Golden Lion Tamarin Facts

Golden lion tamarin
Golden lion tamarin. Edwin Butter / Getty Images

The golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) is a small New World monkey, recognizable by the reddish gold hair that frames its hairless face like a lion's mane.

Also known as a golden marmoset, the golden lion tamarin is an endangered species. So far, the tamarins have been saved from extinction by captive breeding in zoos and reintroduction into their native habitat.

Fast Facts: Golden Lion Tamarin

  • Scientific Name: Leontopithecus rosalia
  • Other Names: Golden marmoset
  • Distinguishing Features: Monkey with claw-like nails, long tail, and reddish orange fur framing a hairless face
  • Average Size: 26 cm (10 in) and 620 g (1.4 lb)
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Life Span: 15 years
  • Habitat: Lowland rainforest of southeastern Brazil
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Primates
  • Family: Callitrichidae
  • Fun Fact: New World monkeys, including tamarins, are the only primates with claw-like nails.

Description

The most obvious characteristic of the golden lion tamarin is its colorful hair. The monkey's coat ranges from golden yellow to red-orange. The color comes from carotenoids—pigments in the animal's food—and the reaction between sunlight and hair. The hair is longer around the monkey's hairless face, resembling a lion's mane.

The golden lion tamarin is the largest of callitrichine family, but it's still a small monkey. An average adult is about 26 centimeters (10 inches) long and weighs about 620 grams (1.4 pounds). Males and females are the same size. Tamarins have long tails and fingers, and like other New World monkeys, the golden lion tamarin has claws rather than flat nails.

New World monkeys, like the tamarin, use elongated fingers with claws to catch and eat prey.
New World monkeys, like the tamarin, use elongated fingers with claws to catch and eat prey. Steve Clancy Photography / Getty Images

Distribution

The golden lion tamarin has a tiny distribution range, restricted to 2 to 5 percent of its original habitat. It lives in three small areas of coastal rainforest in southeastern Brazil: Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, Fazenda União Biological Reserve, and tracts of land set aside for the Reintroduction Program.

Golden lion tamarin range
Golden lion tamarin range. Oona Räisänen & IUCN 

Diet and Predators

Tamarins are omnivores that eat fruit, flowers, eggs, insects, and other small animals. The golden lion tamarin uses its elongated fingers and toes to catch and extract its prey. Early in the day, the monkey feeds on fruit. In the afternoon, it hunts for insects and vertebrates.

The golden lion tamarin has a mutualistic relationship with nearly a hundred plants in the forest. The plants offer the tamarins food, and in return, the tamarins disperse seeds, helping regenerate the forest and maintaining genetic variability in the plants.

Nocturnal predators hunt the tamarins when they are sleeping. Significant predators include snakes, owls, rats, and wild cats.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Golden lion tamarins live together in groups of 2 to 8 members. A tamarin group is called a troop. Each troop has one breeding pair that mates during the rainy season—usually between September and March.

Gestation lasts four and a half months. The female usually gives birth to twins, but can have anywhere from 1 to 4 infants. Golden lion tamarins are born with fur and with their eyes open. All members of the troop carry and care for the infants, while the mother only takes them for nursing. The babies are weaned at three months of age.

Females become sexually mature at 18 months, while males mature at 2 years of age. In the wild, most golden lion tamarins live about 8 years, but the monkeys live 15 years in captivity.

Behavior

Golden lion tamarins live in trees. During the day, they use their fingers, toes, and tails to travel from branch to branch in order to forage. At night, they sleep in tree hollows or dense vines. Each night, the monkeys use a different sleeping nest.

Tamarins communicate using a variety of vocalizations. Reproductive males and females communicate using scent to mark territory and suppress reproduction of other troop members. When the dominant female dies, her mate leaves the group, and her daughter becomes the breeding female. Displaced males can enter a new group when another male leaves or by aggressively displacing one.

Tamarin groups are highly territorial, defending themselves against other golden lion tamarins in their range. However, the practice of changing sleeping sites tends to prevent overlapping groups from interacting.

Conservation Status

In 1969, there were only about 150 golden lion tamarins worldwide. In 1984, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. started a reintroduction program that involved 140 zoos around the world. However, threats to the species were so severe that the tamarin was listed as critically endangered in 1996, with a total of 400 individuals in the wild.

Today, the golden lion tamarin is categorized as endangered on the IUCN Red List, but its population is stable. An assessment in 2008 estimated there were 1,000 mature adults and 3,200 individuals of all ages in the wild.

Despite the success of the captive breeding and release program, the golden lion tamarins continue to face threats. The most significant is habitat loss and degradation from residential and commercial development, logging, farming, and ranching. Predators and poachers have learned to identify monkey sleeping sites, affecting the wild population. Golden lion tamarins also suffer from new diseases when they are translocated and from inbreeding depression.

Sources

  • Dietz, J.M.; Peres, C.A.; Pinder L. (1997). "Foraging ecology and use of space in wild golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia)". Am J Primatol 41(4): 289-305.
  • Groves, C.P. (2005). Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-801-88221-4.
  • Kierulff, M.C.M.; Rylands, A.B. & de Oliveira, M.M. (2008). "Leontopithecus rosalia". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2008: e.T11506A3287321. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T11506A3287321.en
  • Kleiman, D.G.; Hoage, R.J.; Green, K.M. (1988). "The lion tamarins, Genus Leontopithecus". In: Mittermeier, R.A.; Coimbra-Filho, A.F.; da Fonseca, G.A.B., editors. Ecology and Behavior of Neotropical Primates, Volume 2. Washington DC: World Wildlife Fund. pp. 299-347.