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Fatal attack on black-tufted-ear marmosets (Callithrix penicillata) by a Boa constrictor: a simultaneous assault on two juvenile monkeys


Here we report the first witnessed attack on a marmoset by a constrictor snake. The incident occurred mid-morning in a gallery forest within an altered landscape of the Cerrado region of central Brazil and refers to a fatal attack by a Boa constrictor on two juvenile black-tufted-ear marmosets (Callithrix penicillata) simultaneously. The snake captured both individuals at a height of ~4 m while a group of eight marmosets traveled through the subcanopy. The actual strike was not seen. After 2 min, the boa fell to the ground with both marmosets in its coils and proceeded to kill one animal at a time through constriction. Two adult marmosets immediately descended to where the snake held its victims on the ground and attacked it. The snake showed no apparent reaction, and after ~1–2 min, the adults rejoined the remaining group members that were mobbing and vocalizing from 5 to 6 m above. The group left the scene ~7 min after the onset of the attack and was not seen again. The snake loosened its coils 10 min after its initial strike, left the two carcasses on the ground and stayed behind a nearby tree. Thus, we are not sure if the victims were in fact ingested. This report confirms that marmosets are vulnerable to boid snakes and capable of highly organized and cooperative antipredation behavior. It also suggests that snakes pose a greater threat to callitrichids than previously thought.

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This study was supported by the Brazilian Ministry of Health (SVS/MS). MB received a researcher fellowship from the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq 303331/2012-7). These funding sources had no involvement in the study design, data collection, analysis or interpretation, writing the manuscript, or decision to submit it for publication. The authors would like to thank GT-Arbo (Grupo Técnico das Arboviroses/SVS/MS), the Flavivirus Laboratory (Fiocruz, Brazil), and the Health Departments of the state of Goiás and of the city of Campos Belos, Brazil, for their technical and logistical support, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the original version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marilia Barros.

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Teixeira, D.S., dos Santos, E., Leal, S.G. et al. Fatal attack on black-tufted-ear marmosets (Callithrix penicillata) by a Boa constrictor: a simultaneous assault on two juvenile monkeys. Primates 57, 123–127 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-015-0495-x

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  • Black-tufted-ear marmoset
  • Boid snake
  • Fatal attack
  • Antipredation behavior
  • Brazil