What is a Finger Monkey?

By encino - Posted on 23 March 2015

finger monkey


The name "finger monkey" or sometimes "pocket monkey" isn't exactly a scientific name or even a common name for a particular monkey, it's just a monkey that can cling to somebody's finger or fit in a shirt pocket. Mostly, however, what has popularized the idea of a finger monkey are some images that have come out from zoos and rescue centers of baby pygmy marmosets clinging to the fingers of caretakers.


monkey finger


thumb marmoset


This species, the pygmy marmoset, weighing on average as adults a measly 3.5 ounces (100 g) and measuring only around 5 inches (127 mm) not counting the tail, is truly the world's smallest known monkey. That doesn't necessarily mean it is the smallest monkey in the world because maybe there are still smaller finger monkeys to be found! At least, we like to think so. A new dwarf monkey, the Roosmalens' dwarf marmoset was found deep in the Amazon only about 10 years ago. This species is considered the world's second smallest monkey and only weighs 5.5-6.5 ounces (150-185 g), not much bigger than the pygmy marmoset. So there may be a smaller monkey, some pygmy dwarf teeny tiny monkey, still out there in the dense Amazon forest waiting to be found (or maybe they are content to be unknown, out there scurrying and chit-chatting in the rainforest).


roosmalens dwarf marmoset

Roosmalens' dwarf marmoset


In fact, there are quite a few teeny-weeny monkeys in the same primate family (the Callitrichidae family) that includes all the marmosets and tamarins. As of writing, there are 42 known species in the family and they are a very interesting and colorful family. A family of dwarf tree monkeys of the Amazon basin and other rainforests of South America. They are all pretty small with the largest, the golden lion tamarin, only weighing 1.4 lbs (620 g) and a newborn only weighs a couple ounces. Wow, even the large adults might still be able to hang on to a sturdy human finger! Any of the tiny babies of the tamarins and marmosets could probably be classified as a “finger monkey”.


callitrichidae family marmoset tamarin

Callitrichidae primate family


finger monkey yellow hair


baby emperor tamarin

Emperor tamarin


full grown pygmy marmoset

Adult full-sized pygmy marmoset


Another good thing about the Callitrichidae family is that it is the only group of primates which give birth mostly to twins. That means where there is one finger monkey, there are usually two. One for each hand! In the wild they usually aren't clinging to human fingers of course but they are instead clinging to the backs of their parents until they feel safe enough to go foraging and playing on their own. Sadly though, in the wild many of these monkeys are struggling to survive due to habitat destruction.


geoffroy twin marmosets

Geoffroy's marmosets


We know what you might be thinking about the finger monkey. When many people see these images they exclaim something like “Oh so cute, where can I get one?”. While owning one of these monkeys is legal in many countries, you would have to check your local laws (some states in the United States prohibit the ownership of monkeys, check state laws here). Owning a monkey is not really a good idea unless you have a ton of free time you are looking to burn and you never want to go on vacation again (see monkeys for sale). Some people say that owning monkeys is high maintenance but others disagree. Anyway, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. Pygmy marmosets cost around $2,000-4,000, plus expenses for keeping them healthy and happy.


finger clinging monkey


golden lion tamarin newborn

Lion tamarin


Often, when people first see the monkeys, they are not sure if they are real. Well, we know that there are real ones, but there are some incredible fakes (or life-like dolls) out there as well that are also fun to take a look at. Could a doll be a satisfactory substitute for owning a real one? Do they look real enough that you could take a picture with one and trick your friends?


fake finger monkeys dolls


Where can I see a live finger monkey?

Your local zoo will most likely have some marmosets or tamarins. It might be a little more difficult to find recent newborns but some juveniles at least might be found. Animals born in zoos aren't always shown to the public right away until they are certified healthy and ready for the group exhibit. Some of these species are endangered and in special breeding programs so their caretakers have to be especially cautious with them. When you do go to see them you will need to be ready for quick action. These monkeys can visit 20 different tree branches and have 3 or 4 conversation in the space of 10 seconds.


common marmoset juvenile

Common marmoset


cotton top tamarin

Cotton-top tamarin


headshot marmo


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