The Cotton Top Tamarin


The cotton top tamarin has a shock of white hair that extends from the top of the head.
The cotton top tamarin has a shock of white hair that extends from the top of the head.

Saguinus oedipus, or more commonly known as the cotton top tamarin is a New World primate that belongs to the Callitrichidae family. The cotton top tamarin can be found climbing and jumping through the tree tops of tropical forests in their home country of Columbia in South America. These primates were first described by Linnaeus in 1758.

These punk rock primates are known for the fluffy white hair that grows from the tops of their heads. Each cotton top tamarin has their own unique hair style: short, long, sleek or furry. Approximately the size of a squirrel and weighing less than one pound, the cotton top tamarin is known for being one of the smallest primates. These tamarins along with other members of the Callitrichidae family have sharp nails on all digits except for their big toes. The cotton top tamarin males and females are similar in size and shape, showing that they are not sexually dimorphic.

tamarin tong
Yummy fruit!

The cotton top tamarin is diurnal and spends most of the day searching for food. These arboreal primates have a high- energy diet and explore the trees in hopes of finding insects. Even though they are mostly insectivorous, they also eat fruit, sap, bird eggs, and lizards.

Cotton top tamarins are arboreal and live in family groups.
Cotton top tamarins are arboreal and live in family groups.

Cotton top tamarins live in family groups of 2-12 members in order to protect themselves from predators. At the core of the group is a dominant male and female who are the only members to breed. The female usually gives birth to twins once a year. This monogamous breeding causes the other immigrant adults to become reproductively suppressed. However, members of the group are pro-social and help the dominant couple take care of and raise their young. The big happy family engages in extensive food sharing and caring.

Moreover, the cotton top tamarins vocalize using more than thirty distinct sounds. These vocalizations are bird- like whistles, soft chirping sounds, high pitch trilling, and staccato calls. Research has shown that each call is associated with a different message. The cotton top tamarins talk to each other about food, warnings, locations, and other important issues. Recently, a family of five cotton top tamarins were observed whispering at the Central Park Zoo.


Unfortunately, the cotton top tamarins are classified as one of the most endangered primates in the world. This is because people continue to destroy their habitats and sell them illegally as pets. They are very sensitive to any alteration of their habitat. There are only a couple thousand cotton top tamarins left in the wild which makes them critically endangered. However, the Proyecto Tití is a multidisciplinary group designed to study cotton top tamarins in order to help preserve them. Many zoos have cotton top tamarins and are on board with educating the population about what harmful effects deforestation and the illegal pet market are having on the species livelihood.

Tamara, one of Disney's favorite cotton top tamarin!
Tamara, one of Disney’s favorite cotton top tamarins!  



More specifically, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has two different cotton top tamarin exhibits on site. Tamara, is a spunky adult that Disney has watched grow through the years. She is thirteen years old and has recently given birth to her 12th litter and 22nd infant. Researchers describe her as an energetic, unpredictable, and the exception to the rule. Apparently she has given birth to two sets of twins within one year, which is not normal for cotton top tamarins. Researchers believe she is more fertile than others because she is getting extra food. They have observed her stealing food from other family members. This type of behavior is extremely unusual for cotton top tamarins, however Tamara does not see a problem with it. Disney researchers say she snatches fruit and insects from other members of her family and they seem to tolerate it.

Tamara and one of her babies!
Tamara and one of her babies!


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