Cotton-Top Tamarin


ORDER: Primates

FAMILY: Cebidae

GENUS: Saguinous

SPECIES: oedipus

DESCRIPTION:
Tamarins are among the smallest of the primates. Head body length of this species is 17 cm (6 in.); Tail length is 25 cm (10-in.). Weight is a pound. The cottontop is strikingly marked with the long back fur dark brown, the fur on the underside pure white and the face black with a collar of rufous fur. The common name comes from the white crest which runs laterally across the head from ear to ear. Forelimbs are shorter than the hind limbs. The thumb is not opposable and the tail is not prehensile. All the digits bear pointed, sickle-shaped nails except for the great toe which has a flat nail. Saguinous are considered long-tusked tamarins since the lower canines are longer than the incisors. Voice has a variety of high-pitched trilling and staccato calls. They have loud territorial songs as well as songs when they are excited. A threat face consists of lowering the forehead until it forms a bulge which almost covers the eyes; the lips are pushed forward and the head and neck crests are erected. This apparently is sufficient since no other body language is used. Oakland Zoo actively supports Project Tamarin, a conservation organization focused on saving Tamarins in the wild.

GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Tropical forests, open woodlands, and secondary growth of northwestern Colombia.

DIET:
Primary components are insects, fruits, plant exudates (such as sap and gums) and nectar. Other foods include some tender vegetation, spiders, small vertebrates, and birds eggs. Mice, frogs, birds and such are skillfully killed by a quick head bite, a learned behavior.

LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
Tamarins are diurnal and arboreal, sheltering at night in tree cavities or forks. They live in small groups of 3-9 (on average) in a defended territory. A group may consist of a dominant mated pair and their young of both sexes. These subordinates sometimes form small groups of their own within the home range of the main groups. They enter and leave the main groups and possibly sometimes remain and rise to breeding position. Females give birth to two babies, rarely three. Gestation is 140 days and birth takes place between January and June. The father and sometimes other adults assist in birth and carry the offspring, transferring it back to the mother at feeding time. The mother needs help, since this small animal gives birth to twins weighing about 25 %of her body weight. At 4 weeks the young will accept soft food in addition to milk. Sexual maturity is attained at 18 months. Life span in captivity has been as high as 25 years.

SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS:
Claw-like nails help them grip branches better, since their small size and non-opposable fingers make encircling difficult. Long limbs and the extremely long tail make them excellent jumpers. They move from tree to tree by running quadrupedally along horizontal branches and leaping as much as three meters to a branch in an adjacent tree.

INTERPRETIVE INFORMATION:
Researchers say their repertory of 38 distinct sounds is unusually sophisticated, conforming to grammatical rules and able to express curiosity, fear, dismay, playfulness, warnings, joy and calls to young. Research also shows cottontops to be cooperative and pacifist to a surprising degree. Adults share food with the young in their group, even those that are not related to them. They carry each other children around and protect them from danger. They accept newcomers into their fold readily. The newcomers immediately start doing sentry duty and caring for the young. Adults forgo their own fertility for long stretches of time while they practice being good parents by rearing offspring of other monkeys. The breeding female does not keep other females docile through intimidation and constant stress, but instead the helping females are unstressed and seem to be choosing not to ovulate until their turn comes.

OUR ANIMALS:
We currently have 2 males and 3 females.

STATUS IN WILD:
The USDI lists S. oedipus as endangered and they are also on appendix 1 of CITES. The IUCN lists them as critically endangered and notes that the population is less than 2500 individuals and is continuing to decline. Clearing of forest habitat by people is the main problem and populations also were depleted by taking them for the pet trade and for scientific research. The cotton-top is the only species, apart from humans, that spontaneously develops colon cancer. As a result, research laboratories in the U.S. imported thousands in the past (20, 000 to 30,000 in the 1960's and 1970's). Sources other than the IUCN say there are less than 2000 in the wild, 1150 remaining in medical laboratories and 700 in zoos or private institutions.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Angier, Natalie. Cotton-Top Tamarins: Cooperative, Pacifist and Close to Extinct The New York Times. September 13, 1994.
  2. Grzimek, Bernhard. 1975. Grzimek Animal Life Encyclopedia. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, pp. 378-383.
  3. Nowak, Ronald. 1999. Walker Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, pp. 557-563.
  4. Preson-Mafham, Rod and Ken. 1992. Primates of the World. Facts on File, New York, pp.48.

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