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What Are the Different Species of Lion Tamarin?

By Angie Bates
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The lion tamarin is a type of small primate. There are four species of lion tamarin — the golden; the golden-rumped, or black; the golden-headed; and the black-faced, or Superagui — all of which belong in the genus Leontopithecus. All species have a tuft of hair around their head similar to a lion's mane, and all are endangered in the wild.

Native to the rain forests in Brazil, lion tamarins usually live under closed canopies and spend their time in the trees 33–98 feet (10–30 m) high — even sleeping in hollows in the trees. All species are about the same size, ranging from 8–13 inches (20–33 cm) long, with tails that are 12–15 inches (30.4–38 cm) long. Living in family groups of two to 11 monkeys, only one pair will breed, but the whole group will take care of the offspring.

Unlike most primates, tamarins have claws instead of fingernails. Their faces and hands lack fur and are darkly colored. Tamarins are mostly diurnal, preferring to be active during the day. All species but the golden-headed are omnivorous. They eat lizards, birds and insects as well as fruits and vegetables. Though the golden-headed will eat meat, their diets consist almost entirely of fruits, making them frugivorous.

The golden lion tamarin, Leontopithecus rosalia, is a solid golden color. They usually live about 15 years in the wild and up to 22 in captivity. It is estimated there are only 1,500 golden lion tamarins left in the wild, but about 450 are kept in captivity.

Named for the golden patch of fur on its hindquarters, the golden-rumped lion tamarin,Leontopithecus chrysopygus, is primarily black. These primates are known to occasionally live in swamps, but like the other species are endemic to Brazil. Counting both the wild and captive bred golden-rumped tamarins, there are about 700 in existence.

Like the golden-rumped tamarin, the golden-headed lion tamarin, Leontopithecus chrysomelas, also has black fur. Unlike the golden-rumped, however, the golden-headed tamarin's body is completely black with a golden mane, arms, and tail. Though still endangered, the golden-headed species is the most abundant of the four with a wild population estimated to be between 6,000–15,000.

Discovered in 1990, the black-faced lion tamarin, Leontopithecus caissara, is the only species which does not primarily live on mainland Brazil. Instead, this tamarin lives on an island off the coast called Superagui. This primate has golden fur, with a black mane, arms, and tail. No captive population for the black-faced tamarin exist, and estimates indicate that there are only 300–400 individuals living in the wild. This number may be underestimated, however, since more populations are being found on Superagui and mainland Brazil as research continues.

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