The emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator) is a small new world monkey, recognizable for its distinctive long, white mustache. It is thought the tamarin was named for the resemblance of its mustache to that of Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II. Emperor tamarins live primarily in Amazon lowland and lower montane rain forests, seasonally flooded forests in southeast Peru, northwest Bolivia, and northwest Brazil. These tamarins spend most of their time in the trees in the lower and middle canopy above 10 meters (32 feet).

The emperor tamarin has several adaptations that make it well-suited for its arboreal habitat. They live communally in groups of up to 20 members. Like other tamarins and marmosets, emperor tamarins are small, making it easier for them to access food along the outer branches of trees where larger monkeys cannot go. They also have claws on all digits but their big toe and long tails that serve as an extra hand for moving along the trees.

The emperor tamarin has been known to live in mutualistic relationships with other tamarins. For example, in some areas, they are often found in mixed-species groups, sharing the same territory with groups of saddleback tamarin. The saddleback tamarin spends most of its time lower in the canopy than the emperor tamarin. Cooperation benefits both groups as the two tamarin species exchange vocalizations and can warn each other of threats from above or below.

Today the population of emperor tamarins is thought to be declining, primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation as their forests are cleared for logging and cattle ranching. Some may also be threatened by capture for the illegal pet trade. The species is considered threatened in Brazil and Peru.

  1. All animals adapt to their environment in some way. What are some other animal adaptations you are familiar with and how do those adaptations give the animal an advantage?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary. Some unique adaptations include the trunk of the elephant, the long neck of the giraffe, the long snout of the anteater, and the thick blubber of the whale.

  2. The distinctive and lively emperor tamarin is a favorite in zoos that house them. How might displaying some individuals in zoos benefit the species as a whole?

    • Answer

      Zoos can help raise awareness of the threats facing the species through programming and information displayed with the animal. Seeing animals in person can also motivate people to take action to help with conservation. Zoos can also provide captive-breeding programs to reintroduce animals into the wild in the event of a serious reduction in the wild population.

  3. Emperor tamarins and saddleback tamarins form cross-species groups to give each species an advantage in detecting threats and finding food. What are some other species that have mutually beneficial relationships?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary. Some examples include oxpeckers on zebras, ants and the acacia tree, clownfish and sea anemones, and the bacteria in the digestive systems of termites.


a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.


one of the top layers of a forest, formed by the thick leaves of very tall trees.


natural region defined by upland slopes and large conifers.

mutualistic relationship

relationship between organisms of different species, in which both organisms benefit from the association.

New World monkey

species that live in North, Central, or South America and has a flat nose. Also called a platyrrhine monkey.