Tales of the TailsShades of Gray

February 14, 2020

Imagine you’re walking through the Virginia Zoo’s World of Reptiles exhibit space. You’ve seen dozens of cold-blooded species, but did you imagine seeing something warm-blooded? It’s true – this climate-controlled, indoor space isn’t only the perfect environment for reptiles and amphibians, but also for a variety of mammalian species, including the fluffy and dainty titi monkeys.

The titi (pronounced teetee) monkeys found at the Zoo are Bolivian gray titi monkeys, one of several different titi monkey species. Bolivian gray titi monkeys are gray and chestnut brown in color. Their ears are lighter in color, so they are also called white-eared titi monkeys as a result.

This particular species is found in the Amazon River basin, living in the lower canopy and understory of the rainforest close to rivers and swamps. They are primarily arboreal and rarely descend to the ground.

Their diverse native habitat offers a variety of foods to eat including different fruits, seeds, leaves and the occasional insect or invertebrate. Instead of eating one big meal, the monkeys often forage periodically throughout the day, leaving a brief period mid-day for some necessary downtime and rest.

Titi monkeys are monogamous, meaning they only have one mate at a time, often for life. Grooming is one method of social bonding between pairs and family groups, but tail twining is also another way to reinforce bonds. Perhaps one of the cutest behaviors these monkeys display, tail twining is when two or more individuals sit next to each other and wrap their tails together. Say it with us now – awww.

But there’s nothing adorable about what’s happening to this species in the wild. Although they are listed as a least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the monkeys face threats including deforestation of their native habitat. Occasionally monkeys and other species also fall victim to the wildlife trade where they may illegally become pets to people who may not understand their specialized needs and how best to care for them. Even though they may look cuddly, the primates prefer the company of each other. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog later this month explaining why animals under the Zoo’s expert care don’t always make the best pets for your average pet-owner.

Enough about the species as a whole, let’s meet the Zoo’s pair of titi monkeys! This dynamic duo has been together since May 2018, when they were recommended as a pair by the Species Survival Plan®. While the SSP® often pairs individuals together for potential breeding, the purpose of this program can also be to recommend pairings for social companionship. Our two titis, Ziggy and Paris, are actually cousins and now, in human terms, best friends.

Ziggy is the Zoo’s male titi monkey. He will turn 18 on March 5. Ziggy’s favorite foods include grapes, blueberries, bananas, red peppers, peanuts and sunflower seeds. He enjoys rummaging through scattered food for enrichment and can often be seen climbing the branches and ropes in his exhibit. Keepers say he can be cautious around new animal care staff, but once he gets to know a Zoo Keeper he will gladly participate in training sessions.

Paris, the Zoo’s female, just turned 17 on February 7. She enjoys eating and doing all of the same things as Ziggy, but is more shy than her male companion. Keepers say once she is offered food, she becomes more at ease around them. Paris can frequently be seen twining tails with Ziggy, which staff and Zoo Fans alike cannot get enough of.

In the cooler months, the pair can be seen on exhibit inside of the World of Reptiles building and will have access to their outdoor exhibit when the weather is warmer. If you haven’t yet seen the pair, be sure to do so on your next visit to the Zoo.