The Cotton-top tamarins are impressive primates with a characteristic white crest that is composed of long hairs, surrounding their neck. This unique animal exhibits a rather small body and a thick coat, which is brown on the back and shoulders. The head crest and legs vary in color from white to yellow. When moving through their forest range, these animals run along and jump between tree branches, using all of their four legs, which are almost the same size. All of their toes and fingers (except for halluces) are equipped with claws instead to nails, making these tamarins excellent climbers, moving with a squirrel-like manner. Currently, this species is among the most endangered primates, found in South America.
Endemic to northwestern Colombia, these primates typically live in secondary forests as well as edges of tropical rainforests of the region. However, the Cotton-top tamarins may occur in a wide range of habitats, including wetland tropical forests, moist woodland forests and dry thorn forest savannahs.
Cotton-top tamarins are very social primates, forming troops of up to 19 individuals with 3 - 9 on average. Each of these groups is composed of dominant male and female with their offspring of the year as well as a few sub-ordinate or young individuals of both genders, which serve as 'helpers'. The latter occasionally unite in smaller groups, leaving and returning to the territory of the main group. These animals display a highly territorial behavior, using scent marking technique to establish boundaries of their home ranges. A single group may occupy a territory of 7 - 10 hectares. During conflicts with other groups of conspecifics, these animals avoid physical behavior, instead demonstrating their rear and genital area. This behavior acts as a threat display, through which they defend their territory against outsiders.
As omnivorous creatures, the Cotton-top tamarins will consume a wide variety of food from fruits, sap, blossoms, leaves and nectar to insects, spiders, lizards, small tree frogs and eggs of birds.
The Cotton-top tamarin has a monogamous breeding system, which means that one male mates with one female exclusively. Breeding typically occurs between April and May. Gestation period lasts for 4 - 5 months, yielding 1 - 2 babies. Both parents display parental care, usually sharing responsibilities: while the mother cleans the infants, the father has to carry and groom them. Additionally, older siblings help parents rear new generation. However, infants prefer being carried by their parents. At 2 - 5 weeks old, the babies begin moving on their own. At 4 - 7 weeks old, they start taking solid food. Independence is reached within 15 - 25 weeks, while the age of reproductive maturity is typically 2 years old.
Currently, the biggest threat to the overall population of Cotton-top tamarins is continuous forest clearing for timber, charcoal, human settlements, agricultural lands and industry, leading to deforestation, due to which these animals have lost most of their original range. As a result, these primates are today found in isolated populations, inhabiting fragmented remains of their former habitat. Hence, these small populations are unable to successfully breed and sustain themselves. Population in northern Colombia suffers even more due to rapid development of human settlements in the area. On the other hand, deforestation opens way to once inaccessible range of Cotton-top tamarins, and these primates are often trapped by animal collectors and sold in port cities or exported.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Cotton-top tamarins is 6,000 individuals, including approximately 2,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) and its numbers continue to decrease.