Food and Diet Tips for Finger Monkeys
All domestic pets are reliant on their owners for their well-being, care and love. A big part of caring for any pet is to ensure that it is provided with the type of food and hydration (water and other liquids) on which it will thrive and remain healthy. There are few things more depressing – and potentially expensive – than a sick pet. So, if you have made the decision to invest up to $4000 in an exotic pet (that means a pet which is foreign to this environment or country), do make sure that you provide it with the environment and care that will allow you to enjoy its company for the next ten to fifteen years – or longer. Finger monkeys – or pygmy marmosets as they are properly called – have a lifespan of eight to twelve years in the wild, but can live for up to eighteen years in captivity.
There are a few reasons why finger monkeys enjoy a longer lifespan in captivity. One factor is your ability to control their diet and feed them with the nutrients needed for a healthy existence. Another reason that finger monkeys may thrive in your home are that they do not face the usual predators which they would in the forest, such as birds of prey, snakes and wild cats. A third reason is that you have “rescued” them from the destruction of their habitat in the South American rainforests, which is leading to a decline in their numbers in the wild. So having “saved” him, make sure you don’t kill him from neglect.
Food is an essential part of taking care of any animal. It is one of the major influences on keeping them healthy and happy. Finger monkeys are no different; they need food to survive, with one important exception: they have a special finger monkey diet, which you must provide on a daily basis if they are to thrive and provide you with the enjoyment of a happy and healthy pet.
Most diets for exotic animals are determined by looking at what they would normally eat in the wild. As a reference, in their natural habitat the finger monkey is “omnivorous”, meaning that they eat a variety of different foods, both plant and animal. The finger monkey is also known as an “exudativore” – an animal which primarily eats the gum or sap (exudate or secretions) of trees; they do this by gouging a small hole in the bark of a tree, thus releasing the sap, which they then lap up with their tongue. They are also “insectivores” – an animal which eats insects like locusts, beetles, bugs and butterflies. One study (Soini, 1988) has shown that pygmy marmosets in the wild spend 60-80% of their feeding time on exudates, 12-16% on insects, and the remainder of their diet is supplemented with a variety of flowers, nectars, fruits and the occasional small lizard or reptile.
But when they are held in captivity as pets or in a zoo, the finger monkey diet adapts accordingly.
Before you decide what’s on the menu, you should decide what kind of finger monkey you want to have. Some potential owners like to go for the infant monkeys because they are really tiny (about the size of a human thumb) and cute as a button. Just be aware that raising an infant is almost akin to raising a human baby: they require two-hourly feeds of infant formula, and to be fed lying on their stomach with slightly upturned head so as not to choke on the food. This routine, for at least the first two to three weeks, takes a degree of commitment demanded of any new parent. Like a human infant, it will eventually be weaned onto solid foods and start to feed itself. But it must be noted that pygmy monkeys are highly social animals who take care of their young in a family setting: the infant will be carried by the father until weaned, and taken to the mother at regular intervals for nursing. Other family members in the troop of up to nine members in the wild will also care for the newborn. So separating the infant from the family unit soon after birth can be an irreparably traumatic experience for the baby finger monkey.
If you have bought your finger monkey from a reputable pet store which is experienced in the handling and care of exotic pets – especially primates, of course – then they will advise you on the necessary diet and care of your pet, until you get into the swing of identifying what your monkey likes and dislikes. Remember that finger monkeys are omnivorous, and are capable of adapting to a variety of foods not usually found in the wild.
Some of the more specialised foods, such as Arabic gum, butterflies and crickets, bugs and small reptiles, may be hard to come by from your local pet store or supermarket. But most of it can be ordered online if you’re willing to incur the extra costs of shipping in these monkey delicacies. If not, you should be able to pick up most essentials from your local store.
To give you an idea, here is a list of foods that you will easily find in your specialised pet shop or local grocery store:
- infants formula for the newborn finger monkey (check with your veterinarian)
- chopped or small fresh fruits
- fresh leaves
- monkey biscuits
- nectar from tropical flowers
- oatmeal and rice cereals
- insects like crickets, butterflies, moths and ants
- small lizards and spiders
- hard-boiled or scrambled eggs
- cooked chicken, turkey or fish
Finger Monkey Diet Tips
As with all living creatures, finger monkeys need plenty of water and other liquids to keep them well-hydrated. An insufficient supply of water may lead to a range of ailments due to dehydration. Needless to say, avoid giving them unhealthy drinks such as concentrated fruit juices, soft drinks, coffee and alcoholic beverages, since these are potentially harmful to the small primates. Make sure that you add a variety of the following liquids to your shopping list:
– almond milk or fresh goat’s milk
– clean drinking water (non-fluoride)
– diluted or organic fruit juices
– artificial sap or gum from tropical trees
As noted above, your finger monkey will adapt to eating cooked meat, such as chicken or turkey. A varied and healthy diet which includes the above suggestions should be enough to ensure that your finger monkey is getting all of the carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals which they need to maintain their health. Vitamin supplements should not be necessary, but on the advice of a veterinarian you could provide Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin D3, which they would normally get from their primary diet of tree sap in the wild.
A healthy and varied diet will therefore cost you in the region of $100 up to $300 every month which, when you come to think of it, is quite a lot of grub for one so small!
Once your finger monkey has arrived in your care, remember that you have to be responsible enough to feed them every day. The sooner you get into a well-balanced food routine, the longer you will likely have to enjoy its company for many years to come.
An equally important reminder is to ensure that your finger monkey’s cage is cleaned regularly and thoroughly. They have a very pungent-smelling urine which will give your home an unpleasant smell unless regularly cleaned out. For this reason, some pet owners prefer to fit a tiny diaper onto their finger monkey, but this is probably not worth the effort as long as the cage and its surrounds are cleaned regularly. We shouldn’t need to remind you, as well, that these monkeys remain essentially wild animals, and cannot be properly “house-trained” like your cat or dog.
A memorable reminder of this was in November 1979 when a staff member of the San Diego Zoo brought a pygmy marmoset onto Johnny Carson’s Tonight talk show, and it proceeded to urinate on Carson’s head. As the saying goes: You can take the monkey out of the bush, but you can’t take the bush out of the monkey.
in Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 June 30. Primate Factsheets: Pygmy marmoset (Callithrix pygmaea) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/pygmy_marmoset. Accessed 2018 June 13.