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DIET: Omnivore

STATUS IN THE WILD: Critically Endangered

RANGE: Colombia


Cotton-top tamarins are very small primates ranging from three hundred to four hundred fifty grams, which is the equivalent of half to one pound. The name describes the crest of long, white hair around a small dark face. The body is small and covered in thick fur with brown on the back and shoulders and white or yellow chest and limbs. Hands and feet are roughly the same size, which is great for quick movement in trees. Their very long tail helps with balance. Tamarins and marmosets have evolved claws, instead of nails, on all fingers and toes except for the thumb. This is to assist them in climbing trees in a squirrel-like way.


Tamarins live in extended family groups between four and fifteen individuals, but most range between two and eight. These tamarins are territorial and use scent marking to define boundaries. Territories often overlap with occasional confrontation between groups. When this occurs individuals will fluff their fur and make loud calls to scare away intruders and attract members of their own group. They are most active during the day and spend almost all of their time in trees. When they are not searching for or eating food, most of the day is spent grooming each other.

There can be more than one adult of each gender in a group, although only one female will breed. This female will breed up to two times a year and will typically give birth to twins. The gestation period is around one hundred forty days or four to five months. Offspring are born helpless and are carried everywhere at birth. Co-operative care is essential for survival and development because they become independent after only two months. All group members help in raising offspring, which is unique among primates. Adult males help by carrying the young while the breeding and non-breeding females search for food. Other females do not breed because of behavioral domination and effects of the dominant pheromones and scent glands.


Cotton-top tamarins used to roam much of South America but are now confined to only Colombia.


Cotton-top tamarins are found in a variety of habitats from wetland tropical forest to moist woodland forest and dry forest.


Cotton-top tamarins feed on fruit, insects, small vertebrates, bird eggs, and tender vegetation. They get all of their water by licking leaves that are wet with rain or dew to avoid going down to the forest floor.

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