Emperor tamarins are small monkeys native to the southwest Amazon Basin. They are easily identified by their long, white whiskers that look like a mustache.

Physical Description

Emperor tamarins are small monkeys with long, white whiskers that sweep back from the muzzle on both sides and look like mustaches. It is believed that they were named after German emperor Wilhelm II, who also wore a mustache.  They have dark fur on their faces and ears, and their bodies are primarily gray with small amounts of gold, white and red.

Their tails are long and red. Like all tamarins, emperor tamarins have narrow hands with non-opposable thumbs. They have long canine teeth and claws (rather than nails) on all digits except for the big toe.

Native Habitat

Emperor tamarins are native to the southwest Amazon Basin, with a range that crosses Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. They live in a variety of wooded habitats, including lowland, mountain and seasonal flooded forests.


Emperor tamarins live for 10 to 20 years.

Food/Eating Habits

These tamarins are omnivorous. They primarily eat fruit but may also feed on insects, gum, nectar and leaves. 

At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, emperor tamarins eat fruits, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, mealworms and crickets.

Social Structure

Emperor tamarins generally live in extended family groups of two to eight individuals, though there can be as many as 15 in a group. They have also been observed living in mixed-species groups with other tamarins, particularly the saddleback tamarin (Saquinus fuscicollis). This mutually beneficial relationship likely protects both species from predators.

Reproduction and Development

Family groups usually include one breeding female and two breeding males. Breeding females will mate with all breeding males in the group. After a gestation period of 140-145 days, or just over four and a half months, females give birth to one or two young (or, rarely, three). Adult males assist with the birth, taking the newborn immediately and washing it.

The mother will carries and feeds the babies for about 30 minutes every 2-3 hours. Otherwise, the males carry and care for the infants. Adults carry the infants until they are 6-7 weeks old, and the young are weaned after two to three months. Emperor tamarins reach sexual maturity when they are 16-20 months old.

Conservation Efforts

Emperor tamarins are threatened by habitat destruction and are also collected from the wild for the pet trade.

Help this Species

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order! Cut back on single-use goods, and find creative ways to reuse products at the end of their life cycle. Choose recycling over trash when possible.
  • Be a smart consumer. Choose products made with sustainable ingredients, such as Smithsonian certified Bird Friendly coffees, which support farmers striving to limit their impact on wildlife and habitat.
  • Practice ecotourism by being an advocate for the environment when you’re on vacation. During your travels, support, visit or volunteer with organizations that protect wildlife. Shop smart too! Avoid buying products made from animals, which could support poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
  • Choose your pets wisely, and do your research before bringing an animal home. Exotic animals don’t always make great pets. Many require special care and live for a long time. Tropical reptiles and small mammals are often traded internationally and may be victims of the illegal pet trade. Never release animals that have been kept as pets into the wild.
  • Share the story of this animal with others. Simply raising awareness about this species can contribute to its overall protection.

Meet the Animals

The Zoo is home to two male emperor tamarins, brothers Fleck and Poe.

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