Cute Monkeys Capture Hearts on East Main Street

This tight little family has moved in to the rainforest exhibit at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.
This tight little family of marmosets has moved in to the rainforest exhibit at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.

A little family of tiny monkeys quietly moved onto display at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead late last week, and they’re just beginning to come out of their shells and say hi to the public for the first time.

The three Geoffroy’s marmosets, a mother and her twin children, were donated to the Riverhead aquarium by the University of Nebraska in Omaha, where they’d been living with the rest of their family while their breeding habits were being examined.

Luckily for us, the Long Island Aquarium is part of a network of zoos, aquariums and academic animal facilities that match up animals for breeding purposes.

Zephyr looks after her babies while a photographer intrudes into their exhibit.
Zephyr looks after her babies while a photographer intrudes into their exhibit.

The mother, Zephyr, who is eight years old, and her children, Ricotta and Queso, who are two, were chosen to come to Riverhead because they aren’t breeding animals, and aquarium here could house non-breeding animals, freeing up room at other facilities for breeding pairs, said Candy Paparo, director of animal training at the aquarium, during a visit to see the marmosets on Tuesday.

In the wild, Geofroy’s marmosets live in family groups of up to 10 members in the Amazon rainforest. The tiny monkeys, which weigh less than a pound, have a wide-ranging diet, from snap peas to scrambled eggs to grapes, crickets and mealworms.

They also have specialized lower incisors that they use to gough out the bark of a tree and suck out tree gum. In Riverhead, they’re being given a naturally derived arabic gum, in addition to a prepared mix of food known as “canned marmoset diet.”

Queso and Ricotta dig their chow.
Queso and Ricotta dig their chow.

“They seem to really like their chow,” said Ms. Paparo, as she tried to gently wake the marmosets from an afternoon nap by jiggling keys in a nearby door.

She’s happy to see that these inquisitive little monkeys seem curious about their surrondings after just a few days on display. They don’t bare their teeth or make loud aggressive vocalizations or show their backside to visitors, as distressed monkeys can do.

Instead, they skit nervously out of their nesting box, bounding from vine to vine, staring intently out at the visitors, sometimes sticking their tongues out and mimicking the humans.

Eventually, said Ms. Paparo, the monkeys will likely be comfortable enough to get close to the glass of their display and interact with visitors, looking at their photographs and keys and communicating through subtle primate channels.

For the people watching them Tuesday, the main channel seemed to be eye contact. The marmosets stared intently out at their visitors, while the hushed human visitors smiled and looked right back.

This morning, on Christmas, there will be no visitors to the aquarium, but four of the dedicated nine-person animal training staff will be at work to give the marmosets, seals and other animals some attention over the holiday.

In the wild, marmosets live about 15 years, said Ms. Paparo, but at the aquarium, she’s hoping, they could live until they’re in their mid 20s.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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