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Common Name: Cotton-Top Tamarin
Scientific Name: Saguinus oedipus

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Callitrichidae
Genus: Saguinus
Species: S. oedipus


The Saguinus oedipus, commonly known as the Cotton-top Tamarin, is an extraordinary monkey like no other. Whether you look upon it in  amazement, curiosity, or beauty, this primate is one to be noticed.  All the way from Colombia to South America or even your local zoo, this exquisite creature has a lot to offer the world.  Saguinus oedipus - those two words make an extraordinary animal that should be known to men forever!

The Cotton-top has beautiful fur with a variety of colors covering its body. A deep black colored fur runs down the back, along the face and on the tip of the tail while the underbelly is covered with snow white. That leaves the inner thighs and rear end a reddish orange. The Saguinus oedipus have a crown of fur on their head that resembles a lion’s mane.  They are very well known for this and it distinguishes them from others; hence the term “cotton-top.”  This species of monkeys is tiny, weighing between 10 and 18 ounces, usually not even a pound!  They are about the size of squirrels.  Males and females differ only slightly in size, the males being only a bit larger.  Measuring from the head to the end of the body tends to be around 17 centimeters, and from the end of the body to the tip of the tail is 25 centimeters.  Their long tail and limbs help them move around and makes them excellent jumpers.  Their fingers are non-opposable, but they possess claws that help them grip objects such as branches.

The Cotton-tops are found in Southeastern Costa Rica, Northwestern Colombia, and South America.  They favor tropical rain forests and dry, deciduous forests.  They adapt very well to secondary forest fringes and can live in relatively disturbed habitats.  They prefer the lower parts of the forests and are commonly found in trees. They spend the majority of their life in trees, although you can also find them on the ground.

The population, according to the IUCN, is critically endangered.  There are less than 1000 of this species left in the wild, and only 1800 being held in captivity.  This number is so small and it continues to dwindle.  The main reason the population is declining is due to humans; cutting down forests, or these monkys’ homes.  Other reasons include pet trade and scientific research.  We need to take action today if we can hope to save these astounding primates!

 Being omnivores, the Saguinus oedipus has a pretty wide range of food.  They feed on frogs, lizards, saps, gums, nectars, and spiders.  Although this list is long, their diet is mostly composed of insects and fruit (this makes up 80% of their diet). They get the water they need from the fruits they eat and from licking the dew off trees. These monkeys spend most of the day roaming around searching for food and have canines larger than incisors that help them break down food.  The biggest competition for food is from the common marmoset or Callithrix jacchus.

 Cotton-top Tamarins are very fast and agile which makes them hard to catch and tough prey. They evade predators by jumping from branch to branch and tree to tree.  The ones that do get caught are eaten by birds such as hawks, snakes, and small cats.  Humans are even considered predators!  In this case, they are caught and sold in illegal pet trade where they are highly valuable.

 Cotton-tops are very territorial; they mark their land with their scent glands. They communicate through whistles and sharp sounds across the forest.  Unlike some monkeys, they use their tails for balance, not to grasp and swing.  Females give birth about once a year to twins.  The male is the main caretaker while the only thing the female does is feed the babies.  Tamarins live longer in captivity, the average lifespan 25 years, but in the wild only average about 14 years.

 No matter how long they live or where they are, they are amazing creatures. They are like no other monkey! Don’t believe me? To find out how wonderful they are, go see for yourself.  You can find them at your local zoo or in Columbia, whichever is better for you. Then you’ll see the true beauty of these creatures!

Author: Hannah H.
Published: 02/2011







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