Tamarin Facts

Tamarin Profile

Tamarins are a group of small tree-dwelling New World monkeys that largely inhabit tropical rainforests.

They have dexterous hands with non-opposable thumbs and long tails that can measure up to 17 inches in length.

Tamarin Facts

Tamarin Facts Overview

Habitat: Tropical rainforests, mountain forests, and regions
Location: Southern & Central America
Lifespan: Approximately 15 years in the wild
Size: 5 – 12 inches (body), 10 – 17 inches (tail)
Weight: 350 – 600 grams
Color: Black, brown, white, maroon, tan, grey
Diet: Fruit, insects, nectar, leaves, flowers
Predators: Snakes, birds of prey, wild dogs, and cats
Top Speed: 40 kph (25 mph)
No. of Species:
22 (19 subspecies)
Conservation Status:
Dependent on the species (range from unknown to decreasing)

There are 22 species of tamarin in the genus Saguinus and are closely related to lion tamarins, Goeldi’s monkeys, and marmosets.

Most are brown, dark red, or black, and some have colorings that make them look like they have mustaches. They are squirrel-sized, ranging from 5-12 inches in body length, with a tail that can almost double it up to 17 inches in length.

They live in family groups known as troops typically made up of 3-9 members in the trees. They are exceptional climbers and extremely agile, able to run and jump with ease through the canopy.

Their canine-like teeth and sharp claws make them effective hunters and foragers. As omnivorous animals, tamarins consume a variety of fruits, leaves, nectar, and insects. In captivity, they can thrive on sweet potatoes, eggs, crickets, and vegetables such as green beans.

The conservation status of some tamarins is unknown; however, due to poaching and deforestation, some populations are, unfortunately, on a steady decline.

Interesting Tamarin Facts

1. Tamarins help forests flourish 

After consuming fruits, tamarins will excrete seeds through their faeces and spread them through the forest. The excrement acts as a nutritious fertilizer for the seeds, which will germinate and develop into new trees 1

Golden Handed Tamarin

2. They live in exceptionally social family groups

Tamarins live in social groups that include parents, offspring, and other tamarins who have migrated from other groups. They can join groups that live in troops of up to 40 members, though typically they are much smaller.

Together, they collaborate to protect the group from predators and look for new food sources.

3. Vocalizations allow tamarins to work as a team

To inform the group about predators, tamarins release specific calls and sounds. They also use vocalizations to warn intruders not to encroach on their territory.

Tamarins are thought to have over 38 different types of vocalizations.

Cotton-top Tamarin

4. Grooming is used as a way to bond

Tamarins are routinely seen practicing social grooming. In addition to keeping their coats healthy, these grooming rituals create strong bonds between group members.

5. Breeding relationships are polyandrous

In many species, there exists a polyandrous mating system. This means that one dominant female will mate with multiple males within the group.

White-lipped tamarin

6. Different species can coexist in harmony within the same space

Emperor tamarins have been observed living with Saddleback tamarins within the same trees.

Emperor tamarins lived in the higher branches while the Saddlebacks inhabited levels closer to the ground. Both species were on the lookout for mutual predators and would help the other escape.

7. Tamarins are diurnal animals

Most active during the daytime, tamarins are categorized as diurnal animals. Most primates are diurnal.

8. Males actively participate in the rearing of their young

Fathers care for their offspring and have even been found assisting mothers during birth. They will share in the rearing of young tamarins through their early stages of development.

9. Young tamarins are heavy at birth  

Tamarins are usually born in pairs, and they are unexpectedly heavy at birth, weighing in at almost 20 percent of their mother’s body weight.

10. They are incredibly intelligent

In a study conducted at Harvard University, tamarins displayed impressive abilities in a series of intelligence tests. They exhibited remarkable abilities in tasks that required working memory, information processing, and executive control 2

11. Their tails cannot be used to grab objects

Tamarin tails are not prehensile, meaning they cannot use them to grasp or hang onto objects. Their long tails do however help them balance as they leap from branch to branch.

Pied Tamarin with long tail

12. Vaccines have been used to protect select populations

Some populations of tamarin have been vaccinated against certain viruses. These vaccination programs are meant to protect not only tamarin species but humans that live locally as well. 3 

13. Some species are still traded as pets

Despite it being an illegal practice, some tamarins are still hunted and sold as pets around the world. Continuous conservation efforts are in place to reduce these exchanges.

14. They have many threats from above and below

Due to their small size, they have plenty of predators from both mammals on the ground, animals in the trees and above in the air.

Snakes, birds of prey, wild dogs, and cats are all known to prey on tamarins!

Tamarin Fact-File Summary

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Callitrichidae
Genus: Saguinus
Subgenus: Saguinus, Tamarinus
Species: Golden-handed tamarin
Western black-handed tamarin
Eastern black-handed tamarin
Pied tamarin
Martins’s tamarin
Martins’s bare-face tamarin
Ochraceus bare-face tamarin
Cotton-top tamarin
Geoffroy’s tamarin
White-footed tamarin
Moustached tamarin
Spix’s moustached tamarin
Red-capped tamarin
White-rump moustached tamarin
White-lipped tamarin
Geoffroy’s red-bellied tamarin
Thomas’s red-bellied tamarin
Gray’s red-bellied tamarin
Emperor tamarin
Black-chinned emperor tamarin
Bearded emperor tamarin
Mottle-faced tamarin

Fact Sources & References

  1. Joel Saratore, “Cotton-top tamarin“, National Geographic.
  2. Amy Lavole (2019), “Individual primates display variation in general intelligence“, The Harvard Gazette.
  3. Golden Lion Tamarins“, Save the Lion Tamarin.