Sensory capacities of common marmosets

It is important to understand how marmosets perceive the world if we are to be able to cater for their welfare needs.


  • Like other primates, including ourselves, marmosets rely mainly on their sight
  • Vision is used to look out for possible threats, to find fruits, and catch prey and to watch other marmosets
  • High acuity and binocular vision, with overlapping visual fields, allows them to judge depth and distance

Colour-blind Vision

<strong>Fruit as seen by a trichromat</strong><br/>(some female marmosets) <strong>Fruit as seen by a dichromat</strong><br/>(all male and some female marmosets)
  • All males are dichromatic – what we would call “colour blind” although they can see colour. They confuse reds, greens, browns and oranges that all look similar. Females have either trichromatic vision (like most humans), or dichromatic vision like the males
  • Remember this when selecting coloured targets for training marmosets


  • Marmosets can hear higher frequencies (higher pitches) than humans
  • Sources of ultrasonic frequencies in the captive environment can worsen welfare (e.g. dripping tap, overhead lights, some computer monitors)
  • Some of the calls made by marmosets are too high-pitched for humans to hear (some of their seep and tsik calls)
  • Music is not necessarily enriching for marmosets. When given a choice between music and silence, monkeys prefer silence


  • Marmosets have a keen sense of smell, with specialised scent organs
  • Smell can lead them to food, provide information on the ripeness of fruits and alert them to predators
  • Scent markings are used to communicate
  • Scent marks provide information about the identity of the marker and may also have a territorial role


  • Taste (along with smell) helps marmosets to identify and select foods
  • Providing tasty (but healthy) food is a good way to enrich marmosets


  • Receptors in their skin cells respond to touch, pressure and temperature
  • These sensations guide marmosets’ behaviour
  • Access to a wide range of different textured surfaces (hard, soft, spongy, smooth, rough etc.) is rewarding to them
  • Touching contact with other marmosets (grooming, huddling, nuzzling etc.) is very important
  • Social relationships are formed and maintained through friendly tactile behaviours
  • However, there is no evidence that marmosets enjoy being stroked or directly touched by humans. For this reason, handling should be restricted to the absolute minimum necessary
  • It may also help marmosets cope better with stress