Leontopithecus rosaliagolden lion tamarin

Geographic Range

Lowland, coastal rain forest region in Southeast Brazil.


They reside in dense forest that is entangled with many vines and has a high density of fruit. The climate is extremely humid. They occupy the closed canopy, often remaining 10-30 meters off the ground. They sleep in tree holes for protection from predators and warmth at night. (Sherr, 1996)

Physical Description

The golden lion tamarin is between 200-366mm long (8-13in) with a tail length of between 315-400mm (12-15in). There is no sexual dimorphism. They have small, rounded heads adorned with a thick golden mane on the crown, cheeks, throat, ears and shoulders. Their bare faces are flat and have widely spaced nostrils. Their bodies are covered in long, soft silky hair with coloration ranging from pale golden to a rich reddish-gold. One interesting characteristic is that these tamarins have claws, not flattened fingernails. (Kleiman, 1981; Pearl, 1991; Sherr, 1996)

  • Average mass
    654.5 g
    23.07 oz


There is one breeding pair per group. The rearing of young is a cooperative effort by all in the group, although the majority is done by the father.

Golden lion tamarins normally breed twice per year, between September and March. Females give birth to twins after a gestation of 130 to 135 days. The age of sexual maturity is 18 months for females and 24 months for males.

  • Breeding interval
    Golden lion tamarins breed twice a year.
  • Breeding season
    Golden lion tamarins breed between September and March, the warmest and wettest time of year.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    130 to 135 days
  • Average weaning age
    90 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    547 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    24 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    730 days

At birth, the golden lion tamarin is fully furred with eyes open. It clings to its mother for the first few weeks and nurses for a period of 90 days. At about week 5, it begins to expand its curiousity and experience things on its own. In some cases, it has been observed that a parent prefers to tend to an offspring of its own sex, but with experienced parents, it did not make a difference. (Nowack, 1997; Pearl, 1991; Sherr, 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning


Golden lion tamarins live at least 15 years.


Golden lion tamarins are a social species. In the wild, they are found in groups of 2-8, often made up of family members. The groups comprise breeding pair, offspring of 1 or 2 litters and possibly other relatives. The groups are usually nuclear families, but can be extended families. These tamarins are territorial and defend their area with scent markings and vocalized threats. Some signs of aggression are an open mouth, an arched back and staring.

Golden lion tamarins groom themselves much like other primates. Mainly the males groom the females. Adults spend a lot of time grooming and huddling. The juveniles play a lot. They chase each other around and wrestle.

Their sleep patterns are regular: they sleep from dusk until sunrise, oftentimes with a midday nap.

They have a quad-gait, meaning they use all fours to get around. They run and walk through the trees and spring and leap between branches and vines. Even though they have very long tails, nothing has been discussed regarding if they use them to swing from or not.

(Kleiman, 1981; Sherr, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The golden lion tamarin is omnivorous (insectivorous and frugivorous). It eats spiders, snails, small lizards, eggs, small birds, fruits and vegetables. They eat insects using their long, slender fingers to probe into crevices in the tree bark. This technique is called "micromanipulation." It is uncommon that these tamarins will share food with others outside of their family members, but among the family members, some food sharing does take place. Juveniles, for example, playfully steal food from parents or siblings. (Sherr, 1996)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

At one time, people captured and sold golden lion tamarins as pets. Their rapid decline in numbers has thwarted many people's desires for these exotic pets. They were also exploited in zoos and used in laboratories. (Nowack, 1997)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Conservation efforts have made valuable land unavailable for human use. (Nowack, 1997; Sherr, 1996)

Conservation Status

The golden lion tamarin is one of the rarest of all mammals in the wild, if not the rarest. It is certainly one of the most severely endangered of all primates in the world. There are only 400 left in the world, most on or near the Reserva Biologica de Poco des Antas in Rio de Janiero. The destruction of their habitat has accounted for their loss in numbers. The trees they live in are cut down for lumber, agriculture and housing. Large treeless areas prevent their spread.

There is hope because they have been bred successfully in captivity and this is continually raising their numbers. Reintroduction into the wild has been successful.

(Sherr, 1996)

Other Comments

Predators include hawks and other raptors, cats and snakes. Golden lion tamarins have very distinct vocalizations, including about 17 specific calls used for things such as alarms, defense, etc. Their sounds include trilling for solo activity, clucking during foraging, whining for contact and long, song-like calls for vigilance. There is some sexual dimorphism in the calls.

(Sherr, 1996; Nowack 1997)


Sarah Frantom (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Kleiman, Devra G. 1981. Mammalian Species #148. American Society of Mammalogists, New York, New York.

Pearl, Mary Carliss. 1991. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Wildlife, Volume 5. Encyclopedia Britannica Corporation, Lakeville, Connecticut.

Abigail Sherr. 1996. http://www.si.edu/glt/

Ronald M. Nowack. 1997. http://press.jhu.edu/books/walker