Everyone loves an underdog, especially when it's an incredibly small baby monkey named after a beloved actress.
tiny baby monkey that is being raised by the Houston Zoo
Credit: Courtesy of Jackelin Reyna / Houston Zoo

Primate keepers at the Houston Zoo got quite the surprise when they went to check on the residents of their Goeldi's monkey house Jan. 15. Clinging to a tree branch in the enclosure all by herself was an extremely small baby monkey. Too small, in fact.

Most Goeldi's (pronounced "gell-dees") monkeys, which are native to South America, are born weighing in around 50 grams or more, but this newcomer tipped the scales at just 34 grams (about the weight of a standard lightbulb), according to a news release. To date, the smallest hand-raised Goeldi's monkey to reach adulthood was born weighing 42 grams—8 grams heavier than Betty.

The abnormally small—but still so cute—Goeldi's monkey was given a mammoth legacy to live up to, dubbed "baby Betty" after the late Betty White, the beloved actress and animal activist who died Dec. 31. For the next several months, Betty will be hand-raised under constant veterinary supervision to ensure she gets the care she needs to survive and, hopefully, thrive.

After their discovery, the keepers immediately tried to reunite baby Betty with her mother, Kylie, but the first-time parent did not take to her newborn. At that point, the team decided she needed veterinary help and relocated Betty, Kylie, and father Opie to the zoo's animal hospital. That's where Betty will initially spend most of her time in a climate-controlled incubator. The zoo said it's "cautiously optimistic" the small monkey will survive.

In a video released by the zoo, Amy, one of the clinic's keepers, explained that being so tiny, Betty simply doesn't have the strength to properly hold onto her mom to nurse.

"We're feeding her every two hours, it's a round-the-clock job," she says. "It's hard to believe, but it does take a village [to raise] a monkey this small."

Betty's parents are being kept in the clinic with her in hopes the infant can bond with them once she is a bit bigger.

"The goal is to have Betty join mom and dad permanently once she's strong enough and transitions to solid food," Jessica Reyes, the zoo's public relations manager, said in an email.

The care team anticipates it will take more than three months to hand-raise Betty, during which time she will be within sight of her biological parents and they will be together as often as possible. Once she is successfully reunited with her family, the team hopes Betty will grow into a full-sized, healthy adult and join the zoo's Goeldi's monkey troop.

Betty is not the first primate the Houston Zoo team has helped raise. Last summer, the team successfully hand-raised Cleo, a ring-tailed lemur who was not gripping her mother tightly enough and was small for her age. In Betty's case, the care team is strictly following the guidelines of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for Goeldi's monkeys, which has helped rear Goeldi's monkeys elsewhere.

Meet the Goeldi's Monkey

Adult Goeldi's monkeys typically weigh around 1 pound, are 8–9 inches tall with 10–13 inch tails, and can jump around 13 feet without losing height. Goeldi's monkeys belong to the same family as tamarins and marmosets and live in the Amazon rainforest, where they are native to southern Colombia, western Brazil, eastern Ecuador and Peru, and northern Bolivia. They're often found in troops of two to 12.

Female Goeldi's are usually pregnant for five months before giving birth to a single baby. They then carry the baby on their back for about a month before the father gets his turn at carrying the baby. Goeldi's monkeys are typically weaned at 12 weeks of age, and the species is listed as vulnerable with the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Baby Betty has quite the road ahead of her, but her dedicated caregivers are giving her the best chance to make it. Betty may not live to the ripe age of 99 like her namesake, but Goeldi's monkeys can survive as long as 21 years under human care. Cheers baby Betty! We're all rooting for you, and a certain beloved icon may just be your guardian angel.