Saguinus oedipuscotton-top tamarin

Geographic Range

Northwest Colombia


Cotton-top tamarins inhabit tropical rainforests, open woodlands, and secondary growth. They are sensitive to any alteration in their habitat.

Physical Description

Cotton-top tamarins are distinguished from other members of the genus Saguinus by possessing a crest of long whitish hair from the forehead to the nape flowing over the shoulders. Their back is brown and the underparts of the arms and legs are whitish to yellow. The rump and inner sides of thighs are reddish-orange. The base of the tail is also reddish-orange, while the tip is blackish.

Characteristics that distinguish callitrichids from other new world monkeys are modified claws instead of nails on all digits and the presence of two rather than three molars on each side of the jaw.

  • Range mass
    260 to 380 g
    9.16 to 13.39 oz


Saguinus oedipus has a monogamous breeding system. This species has a form of cooperative breeding, which isn't present in many other Primates. It consists of adult 'helpers' staying in the family and gaining breeding experience instead of breeding themselves. This may result in the highest reproductive potential of all primates.

Cotton-top tamarins are reproductively active seasonally with females being seen pregnant or suckling young only from January to June. They have an estrous cycle of 15 days and gestation lasts approximately 140 days. Sexual maturity is reached at 18 months in females and 24 months in males. Saguinus oedipus gives birth to non-identical twins twice each year.

  • Breeding interval
    Saguinus oedipus breeds twice each year
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    140 days
  • Average gestation period
    178 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    548 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    24 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    550 days



S. oedipus live in groups ranging from 1-19 individuals. However, the most common group sizes are from 3-9 individuals. These groups consist of a dominant mated pair, their young of the year, and a few subordinate or young animals of both sexes. These subordinate members tend to form small groups and migrate in and out of the home range of the main group. Also, these subordinates are the "helpers". Home ranges vary from 7-10 hectares. S. oedipus are also territorial and uses scent marks to define their territory. When coming into contact with other groups, instead of physical contact they will threaten the other group with the showing of their rear and genital area as a territorial display.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Cotton-top tamarins are primarily insectivorous; insects being 40% of their diet. They also eat a large amount of fruit which consists of 38.4% of their diet. Feeding on exudates, which is known as gum feeding, takes up 14.4% of their diet. Saguinus oedipus have an interesting characteristic which consists of food associated calls that are correlated with food preferences. Certain calls made by cotton-top tamarins were strictly associated with a feeding context and were not used in non-feeding contexts. However, it should be noted that there is a 3% error, when these specific calls are made in non-feeding contexts.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • sap or other plant fluids

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive


Economic Importance for Humans: Negative


Conservation Status

The main problems contributing to the cotton-top tamarin's status as endangered is the clearing of their forest habitat and population depletion from animal trade. Nature reserves have been set up to help maintain populations of Saguinus oedipus.

Other Comments

Males put forth more effort in caring for young than the females. This relationship is unique amongst callitrichids. The father assists at birth and carries the young all of the time exept when the mother is feeding. This characteristic results from the fact that a female gives birth to 2 infants at a time, each with a weight of 15-20% of the mother's weight.


Brian Bridgeman (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map

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

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.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


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.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

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.


Elowson, M. A., et al.. "Food-associated calls correlate with food preferences in cotton-top tamarins." Animal Behaviour. New York; 42: 931-37 (1991).

Macdonald, D. 1984. Encyclopedia of Mammals. Facts on File Publications, NY.

Nowak, R.M. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Forth Edition. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Tardif, S. D., et al.. "Effects of Sibling-Rearing Experience on Future Reproductive Success in Two Species of Callitrichidae." American Journal of Primatology. New York 6:377-80 (1984).