Saguinus imperatoremperor tamarin

Geographic Range

Emperor tamarins inhabit vast Amazonian tropical forest regions in southeast Peru, northwest Bolivia, and northwest Brazil. Several river drainages in Peru, including the Acre, Purus, and Jurua have populations of this species.


Saguinas imperator is found in various forms of light, dry-bottom to densely grown Amazonian forest margins in seasonally inundated regious. If these areas, their territories are between 75-100 acres and also span open woodlands and secondary growth. This species is arboreal, spending most of its time in trees,usually below 80-95 feet elevation.

Physical Description

Emperor tamarins are approximately 9.2-10.4 inches in body length with a tail length of 14-16.6 inches. They are relatively light weight, reaching only between 10.7-14.2 oz at full size. The "Emperors" are mainly gray on their bodies, with a mixture of fine yellow hair on their backs and a rusty-red scattering of color on their breast. They also have a silvery brown crown, black hands and feet, and a reddish brown tail. Most characteristic of this species is its extremely long, white moustache that hangs down to its chest (and extends past its shoulders when laid back) in two strands. Like most tamarins, this species has claws on all of its fingers and toes except the great toe, which has a nail. The dental formula of emperor tamarins is (i2/2, c1/1, pm3/3, m2/2).

  • Average mass
    518.5 g
    18.27 oz


These groups contain several sexually mature members, in particular, 2 adult males. Group members are ranked by sex and age such that the oldest female has the highest rank. In addition to helping at birth, both males of the group help rear the youngest members, and the younger members act as porters.

The estrous cycle of Saguinas imperator is about 15 days, and the female mates with the all of the males of the group. The gestation period lasts from 140-145 days, after which 1-2 young are born (rarely 3). Most of these tamarins become sexually mature around 16-20 months of age. The life span of this species is between 10 and 20 years.

  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    140 to 145 days
  • Range weaning age
    2 to 3 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    16 to 20 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    16 to 20 months

The father (usually both males of the group since the exact father can not be determined) usually helps with the baby's birth, receiving it at the end of partruition and washing it. A newborn Emperor is completely helpless, weighs approximately 1.2 oz (35 g.), and has a coat of short hair. A mother feeds her baby every 2-3 hours for about a half hour each time, after which she returns the baby to the father. The babies ride on the backs of their parents for 6-7 weeks, and at around 2-3 months of age they go through a weaning period.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female



Emperor tamarins are active by day and are very graceful, friendly, and playful monkeys. They are "leapers" in their motor behavior and move through trees with rather quick, jerky movements. This species also displays a need for tenderness, as in captivity they love to be stroked by hand and will actually lay on their backs in hopes of extra petting attention. Emperors generally live in groups of 2-8 individuals (up to 15).

Emperor tamarins have often been observed living in association with other tamarin species. For example, in parts of southeastern Peru, Emperors live in association with saddle-back tamarins. The two species occupy a common set of territorial boundaries, exchange vocal calls, and are able to coordinate their movements without seeing the other group. This type of relationship is seen between Emperors and several other species tamarins, and it is believed to be advantageous to both groups of the association by aiding with the detection of and defense against predators, and allowing more efficient food harvesting.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet of Saguinas imperator consists mainly of fruits, insects, and tree sap. It feeds on fruit, flowers, and nectar of different species of trees, usually those with small crowns. Their light weight enables them to feed on the outermost twigs and branches of such trees, giving them access to food sources that are less readily available to larger monkeys. Emperor tamarins get most of the protein in their diet through eating invertebrates such as locusts, beetles, butterflies, spiders, and ants. Their small size also enables them to stalk large insects very discreetly. Emperors utilize tree sap that is left on trees from the previous tapping of other animals. The sap is an additional source of valuable carbohydrates and minerals. Emperor tamarins have also been known to eat smaller vertebrates such as lizards, tree frogs, and bird eggs.

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers
  • sap or other plant fluids

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The emperor tamarin is a rare zoo exhibit but is welcomed by any that have the opportunity to receive it. Other species of tamarins (such as Saguinas oedipus) are important in the pet and zoo trade.

Conservation Status

Saguinas imperator is considered endangered or threatened in Brazil and Peru, but in other areas of their terrestrial biome, the IUCN classifies their status as indeterminate. The clearing of forest habitat by humans is the main reason they are in danger. CITES Appendix 2.

Other Comments

Emperor tamarins were named after the Emperor of Germany, Emperor Wilhelm II. Taxidermists liked to play with these monkeys and twist up their moustaches to look like the Emperor instead of letting them droop in their natural position. Swiss zoologist Goeldi gave the species the name of "emperor" as a joke, but the name stuck and was soon given the Latin name of "Saguinas imperator". Their claws are believed to be an adaptation to their environment instead of a vestigal trait of their phylogenetic ancestors.


Taryn Eaton (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.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


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 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


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).


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.


specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.


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


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


MacDonald, Dr. David, ed. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Facts on File Publications, New York, 348-9.

Nowak, R.M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 440-1.

Chotch, A.F. 1979. Mammals-Their Latin Names Explained. Blandford Press, UK, 81.

Grzimek, Dr. Bernhard. 1968. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, Zurich, 376-7.