latin for beautiful little monkeys) have the capacity to give birth to a single offspring twice annually while their closest primate relatives marmosets, tarmarins and lion tarmarins give birth to twins once a year.

Porter's findings have just been published in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology in a paper she authored with Paul Garber, a biological anthropologist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Callimicos have been mystery monkeys of South American because they are difficult to observe in the wild," she said.

The animals are all black, unlike their marmoset and tamarin relatives who have bright and showy coloration or features. Callimicos are timid and live primarily below 10 meters in the understory of Amazonian rainforests in Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Peru
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
15-Jun-2004


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