Discover the cotton-top tamarin, one of the smallest primates!

The cotton-top tamarin is a small New World monkey weighing less than 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) and one of the smallest primates.

What is the cotton-top tamarin?


The cotton-top tamarin is easily recognized by the long, white sagittal crest extending from its forehead to its shoulders. The species is found in tropical forest edges and secondary forests in northwestern Colombia, where it is arboreal and diurnal. Its diet includes insects and plant exudates, and it is an important seed disperser in the tropical ecosystem.

The cotton-top tamarin displays a wide variety of social behaviors. In particular, groups form a clear dominance hierarchy where only dominant pairs breed. The female normally gives birth to twins and uses pheromones to prevent other females in the group from breeding. These tamarins have been extensively studied for their high level of cooperative care, as well as altruistic and spiteful behaviors. Communication between cotton-top tamarins is sophisticated and shows evidence of grammatical structure, a language feature that must be acquired.

Conservation status

Up to 40,000 cotton-top tamarins are thought to have been caught and exported for use in biomedical research before 1976, when CITES gave them the highest level of protection and all international trade was banned. Now, the species is at risk due to large-scalehabitat destruction, as the lowland forest in northwestern Colombia where the cotton-top tamarin is found has been reduced to 5% of its previous area. It is currently classified as critically endangered and is one of the rarest primates in the world, with only 6,000 individuals left in the wild.

Social systems

The cotton-top tamarin is a highly social primate that typically lives in groups of two to nine individuals, but may reach up to 13 members. These small familial groups tend to fluctuate in size and in composition of individuals and a clear dominance hierarchy is always present within a party. At the head of the group is the breeding pair. The male and female in this pair are typically in a monogamous reproductive relationship, and together serve as the group’s dominant leaders.

Image: By T-34-85 – Own work, CC0
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Cotton-top tamarin.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.


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