Emperor Tamarin

Emperor Tamarin

Saguinus imperator
Population size
Life Span
20 yrs
40 km/h
220-900 g
23-26 cm

The small Emperor tamarin is probably the most adorable species of tamarin. This New World monkey is euphoniously called due to its long and white colored moustache, which is very similar to that of Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany. As other species of the Callitrichidae family (including tamarins and marmosets), this magnificent primate exhibits fine, silky and grey fur with dull gold or reddish-orange tail, white under-part and a silvery-brown to black head crown. Individuals of both genders generally look alike. Young tamarins are distinguished by noticeably smaller size and a shorter moustache.


Emperor tamarins are endemic to the southwestern part of Amazon Basin, occurring in southeast Peru, northwest Bolivia and northwest Brazil. The population in Peru is mainly found in Acre, Purus, Jurua and other river drainages. Ideal habitat for this species is lowland tropical rainforest, where the animals inhabit tree canopy of river basins. Other suitable types of habitat include lower montane rainforests, seasonally flooded forests, fringes of remnant and secondary forests, evergreen forests and broadleaf forest.

Emperor Tamarin habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

The Emperor tamarins are diurnal animals, which are active during the daytime hours. These approachable, playful and highly social creatures form units of up to 15 individuals with an average of 2 - 8. A typical group is made up of a breeding pair with their young of the past several years as well as migratory adult individuals, which are not related to the family. These animals display some territorial behavior, giving out certain calls, intended to announce of their presence and define boundaries of their home ranges. Community members sleep together, typically in large, detached trees. These agile primates are known to move between trees by very quick leaps. Vocalizations are an important part of their communication system. These include cries, which help them recognize friends, foes and interlopers. The Emperor tamarins also commonly practice social grooming, which is believed to enhance relationships between group members.

Diet and Nutrition

As omnivores, the Emperor tamarins consume food of both plant and animal origin from fruits, flowers, nectar, sap and gum to frogs, snails, insects as well as occasional small birds.

Mating Habits

Year-round in captivity, April-July in the wild
140-145 days
2 infants
15-25 weeks

The Emperor tamarins exhibit a polyandrous mating system, where each dominant female breeds with multiple males. While captive individuals don't have a defined breeding season, those in the wild generally mate in April-May. Two babies are born after 140 - 145 days of gestation. Since these animals practice communal care, all members of their group, including adult individuals of both genders as well as older siblings, help rear the infants. Males are generally busy with grooming the infants, whereas females have to clean the babies. The young tamarins start moving independently at 2 - 5 weeks old. They begin taking solid food at 4 - 7 weeks old. Complete weaning occurs within 15 - 25 weeks after birth. The age of reproductive maturity is 2 years old.


Population threats

The biggest threat to the population of this species is destruction of their forest habitat as a result of large-scale construction of major roads between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. On the other hand, Emperor tamarins suffer from human development in a form of cattle ranching and logging. Localized threats include capture for pet trade in some parts of their range.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Emperor tamarin is common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC), but its numbers are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Emperor Tamarins closely cooperate and share their habitat with Saddleback tamarins. The former species inhabits higher levels of the forest canopy, while the latter lives in the lower levels. Both of these animals watch for threats and help each other escape predators. Additionally, Emperor tamarins occasionally throw food to the lower levels of canopy, evidently sharing it with the Saddleback tamarins.
  • Group members are known to emit hisses, trills and long chirps to display threat or dominance to each other.
  • This species is so called due the similarity of its moustache to that of Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany. When playing with these primates, taxidermists often twisted up their moustaches (which usually droop), making the animals similar to the Emperor. Goeldi, a Swiss zoologist, was the first to call these tamarins 'emperors' in jest. As a result, the Emperor tamarins are now known by this ironic name. Additionally, they got the Latin name "Saguinas imperator".
  • The fingers and toes of the Emperor tamarins are equipped with claws, except for their halluces, which exhibit nails.
  • Most females of this species (about 2/3) display trichromacy, an ability to recognize 3 colors, helping them find ripe fruits, which compose an important part of their diet. All other individuals are dichromats, seeing 2 colors. However, they can still spot prey and camouflaged predators.


1. Emperor Tamarin Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_tamarin
2. Emperor Tamarin on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39948/0

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