In the Wild

  • Marmosets have a very varied diet
  • They feed in the early morning and early afternoon
  • At least half their day is spent foraging for food
  • They have to work very hard to get their food:
    • chasing and catching insects
    • gnawing at trees for gum
    • searching for fruiting trees using their memory to help find them
    • climbing and hanging down to reach the fruits and then getting through the tough outer skin to the fruit inside

In Captivity

  • In captivity, marmosets need to be provided with a range of appetising and nutritious food
  • Marmosets are selective eaters
  • Feeding affects growth, disease resistance, lifespan, breeding and susceptibility to stress
  • Commercially available dry pellets containing the necessary nutritional components of their diet should be supplemented with a variety of other foods:
    • fresh and dried fruit
    • vegetables
    • seeds and nuts
    • animal protein (e.g. insects, mealworms, boiled chicken and hard boiled eggs)
  • Marmosets should also have access to as much water as they wish to drink
  • They need dietary supplements to avoid metabolic bone disease
  • Vitamin D3 should be given as a supplement as the marmosets cannot make it in their own body
  • Feed marmosets several times a day to match their natural eating times
  • Provide food in several food dishes, and water at several points, to make sure everyone gets some
  • Place the food dishes at least a metre above the ground (marmosets prefer to feed and eat higher up where they feel safer, especially if they are carrying infants on their back)
  • Marmosets are susceptible to other problems related to diet (e.g. problems with their teeth, being underweight or overweight), particularly when kept as pets
  • For further dietary advice (nutrition, quantity, feeding methods etc.) see EAZA Husbandry Guidelines – section 2.2

Food Enrichment

Food should be presented to the marmosets in a way that encourages their natural food finding behaviour: foraging, gnawing, catching insects, finding, reaching and getting into fruit.

Introducing new foods and novel textures stimulates the marmosets’ curiosity and interest.

Importantly, food used for enrichment should be restricted to the types and quantities within the normal daily diet. Using extra food can lead to obesity.

Important: Always assess safety of any enrichment before and after introduction.

Artificial Gum

  • Providing artificial gum inside hanging film canisters and bamboo tubes encourages the marmosets to work to get to it
  • Gum arabic can be used as a substitute for tree gum in the wild

Live Insects

  • Live insects attract lots of attention. Marmosets chase, stalk and pounce on them. Some are more experienced at catching insects than others
  • Insects that can be safely introduced include: crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts

Live Mealworms

  • Mixing live mealworms into the sawdust, or other substrate, encourages foraging behaviour
  • Mealworms can be introduced inside a large perspex box (with ventilation holes) to prevent the live mealworms entering drains etc.

Unprocessed/Whole Food

  • Food is often chopped up to make sure all the group members get their share
  • However, leaving skin on bananas, apples or other fruits or giving peanuts in their shells increases the time taken, and effort required to get to the food inside
  • Food should first be washed thoroughly to remove any pesticides

Hanging Whole Fruits

  • Fruit (e.g. banana; apple; orange) can be hung, whole or in segments using non-bleached string and speared with bamboo skewers
  • In the wild marmosets have to hang upside down to feed on dangling fruits and flowers
  • Enrichment of this kind encourages this natural behaviour
  • The fruits swing around, providing a challenge to the marmosets as they attempt to reach the food and requiring them to balance

Frozen Fruit Juice (sugar-free squash)

  • Fruit juice can be frozen, in plastic cups to create hanging or standing ‘lollies’
  • Food frozen inside can be picked out as the juice melts

Novel Foods

  • For example: mini-corn; mange-tout; pomegranate; mango; peppers
  • Some novel foods quickly become popular while some are as swiftly ignored!

Novelty: Frozen Banana

  • A whole peeled banana can be lightly frozen and introduced as a novelty
  • The banana is of an unexpected temperature and texture, which changes as the banana slowly warms to room temperature

Soaked Pellets

  • Dry pellets can be made more attractive to the marmosets by changing their texture
  • This can be done by soaking dry pellets in a tray with:
    • sugar-free, diluted fruit squash drink: gives taste and softens the texture
    • sugar-free fruit jelly mix: gives taste and a gummy, pliant texture

Scatter Feeding

  • To promote foraging behaviour, dry food can be mixed into the floor substrate
  • Scatter feed mix can also be placed in an elevated box to allow foraging higher up where marmosets are more active