Emperor Tamarin

The emperor tamarin is a species of small New World monkeys that are distinguished by their long, white hairs and whiskers that resemble a mustache. It has been allegedly named after the last German emperor of Prussia, Wilhelm II, who wore the popular Kaiser mustache. It is a tree-dwelling monkey found in the Amazon Rainforest in South America.

Scientific Classification

Saguinus imperator

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Saguinus imperator

The emperor tamarin has two distinct subspecies – the black-chinned emperor tamarin and the bearded emperor tamarin. While both the subspecies have a long, white mustache, the bearded tamarin has a visually striking white-haired beard, unlike the black-chinned tamarin’s faint whiskers on the chin.

Physical Description and Appearance

Size: Its head-to-body length ranges from 23-26 cm (9-10 in), while its long tail measures about 35-41 cm (13.8-16.1 in).

Weight: The emperor tamarin, being a small primate, weighs about 500 g (1.1 lb).

Color: An emperor tamarin’s fur is gray, and its chest has yellowish spots. It has a black face, hands, and feet while the tail is reddish-brown. A white tuft of hair also runs along its underside.

Emperor Tamarin

Body: As compared to most of the other primate species, the emperor tamarin has a small body covered with thick, brindled fur. It has narrow hands characterized by non-opposable thumbs.

Mustache: Emperor tamarin has an elegant, long, white mustache that extends to both sides of its shoulders.

Claws: Instead of nails, the emperor tamarin has long claws on all the digits except for its big toe.


The emperor tamarin is found in Peru, as well as in parts of Bolivia and Brazil that are included in the southwest Amazon Basin. Its range includes the eastern side of upper Purus river, the area between Rio Acre and the Purus river, the eastern side of upper Jurua river, the Jurupari river and Tarauaca river, then to the west of Inuya river and Urubamba river, and finally to the south of the Tahuamanu river.

What Kind of Habitats do Emperor Tamarins live in

These New World monkeys typically inhabit the tropical lowlands of the Amazon Basin but may live in parts of montane rainforests. It prefers living in old-growth or primary forests where its habitat has not yet been disturbed by humans.

Emperor Tamarin Habitat
Emperor Tamarin Animal


Emperor tamarins have a lifespan of 10-20 years in the wild, but they may live for up to 23-24 years in captivity.


The emperor tamarin, being an omnivorous animal, feeds on fruits, flowers, leaves, and the gums, saps, and nectar of trees available in its habitat. It sometimes consumes animal prey, including frogs and insects.

Behavioral Characteristics

  • In the wild, the emperor tamarins are active, gregarious, and playful, while in captivity, they are quite interactive with humans.
  • They stay higher in tree canopies, usually at an elevation of more than 10 meters, where they forage on fruits and insects. They also walk and run on the forest floor.
  • These tree-dwelling monkeys live in small families, consisting of 2-8 individuals but often includes 4-18 members. Together, they build their nesting sites where they rest in small groups. These groups may consist of other tamarin species, such as the saddle-back tamarin.
  • Emperor tamarins have distinct calls and vocalizations, which they use to alert the members of the group to predators.
  • Like most primate species, emperor tamarins use different facial expressions to communicate.
Emperor Tamarin Picture
Emperor Tamarin Image


  • Since they are very small and lightweight, they can leap and quickly move through the trees, reaching the tips of branches.
  • Their long claws help them to cling on to the tree branches in a way that other primates cannot.
  • They have dichromatic vision, meaning they can see their surroundings in two distinct colors. This unique adaptation helps them to identify potential predators, including those in camouflage.

Mating and Reproduction

As seasonal breeders, the emperor tamarins give birth during the rainy season when food is available in abundance. Their family groups include several sexually mature individuals, comprising two breeding males and one breeding female. The breeding female mates with all the breeding males in a group because these tamarins have a polyandrous mating system.

Their gestation lasts for 140-145 days, after which the female usually gives birth to 1-2 offspring (rarely, 3). Adults males also help by taking the baby immediately after birth and then washing it.

The mother emperor tamarin carries and feeds its babies every two to three hours for about 30 minutes each time. Then the males carry the infants on their backs and care for them. The infants ride on their parents’ backs for around 6-7 weeks, and they are weaned at 2-3 months of age. A young emperor tamarin attains sexual maturity when it is 16-20 months old.

Baby Emperor Tamarin
Emperor Tamarin Monkey

What does the Baby Emperor Tamarin look like

At birth, the baby emperor tamarin is entirely helpless. Its body is covered with short hair, and it weighs roughly 35 g (1.2 oz).

Conservation Status

The IUCN has classified the emperor tamarin’s status as ‘Least Concern’. However, their current population has been in decline because of forest fragmentation, deforestation, and encroachment by humans. Their populations at Manuripi-Health Amazonian Wildlife National Reserve in Bolivia and Manu National Park in Peru are protected.

Interesting Facts

  • Emperor tamarins have been reported to travel an area of 30 hectares (0.12 square miles) while looking for food.
  • In southeastern Peru, the emperor tamarins live in association with the saddle-back tamarins. They exchange vocal calls and can coordinate the other groups’ movements without seeing each other.

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