Golden-Handed Tamarin (Saguinus midas midas)

Although popularly known as the golden-handed tamarin, this species is also referred to as the red-handed tamarin. This small primate has taken to peaceful cohabitation with the avian species in our sister sanctuary, Birds of Eden. They can move pretty quickly so don�t blink or you�ll miss them!

Physical Description: There are actually two subspecies of golden-handed tamarins. The subspecies are distinguished by their differently coloured hands and feet. The subspecies found in Birds of Eden is Saguinus midas midas and has yellow-gold hands and feet. The other subspecies, Saguinus midas nigra, has black hands and feet. The rest of the colouring of both subspecies is black, with specks of yellow-gold on their backs. Infants are born with light coloured faces which will turn black as they grow older. Golden-handed tamarins are one of the larger tamarin species. Body size ranges from 217-278 mm plus a tail of 330-440 mm in length! Females are smaller than males, weighing in at 432 g versus 586 g. Because of their relatively small size, goldens are prey for raptors, wild cats and snakes. A special feature of golden-handed tamarins is that their middle fingers are webbed. They also have claws instead of nails, much like marmosets. The brain of the golden-handed tamarin weighs 10.4 g on average.

Habitat: Golden-handed tamarins are found in the northeastern Amazon in the countries of Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela. Goldens are arboreal, preferring the lower and middle range of their habitat (10-30 m from the ground). Goldens are found in primary forest, secondary forest and forest edge. They are sprightly jumpers, leaping distances up to 18 m from the trees to the ground. Home ranges for goldens observed in field studies vary from 31.1 ha to 42.5 ha.

Golden-handed tamarins feed mainly on insects and fruit. One study from French Guiana found that the diet of goldens varies with the season, but annually consists of 50.2% invertebrates and 47.1% fruit, with the remainder comprised of vegetables and leaves. Goldens have been observed to forage for insects and leaves mainly at a height of 10-20 m and fruit about 20-30 m above the ground. When goldens are in open forest, they will forage in groups, but when in the protection of the forest cover, they forage individually.

Life History: Golden-handed tamarins are born after a gestation of 140-168 days. Births usually occur in the spring and summer. Twins are common (75%) but births can also be a single infant or triplets. Fathers tend to be the primary caregiver in this species but like marmosets goldens exhibit cooperative rearing where all group members help take care of infants. Infants are weaned around 2-3 months of age. The typical day for goldens begins about 30 minutes after sunrise. Goldens are active in the daytime for about 10-12 hours a day. Their day ends about 1.5 hours before sunset when the group moves to its sleeping site. Goldens reuse sleeping sites about half of the time. The other half are only used once! The average return to a sleeping site is 8.7 days according to a field report from French Guiana. Goldens sleep together as a group. Their temperature drops when they sleep so this may be a mechanism to conserve body heat. The lifespan for the golden-handed tamarin is approximately 10 years in the wild and 16 in captivity.

Golden-handed tamarins associate with bare-ear marmosets. Although cotton-top tamarins also live in Birds of Eden, the two tamarin species do not associate. Golden-handed tamarins and cotton-top tamarins do not live together in the wild. In Birds of Eden they tend to stay in separate areas as well.

Social Structure:
Golden-handed tamarins live in extended family groups of both males and females. Groups can be single-male/multi-female or multi-male/multi-female. Group size ranges from 2-12 individuals. Aggression has been observed between groups, but within-group dynamics are fairly cooperative. The breeding female has the position of authority and reigns over the entire group. Goldens protect their group members and have been reported to mob predators.

Territorial Marking:
Golden-handed tamarins have scent glands around the chest and genitals which they use for territorial marking, as well as denoting sexual and social status. For example, they will scent mark prior to mating, as well as afterwards. At Birds of Eden, they have been seen scent marking the handrails!

Golden-handed tamarins use olfaction (see territorial marking), vocalisations and social interactions to communicate. There are 8 known vocalisations, including a specific one for predators. Social interactions include grooming and threats. If a golden wants to be groomed, it will lay down in front of another golden in the �throat exposed� posture. To threaten another individual goldens will shake their hair, bare their teeth, vocalise, or wrinkle their muzzle. They may also scent mark in combination with one or more of these behaviours when making a threat.

Mating: Golden-handed tamarins become sexually mature at 16-20 months of age. Before mating, the male and female will engage in �mock fighting� and �tonguing�. Subordinate females are suppressed from breeding as there is only one breeding female in a group. Females cycle every 16 days. They typically give birth for the first time at 2 years of age and subsequently every 8 months on average. Females have been observed to mate just hours before birth. They can mate again as soon as 2 days after birth!

The golden-handed tamarin has been assessed by the IUCN as Lower Risk/Least Concern due to its wide range. Like all primates, goldens are losing their habitat to humans. Goldens are not typically studied in captivity and there have been limited studies in the wild.

Did You Know?
Golden-handed tamarins are heavy sleepers � they are very difficult to wake!


Brandywine Zoo. Animals in the Zoo: Golden Handed Tamarin. <>. Accessed 2006 December 16.

Day, R.T. & Elwood, R.W. (1999). Sleep site selection by the golden-handed tamarin Saguinus midas midas: The role of predation risk, proximity to feeding sites, and territorial defence. Ethology, 105, 1035-1051.

Kessler, P. 1995. Preliminary field study of the red-handed tamarin, Saguinus midas, in French Guiana. Neotropical Primates, 3(4), 184-85.

Pack, K.S., Henry, O. & Sabatier, D. (1999). The insectivorous-frugivorous diet of the golden-handed tamarin (Saguinus midas midas) in French Guiana. Folia Primatologica, 70, 1-7.

Rowe, N. (1996). The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates. Charlestown, Rhode Island: Pogonias Press.

Rylands, A.B., Bampi, M.I., Chiarello, A.G., da Fonseca, G.A.B., Mendes, S.L. & Marcelino, M. 2003. Saguinus midas. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 16 July 2006.

Wikipedia contributors. 2006 December 5. Red-handed tamarin. In Wikipedia, The Free Encylopedia. Tamarin&oldid=92206027. Accessed 2006 December 16. Information supplied by:
Lara Mostert