Emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator)

Emperor tamarin
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Emperor tamarin fact file

Emperor tamarin description

GenusSaguinus (1)

Arguably the most charismatic of the tamarins, the emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator) is a small primate named for its characteristic long white moustache, which is thought to bear a resemblance to the moustache of Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany (4). The distinctive moustache of the emperor tamarin forms the basis of identification for the two recognised subspecies (5) (6): the bearded emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator subgrisescens), which has a full white beard, and the black-chinned emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator imperator), in which the white hair below the mouth is absent (5).

The emperor tamarin belongs to the Callitrichidae family, a group of New World monkeys containing both tamarins and marmosets. In general, all species in the family have fine, silky coats (5). The emperor tamarin is grey on the body and silvery-brown to black on the crown, with a dull gold or reddish-orange tail (5) (6). It is typically white on the underparts (6). The male and female are very similar in appearance, while juvenile emperor tamarins are considerably smaller than the adults and possess shorter moustaches (5).

Vocalisations of the emperor tamarin include hisses, trills and long chirping calls that are mostly used for threat and dominance displays within its social group (6) (7).

Also known as
Black-chinned emperor tamarin.
Bigodeiro, Mono Bigotudo, Mono Nicolás Suárez.

Emperor tamarin biology

The diet of the emperor tamarin is opportunistic and comprises a wide variety of food sources, including fruits, flowers, nectar, frogs, snails, insects and even small birds. It also feeds on sap and gum (1) (5) (6), especially in the late dry season and the early wet season (6). The emperor tamarin does not gnaw holes in trees itself to obtain sap, but will instead exploit wounds in trees or hijack previously existing holes made by marmosets to feed on the sap that is exuded (5).

The emperor tamarin lives in social groups of around 4 to 20 individuals, consisting of a single breeding pair, up to several generations of their offspring, and unrelated migratory adults. Tamarins and marmosets are thought to exhibit a polyandrous mating system, in which a single dominant female will mate with several different males during the breeding season. The single dominant female will suppress the reproductive abilities of other females in the group by exhibiting dominant behaviour, and will release pheromones during scent marking which also suppress breeding (5).

The gestation period of the emperor tamarin is around 140 to 145 days (6), after which the dominant female will give birth to twins. At birth, young tamarins weigh a remarkable 25 percent of the female’s body weight. In all tamarin and marmoset species, the infants are initially carried until they are around 70 days old, after which they become independent and are able to catch insects and feed themselves. All members of the group help to carry the young emperor tamarins. The juveniles reach sexual maturity at 12 to 18 months old, and adult size is reached at about 2 years of age (5).


Emperor tamarin range

The emperor tamarin’s range is concentrated within the south-western Amazon region. The black-chinned subspecies (S. i. imperator) is found in Peru and Brazil, east of the upper Rio Purus between the Rio Purus and the Rio Acre (1) (6). The population of the black-chinned emperor tamarin on the south bank of the Rio Acre is thought to be highly restricted in its distribution (1).

The bearded subspecies of the emperor tamarin (S. i. subgrisescens) occurs in Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. In particular, this subspecies is found in Brazil along the east bank of the Rio Juruá, east to the Rio Tarauacá, Rio Juruparí and the Brazilian-Peruvian border; into Peru as far as the western foothills of the Andes in the upper Rio Ucayalil; and east to the Rio Madre de Dios in Bolivia (1) (6).


Emperor tamarin habitat

The emperor tamarin is found in the tree canopy of lowland tropical rainforest, usually located in river basins at around 150 metres above sea level (8).

It is also known to occur in lower montane rainforests, seasonally flooded forests and the fringes of remnant and secondary forests (1), as well as evergreen and broadleaf forests up to elevations of 300 metres (6).


Emperor tamarin status

The emperor tamarin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Emperor tamarin threats

Although previously relatively inaccessible, much of the emperor tamarin’s habitat is now under threat of deforestation due to the construction of major roads between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, as well as increasing human colonisation associated with cattle ranching and logging (1).

The emperor tamarin is not generally hunted, but in some areas it may be captured and traded as a pet (1).


Emperor tamarin conservation

The emperor tamarin is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that the international trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3).

It is protected in the Manu National Park in south-eastern Peru and in the Manuripí Heath Nature Reserve in Bolivia. The emperor tamarin is not currently protected in the small area of Brazil where it is present (1).

This species is widely present in zoos throughout the world. The emperor tamarin is included in a European Endangered Species Programme, which facilitates captive breeding of this species with a view to reintroduce it into the wild should it ever become extinct (8).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Find out more about the emperor tamarin:



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This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Evergreen forest
Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
Chemical produced by an animal, which stimulates a behavioural or physiological response by another member of the same species.
A mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2012)
  2. Chiarelli, A.B. (1972) Taxonomic Atlas of Living Primates. Academic Press Inc., London and New York.
  3. CITES (April, 2012)
  4. BBC Science and Nature: Wildfacts - Emperor tamarin (April, 2012)
  5. MacDonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Bairrão Ruivo, E. (Ed.) (2010) EAZA Husbandry Guidelines for Callitrichidae - 2nd Edition. Beauval Zoo, France.
  7. Knox, K.L. and Sade, D.S. (1991) Social behaviour of the emperor tamarin in captivity. Components of agonistic display and the agonistic network. International Journal of Primatology, 12: 439-480.
  8. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust - Emperor tamarin (April, 2012)
  9. Rylands, A. (1993) Marmosets and Tamarins: Systematics, Behaviour, and Ecology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Image credit

Emperor tamarin  
Emperor tamarin

© Anup Shah / naturepl.com

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