Leontopithecus chrysomelasgolden-headed lion tamarin

Geographic Range

Golden-headed lion tamarins are found only in Brazil. Due to habitat destruction, they are confined to the southern part of the state of Bahia, Brazil (Mitchell and Erwin 1986).


Leontopithecus chrysomela lives in the tropical forests of South America at heights of 3 to 10 meters (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

Physical Description

Head and body length: 200-336mm

Tail length: 315-400mm

The physical appearance of Leontopithecus chrysomela is similar to other species of tamarins. It has relatively large canines with a small head and body. It is mostly black with a thick, long golden mane (Nowak and Paradiso 1983). There is very little sexual dimorphism in this species; males and females are quite similar in appearance (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

  • Range mass
    360 to 710 g
    12.69 to 25.02 oz


In tamarin society, males and females mate for life and take equal part in raising their young.

Leontopithecus chrysomelas is a seasonal breeder. Breeding occurs mostly during the warm and wet season, September through March (Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso 1983).

Males and females reach sexually maturity at different times: males at approximately 24 months, and females at 18 months. Upon reaching sexual maturity, females begin an estrous cycle of two to three weeks. There is a gestation period of 125-132 days (Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso 1983)

  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs mostly during the warm and wet season, September through March
  • Range gestation period
    125 to 132 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    24 months

Both males and females care for their young.

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


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    21.3 years


Golden-headed lion tamarins are diurnal and spend most of their time in tropical forests at heights of 3 to 10 meters. They do not even come down to sleep at night. Leontopithecus chrysomela sleeps in tree holes, vines, or epiphytes.

L. chrysomela live in family groups of 2 to 8 individuals, with an average size of 3 to 4 individuals, however they may form temporary associations of 15 to 16 (Nowak and Paradiso 1983). A typical family group consists of a mated pair plus their youngest offspring. Adults of the same sex are very aggressive toward one another for territorial defense purposes (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

Vocalizations among golden-headed lion tamarins are based on activity and behavior. Trills are used when activity is solitary. Clucks can be heard while an animal is foraging. Long calls indicate vigilance. Whines are made when two individuals are making contact with one another (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Golden-headed lion tamarins are primarily insectivorous and frugivorous. However, they have been known to eat invertebrates such as spiders and snails. There are also records of this species eating lizards, bird eggs, and even small birds (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The cocoa industry is fairly large in Brazil. Because cocoa plants grow best in shade, plantation owners prefer to have forests surrounding their crop. Therefore, a few of the forests that would have been destroyed for development have been left intact (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

The tamarins, after being pushed out of their native forests, have started to move into these plantation forests. Many plantation owners have complained that this movement is adversely affecting their crop (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

Conservation Status

Leontopithecus chrysomela numbers have been significantly depleted over the past several years. The remaining wild population, which exists only in a small region of Brazil, includes a total of 200 animals. The main problems for L. chrysomela are habitat destruction and illegal live capture. Over the past several years, these tamarins have been captured for use in zoological parks, laboratories, and the pet trade. However, this is a small problem compared to the habitat destruction this species has been faced with (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

Only 1-5% of Brazil's original Atlantic forest is left standing. Deforestation has occurred heavily over the past five years to provide lumber and space for agriculture, livestock pasture, and housing development (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).

There are currently a few conservation projects in effect in Brazil. Una Biological Reserve is a protected 11,000 ha area within L. chrysomela range. However, reports indicate that this amount of space is still inadequate to promote a recovery of the population. The United States, in conjunction with the World Wildlife Federation and many smaller Brazilian institutions, has had a conservation program running since 1979. However, population size has declined dramatically since then. A third conservation effort, the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center, has a captive breeding colony of L. chrysomela. However, the colony is made up of only 25 animals (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).


Barbara Lundrigan (author), Michigan State University, Karen Kapheim (author), Michigan State University.



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.

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

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.


Mitchell, G., J. Erwin. 1986. Comparitive Primate Biology: Behavior, Consevation, and Ecology. New York: Alan R. Liss, Inc..

Nowak, R., J. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.