Cotton-top tamarin

Saguinus oedipus

Native to humid and dry forests of Northwest Colombia, this small tree-dwelling monkey is severely imperiled by habitat loss.

Cotton-top tamarin behavior and facts

  • The cotton-top or cotton-headed tamarin is named for its striking crest of white hair.
  • Unlike other New World monkeys, tamarins and the closely-related marmosets have modified claws instead of nails on all digits except the big toe. This adaptation allows them to climb trees like squirrels.
  • They eat flowers, nectar, fruit and animal prey including arthropods, frogs, lizards and bird eggs.
  • Cotton-tops live in family groups of 2-9 individuals.

Reproduction and life history

  • Cotton-top tamarins are squirrel-sized and weigh around one pound.
  • Like other tamarins and marmosets, cotton-tops typically give birth to twins.
  • After a gestation period of around 140 days, babies are born helpless and must be carried. They become independent after two months.
  • Typically, only one female per family group will breed during a breeding season.
  • Family groups raise their young cooperatively; males and other members of the family actively care for the young.


IUCN Critically Endangered. Over the past two decades, cotton-top tamarins lost an estimated 75 percent of their original habitat in Colombia. The remaining population of roughly 6,000 individuals are threatened by continued deforestation, even in protected areas. The species also suffered a population loss during the late 1960's and early 1970's, when as many as 30,000 individuals were exported to the U.S. for biomedical research. Since 1985, Colombia-based Proyecto Tití has worked to protect cotton-top tamarins through field research, education and community programs.

Cotton-top tamarins, the Oregon Zoo and you

You can see cotton-top tamarins at the zoo's Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit.