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Tamarins are the smallest of the higher order primates that includes humans. They are commonly classified as one of the five families of New World monkeys. Its various species predominantly live in the equatorial jungles and rain forests of South and Central America.
Tamarins are members of the scientific family Callitrichidae, in the genus Saguinus. Most species are typically small, measuring one to 4.25 feet long (30-130 cm) excluding the tail, and weighing one-half to two pounds (220-900 g). Characteristically, they have sharp lower canine teeth that are longer than their incisor teeth. Even more characteristically, many species are identified and classified by mustache facial hairs. The Emperor Tamarin’s starkly white and dramatically downward curling mustache was allegedly named for its resemblance to the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
Spix’s Moustached Tamarin has tufted facial hair; the White-lipped Tamarin has a thin white mustache. Other species are identified and classified according to fur coloration, particularly if distinctive along the ridge of their spine, their back shoulder or mantle area, or their abdominal belly. There are two species of Black-mantled Tamarins. Several sub-species of Brown-mantled Tamarins are also collectively called Saddle-back Tamarins.
Tamarins are omnivorous. They consume fruits, insects, and small vertebrates such as birds. Many also feed on plant sap. They are diurnal, active by day, resting at night. True to their habitat, they spend most of their life in the canopy of trees.
Compared to other primates, tamarins have a few unique social and reproductive traits. While large troops have been observed, most tamarins associate in families of three to nine individuals that are said to be a “cooperative polyandrous group.” Only one female in the group is reproductively active and she is usually monogamous, but the entire group, including males, share responsibility for rearing young. Approximately 80% of births result in twins. Individuals reach maturity by the end of their second year.
There are many interesting species of tamarin. The Midas Tamarin is black with golden hands and feet. The Golden-mantle Tamarin is a near-threatened species endemic to the lowlands of the Andes Mountain Range in Peru and Ecuador with a bright orange upper torso. The bi-colored Pied Tamarin is an endangered species of the Amazon River basin. One of the better known tamarins, the Lion Tamarin, so named for a mane of fur surrounding its face, is classified in its own separate genus Leontopithecus.