Cotton Top Tamarin Fact File


Cotton top tamarins are easily recognizable due to the mane of white hair around their head which comes to a Mohawk just above their eyes. On the rest of the face is black skin with banding of white or grey above the eyes. The back is brown while the underside is also white.

Their nails, known as “tegulae” have developed to be claw like meaning they can climb trees.

The tail measures 25cm (9.8in) long. It is coloured a reddish orange with a black tip. The tail is not prehensile.

Their body measures 20-30cm (7.9-11.8in) long. Their weight ranges from 400-450g (0.9-1.0lb).


Cotton top tamarins are omnivorous. A majority of their diet is insects. Fruits, sap, blossoms, leaves, nectar, bird’s eggs and small vertebrates also make up part of their diet. They also eat seeds dispersing them around the forest.

Cotton top tamarin

Scientific Name

Saguinus oedipus

Conservation Status



400-450g (0.9-1lb)


20-30cm (7.9-11.8in)


Wild 13 years

Captive 23 years



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South America is the native home of the cotton top tamarin. Here they are restricted to a small section of Colombia.

Cotton top tamarins are threatened due to their habitat being severely fragmented. It is believed that they are now found in just 5% of their historic range.


They are found in tropical rainforests and open woodlands. They can be found anywhere from the canopy to the ground but most of their time is spent in the lower levels of the forest.

Cotton top tamarin


Breeding takes place between January and June. Males and females pair up for life leading a group consisting of them and their previous young. Even if there is more than one female in the group only the dominant female will have young. The subordinate females may become pregnant but it will not be successful. The other females are only allowed to assist with the rearing of the young. This education helps them to successfully raise their young later on in life.

Following a successful mating non-identical twins are born 140 days later. These are around 20% of the size of their mother. They attach to the back of their parents with the father carrying the young most of their time apart from when they are being fed by their mother.

The twins begin to move on their own after about 10 weeks. At this point the rest of the family is given turns at carrying them. By 14 weeks they no longer need to be carried.

Sexual maturity is achieved at 18 months for females and 24 months for males. Females do not begin cycling, and thus are not able to breed, until they leave their family group to go form their own.

Females can breed twice a year in captivity but generally only breed once a year in the wild.


Groups of cotton top tamarins consist of 3-9 individuals. They have a dominant pair who lead their young who are yet to go off and form their own pairs. These groups forage in the day and spend the night sleeping in a tree. Throughout the night one of the tamarins will be on duty as a “guard” looking out for predators.

These groups maintain a home range by scent marking. If another group tries to enter this area they will flick their tongue, display their rear and turn the hair on their head into a fan.

A large amount of the day is spent grooming. Each member of the group is groomed equally. This allows them to maintain their bonds.

Predators of the cotton top tamarin include raptors, snakes, cats and mustelids.

Quick facts

In the past cotton top tamarins were threatened as a result of being collected for use in medical studies. They are still illegally poached as pets.

Photo Credits


By Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany (Punk) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


By Helenabella (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Savage, A. & Causado, J. 2014. Saguinus oedipus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T19823A17930260. Downloaded on 13 May 2020.

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