Cotton Top Tamarin
Where do they live?
- Cotton top tamarins are New World monkeys that are only found in one place of the world--the tropical rainforests of northwest Colombia, South America.
What do they look like?
- Cotton Top Tamarins are about the same size as squirrels and weigh about one pound.
- They are named for the white tuffs of hair on top of their heads that looks like cotton.
- They have black faces with reddish brown hair on their bodies.
- Their long tails help them balance in trees.
- Males and females are about the same size, so they are not sexually dimorphic*.
- They have claw-like nails, rather than flat nails like we do. This feature helps them as they leap and bound high up in the trees, providing a strong grip.
What do they eat?
- Cotton top tamarins primarily eat fruit when it is in season. When there is less fruit to forage, they eat insects, leaves, or tree gum, and they have been known to eat bird eggs or other smaller vertebrates.
What is their social life like?
Conservation status and Threats:
- Cotton top tamarins monkeys live in groups of roughly three to thirteen individuals, with an average of seven.
- They have been studied in captivity but their social organization in the wild is not yet fully understood.
- Their social system is essential to the survival of the infants. They need help from other members of the group to raise their twin infants. Without help they would not be able to take care of both offspring.
- They stay in male dominated groups where there are usually one or two males with many females.
- A dominant female is the only breeding female in the group. The other females’ hormones are suppressed by this one breeding females behavioral domination. Because only one female breeds, there are more females in the group that are willing to take care of the infants. Males also play a role in raising and watching the infants in the first two months of their lives, when they require it constant care.
- Mothers usually give birth to twins, which is very unusual for primates.
- Cotton top tamarins use a wide variety of vocalizations to communicate. These vocalizations can be used to talk to others in their group,or to warn other tamarin groups where they are, and to scare off predators.
Conservation status and Threats:
- Cotton top tamarins are one of the most endangered primates in the world. They are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Cotton top tamarins are the most endangered primates in South America.
- The greatest threat to their survival is deforestation. Development of roads, buildings, and agriculture are impacting the Colombian rainforest ecosystem and destroying tamarin home ranges.
- In addition, cotton top tamarins are hunted, captured, and sold in the illegal pet trade. There are a number of efforts to end this practice and keep cotton top tamarins in the wild.
- Adding to the threats, some local communities may not be aware that cotton top tamarins are critically endangered. Conservation efforts are underway to educate the local communities on the problems that these monkeys are facing.
What does it mean?
- Sexually dimorphic means that the genders of individuals of the species can be determined by differences in appearance between males and females.
Video courtesy of ARKive.org
Written by Heidi Giancola, February 2016