Animal Facts

Cotton-Top Tamarin

Scientific Name: Saguinus oedipus

Fast Fact:

The cotton-top tamarin is one of the smallest primates, weighing 14.5 to 15.9 ounces in the wild, meaning it tops the scale at less than one pound!

Cotton-Top Tamarin

As with many endangered animals, there are more cotton-top tamarins living in captivity than in the wild. Around 1,800 of these small primates are living in captivity (over half of these are in research laboratories), and about 300 to 1,000 cotton-top tamarins are left in the wild in their home country of Colombia.

Status: The cotton-top tamarin is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The decline in their population is due in large part to the destruction of their forest habitat to create cattle pastures. Another factor greatly affecting population size is the demand for cotton-top tamarins in the local pet trade, as well as illegal exportations for biomedical research, both of which bring in enticing sums of money for the natives.

Habitat: Native only to Colombia, cotton-top tamarins can be found in the northwestern region of the country, normally between the Magdalena River and the Atrato River. Cotton-top tamarins live in various sections of the rainforest, from the humid, tropic forest to the dry, deciduous forest. Many have adapted to live in the secondary growth forests and along forest edges due to the deforestation of their homes.

Diet: The two staples in the cotton-top tamarin diet are fruit and large-bodied insects, accompanied by plant exudates and nectar. A high-quality, high-energy diet is paramount to this tamarin’s survival due to its small body size, limited stomach capacity, and fast food passage. In addition to their core diet, cotton-top tamarins have been known to eat small rodents, buds, leaves and shoots to obtain necessary nutrients.  

Physical Characteristics: Classified as one of the bare-face tamarins due to the extremely thin layer of hair on its black face, the cotton-top tamarin gets its name from the white, fluffy crest of hair on the top and back of its head. The rest of its body is a dark brownish black color, with the underbody, including the limbs and feet, made of the same cotton-colored hair as the top of its head. Unlike all other primates, the Callitrichidae family, which includes the cotton-top tamarin, has claw-like nails on every digit, excluding the big toe.

One Big Happy Family

Like many other primates, cotton-top tamarins live in groups of around three to nine members, only some of whom are related. A typical group is comprised of a dominant mating pair, their most current offspring and other unrelated males and females who participate in the group structure. The mating pair is often considered to be monogamous, yet the transient members of the group are sometimes promiscuous and do not play by the rules.

Giving birth to twins is most common for cotton-top tamarins and ignites the family instinct within each group. The males generally carry the infants on their backs with breaks every few hours for the mother to nurse her babies. All group members help in rearing the young, creating a communal breeding system referred to as “cooperative polyandry.” This family-like closeness is also shown by the extensive food-sharing patterns of the cotton-top tamarins, making each group appear to be one big happy family.   

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