Leontopithecus caissarablack-faced lion tamarin

Geographic Range

The geographic range of the Leontopithecus caissara is limited to about 17,300 hectares in southeastern Brazil (Massicot, 2001). It was first discovered in 1990 and was thought to exist only on the small island of Superagui in the state of Parana. It has since been observed on the mainland in the adjacent state of Sao Paulo (Kleiman and Mallison, 1998).


L. caissara occupies deciduous rainforests (Flannery, 2001).

Physical Description

All four species of lion tamarins, including L. caissara, are also known as "Kings of the Jungle." Their tiny wrinkled faces are surrounded by tufts of hair that resemble a lion's mane. The mane, arms, and tail of L. caissara, are black, whereas the rest of the body has a golden color to it. Tamarins in general are monkeys the size of large squirrels (Newsweek, 1990). The average body mass is about 600 g, and the average length is about 30.5 cm (without the tail). The tail can be up to 43.2 cm long (Massicot, 2001). These tamarins have non-opposable thumbs, long digits for getting at insects and fruit, and claw-like nails for digging up insects under the bark of trees (Flannery, 2001).

  • Average mass
    600 g
    21.15 oz
  • Average length
    30.5 cm
    12.01 in


These animals mate monogamously. Male and female maintain a territory, on which they tollerate their non-breeding offspring.

Black-faced lion tamarins are fairly social mammals living in groups ranging from 2 to 11 members (Massicot, 2001). They are mostly monogamous and both the male and female care for the young. They mate once a year and give birth usually to two offspring at a time, although triplets and quadruplets have been seen in the wild. Young are born fully furred with their eyes open (Nowak, 1999). The older twins from the previous year tend to remain and help raise the new young (Harper). The father carries the infants around while the mother nurses them every 2-3 hours. The birth peak is from September to March (Flannery, 2001). Weaning usually occurs by 12 weeks of age in captivity . Females reach sexually maturity around 18 months of age, whereas males mature sexually around 24 months (Nowak, 1999).

  • Breeding season
    Births of black-faced lion tamarins peak from September-March.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average weaning age
    12 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18-24 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    18-24 months

As in all mammals, the mother nurses the young. The father is attentive in tamarins, however, and begins carrying the young part of the time within a few weeks of birth. By three weeks, the father has charge of the young almost all the time, except when they are nursing. Young from a previous litter may also help to carry the infants (Nowak, 1999).

  • Parental Investment
  • 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


Lifespan in this species has not been reported, but in another member of the same genus, L. rosalia, one individual lived in captivity for over 28 years (Nowak, 1999).


Black-faced lion tamarins are diurnal and they seek shelter at night in tree cavities or holes. They are sensitive to direct sunlight and therefore spend the hottest parts of the day sheltered by the dense vegetation of the rainforest (The Wild Ones Animal Index, 2000).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Black-faced lion tamarins are primarily frugivorous, feeding on fruit, flowers, gum and nectar. However, they also eat insects, which they find under the bark of trees, as well as small lizards and snakes (Massicot, 2001).

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers
  • sap or other plant fluids


Black-faced lion tamarins vary their sleeping spots to avoid predation (Harper). Some predators that have been reported include black-hawk eagles, jaguar, jaguraundi, ocelot, ornate hawk-eagles, and tayra.

Ecosystem Roles

Because it eats fruit, this species helps to disperse seeds. It also likely has some effect on populations of insects, snakes, and small lizards because of its predatory behavior on these animals. Because L. caissara is also a prey item, fluctuations in the population of these primates probably has some effect on its predators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Impact of this species on humans is very limited, due to the small size of the population. However, as with all endangered primates, there is likely some ecotourism generated from these animals.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No negative impact has been indicated in the literature.

Conservation Status

Black-faced lion tamarins are among of the world's rarest mammals and the species listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (Massicot, 2001). The estimated wild population of this animal is less than 300 individuals (Harper). There are several groups working to protect the tamarins and their habitat. Such groups include Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, whose goal is to collect information regarding the natural history of this animal, along with basic habitat and behavioral data. This information is then used to educate the public, especially those living in or near the habitat of the tamarin (Prado). The group "Wildinvest," is working to help fund conservation projects for endangered or threatened animals such as black-faced lion tamarins. This group is supporting the black-faced lion tamarin conservation project, which is working to protect and restore the habitat, educate the public of the importance of conservation, as well as employing many other conservation management strategies (Massicot, 2001).


Pam Martin (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.



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

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

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


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.


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


remains in the same area


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


The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


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


1990. Man's Newest Furry Cousin. Newsweek, 116(1): 58.

1991. Stunning New Primate Found in Brazil. National Geographic, 180(4): 152.

Flannery, S. 2001. "Black-faced Lion Tamarin (*Leontopithecus caissara*)" (On-line). Accessed November 17, 2001 at http://members.tripod.com/uakari/leontopithecus_caissara.html.

Harper, M. Date Unknown. "Wild Invest - Direct Investment in Endangered Species" (On-line). Accessed November 28, 2001 at http://www.wildinvest.com/tamarin.html.

Kleiman, , Mallinson. 1998. Recovery and Management Committees for Lion Tamarins. Conservation Biology, 12(1): 27-38.

Massicot, P. 2001. "Animal Info- Information on Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Animals" (On-line). Accessed November 17, 2001 at http://www.animalinfo.org/species/primate/leoncais.htm#profile.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Prado, F. Date Unknown. "The Conservation of the Black-faced Lion Tamarin" (On-line). Accessed November 18, 2001 at http://www.ipe.org.br/INGLES/mlcp.htm.

The Wild Ones. Org, 2000. "The Wild Ones Animal Index" (On-line). Accessed November 24, 2001 at http://www.thewildones.org/Animals/bflt.html.