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What Is an Emperor Tamarin?

By Anna Harrison
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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An Emperor Tamarin is a very unusual looking primate, species name Saguinus imperator, that makes its home mainly in the rainforests of the Amazon basin in South America. It gets its name from its resemblance to the German Emperor Wilhelm II, who had a long white mustache similar to that of this unique animal. It is a small friendly monkey with a widely varied diet.

These small monkeys live in pairs or small groups, with the oldest female as the leader. They are fairly small, from 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 cm) tall. Their tails are longer than their bodies, about 15 inches (38 cm) in length. Very lightweight, these agile tamarins weigh just 10 to 14 ounces (.3 to .4 kg) when fully grown. In addition to their stately white mustaches, these primates can be recognized by their dark gray to black coats, yellow backs, and reddish chests and tails.

While the Emperor Tamarin prefers to live deep within tropical rain forests, it can also be found in open areas. It spends most of its day in the treetops, where it jumps from limb to limb, not touching the ground. It walks and runs on all four legs and uses its long tail to hold onto branches, thereby providing balance and stability. These types of the females are trichomats, i.e., they see in just three colors. All of the males and about one third of the females are dichromats, seeing in only two colors.

Emperor Tamarins are omnivores that eat a wide variety of plants, insects, tree sap, and small vertebrates. They love eggs and have been known to rob birds’ nests on occasion. Small lizards, frogs, spiders, beetles, and various fruits are all a regular part of their diet.

Within a group of Emperor Tamarin monkeys, the oldest female and two mature males are the only ones who mate. After a gestation period of about 140 days, two or three babies are born. All of the males in the group work together to care for the young. They are fully mature at 20 months and may live as long as 20 years or more.

The Emperor Tamarin is known to be very playful and friendly, and those kept in captivity love attention and being petted. They often groom each other, which increases the bond between these monkeys. When startled or scared, they will call to each other by making a loud crying sound.

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