Red-handed Tamarin

Saguinus midas

Last updated: January 3, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Frank Wouters / Creative Commons

Red hair on hands on feet!

Red-handed Tamarin Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Primates
Family
Callitrichidae
Genus
Saguinus
Scientific Name
Saguinus midas

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red-handed Tamarin Conservation Status

Red-handed Tamarin Locations

Red-handed Tamarin Locations

Red-handed Tamarin Facts

Main Prey
Fruit, Insects, Rodents
Distinctive Feature
Small body size and long, thin tail
Habitat
Lowland tropical forest
Predators
Hawks, Snakes, Wild Cats
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
2
Lifestyle
  • Troop
Favorite Food
Fruit
Type
Mammal
Slogan
Red hair on hands on feet!

Red-handed Tamarin Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Black
  • Gold
  • Tan
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
24 mph
Lifespan
8 - 15 years
Weight
220g - 900g (7.7oz - 32oz)
Length
18cm - 30cm (7in - 12in)

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View all of the Red-handed Tamarin images!



The red-handed tamarin is a small, energetic primate that roams the Amazonian forests.

Despite lacking a prehensile tail and opposable thumbs, this species can leap between branches and vines with remarkable dexterity and control. It has an unusual appearance that almost resembles a cross between a monkey and a squirrel, but socially and physically, it is a pure primate. Not yet threatened by habitat loss, it is currently thriving in a small region of South America.

Incredible Red-Handed Tamarin Facts

  • The red-handed tamarin is also known as the golden tamarin or the Midas tamarin. This attests to the remarkably bright colors of the hands and feet.
  • This species can leap 60 feet from the trees to the ground without any harm. The joints of the tamarin act as shock absorbers that cushion it from the force of the fall.
  • The red-handed tamarin actually gathers in matriarchal societies with a single dominant female. This also tends to make the members less aggressive toward each other, because there are no females to fight over for sexual availability. The dominant female reserves all breeding rights for herself.

Red-Handed Tamarin Scientific Name

The scientific name of the red-handed tamarin is Saguinus midas. The name is derived from the Greek mythological figure of King Midas, who turned everything he touched into gold. The species belongs to a genus of small-sized primates known as the tamarins (scientific name Saguinus). More distantly, it is related to the marmosets, Goeldi’s monkeys, and lion tamarins within the family of Callitrichidae. Together they make up a distinct group of primates known as the New World monkeys, which reside exclusively in the Americas. This group separated from the Old World monkeys of Asia and Africa some 40 million years ago.

Red-Handed Tamarin Appearance and Behavior

The red-handed tamarin is characterized by a flat snout, a stout body, and big human-like ears sticking out from the side of its head. The thumbs are non-opposable and therefore cannot be used for gripping objects. Like many other non-primate mammals, it has claws rather than nails on all digits except for the big toe.

The red-handed tamarin measures a mere 7 to 12 inches from head to rump and another 12 to 17 inches including the tail. Although very long, the tail is not prehensile and cannot grip branches. This species also weighs only a single pound or about the same size of a squirrel. There is only a small difference in size and appearance between males and females.

This species lives in groups of approximately two to 15 members at a time, although six is the more common number. The troop, as it’s called, consists of a single dominant female, multiple breeding males, the offspring, and any subordinate members who come within the group’s orbit. The dominant female has a special breeding status within the group. By releasing pheromones, she can actually suppress the reproductive abilities of the other females in the group, giving her exclusive breeding rights with the males. The red-handed tamarin is a diurnal species. This means it is an active forager and social butterfly during the day and sleeps in the trees at night. Group members help each other with foraging and other activities.

Vocalizations are the main means through which this species communicates. It has several different sounds that allow it to convey its mood and intentions, including both friendly and aggressive calls. The red-handed tamarin also has specialized scent glands around the genitals and chest area to mark territory and show its identity and status to other members of the species. Facial expressions are somewhat less important compared with many other species of primates, perhaps due to the limited range of facial features.

The red-handed tamarin is a very cooperative and good-natured animal that seems to exhibit almost no aggression against other members of the group. Grooming, play time, and foraging are all important aspects of building up the group bond. However, they can be quite aggressive about defending their territory from outside threats. They will rally to the defense of another member who’s under attack and attempt to drive the threat off through sheer numbers.

Red Hands and Feet

The most prominent feature of this species, and the one for which it’s named, is the bright red or orange fur around the feet. The rest of the coat is black in color and also contains yellow or golden splotches around the back. There is such a sharp distinction between the black and red parts of the fur around the hands and feet that it almost seems like the animal is wearing gloves and boots. It also has dark face and eyes. This sets it apart from the white face that is found on many other species of tamarin within the same genus.

Red Handed Tamarin (Saguinus midas) is a tree with his mouth open
Red Handed Tamarin (Saguinus midas) in a tree with his mouth open

Ondrej Chvatal/Shutterstock.com

Red-Handed Tamarin Habitat

The red-handed tamarin resides in a large stretch of territory between the South American countries of northern Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, and possibly even Venezuela. This species is specially adapted for an arboreal (meaning tree-bound) lifestyle, residing approximately 50 feet above the ground. The red-handed tamarin prefers trees with small crowns (which is the top part of the tree with the branches). This crown provides everything it needs for protection, foraging opportunities, and socialization. The total territory of a single troop can encompass almost 25 total acres.

Red-Handed Tamarin Diet

Like many other New World primates, the red-handed tamarin is an omnivorous species that has almost no shortage of food from which to choose at any given time. The bulk of its diet consists of various fruits from many different plant species. The exact fruit composition of its diet changes during the season based on the availability. This is supplemented with seeds, nectar, gum, sap, bird eggs, snails, spiders, small frogs, and insects. When encountering a prey animal, the tamarin kills it with a single bite to the head. This species also plays an important ecological role by dispersing undigested seeds throughout the local environment.

Red-Handed Tamarin Predators and Threats

Because of its small size, the red-handed tamarin makes a very tempting meal for eagles, snakes, jaguars, pumas, and other large predators. Its arboreal lifestyle offers the greatest protection against predators. Even good climbers like cats may have trouble keeping up with the agile tamarin. And the forest coverage provides a degree of protection against birds of prey. When threatened directly, a group of red-handed tamarins can be quite vicious by lunging out with their sharp teeth and claws. An individual tamarin, however, is much more vulnerable to predators, because it has scant defenses with which to defend itself. A young tamarin left alone or abandoned is completely defenseless and makes for a more compelling target.

The greatest threat to the species as a whole is not any common predator, but rather human activity. Habitat loss from logging and agriculture has reduced some of the natural arboreal territory on which it so heavily relies. The species is also sometimes hunted for its meat or trapped and sold on the exotic pet trade. This has not yet reduced population numbers enough to result in their endangerment, but it could represent a problem in the future.

Red-Handed Tamarin Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

For all red-handed tamarins, the troop is the central nexus of socialization and breeding. All aspects of reproduction and child rearing are done within the group setting. The species is polyandrous, which means a single female will mate with multiple males throughout the breeding season. She is the one who always chooses which male she wants to mate with. The male is always a member of the group and must earn her trust to acquire breeding rights with her. So every breeding season between April and July, the dominant female will organize reproductive activities, which likely minimizes competition between the males.

After copulation, the gestation period lasts for at least 140 days. The mother gives birth to one or two children during the spring or summer months (which in South America is more toward the end of the year). Rarely does she produce three offspring at a time. The mother will nurse her offspring for about the first two or three months, but every member of the group takes a huge interest in the care and development of the juvenile monkeys. In fact, the father is primarily responsible for carrying child most of the time on his back.

The juveniles will learn from the entire group the valuable communication and foraging skills they need for survival. This continues until they reach full sexual maturity after about 16 to 20 months of age. The life expectancy for this species is approximately 10 years in the wild and 16 years in captivity, which for a smaller primate is fairly typical. Some die to predators or disease before natural causes.

Red-Handed Tamarin Population

Although exactly figures are not known, the remaining populations of red-handed tamarins appear to be in good and stable health. According to the IUCN Red List, which estimates population health based on available data, the red-handed tamarin is listed as a species of least concern. This is the best possible classification a species can be given. Conservationists are still trying to preserve what remains of the Amazonian rainforests, however, before more species in the region are threatened with extinction.

Red-Handed Tamarin in the Zoo

The red-handed tamarin is a very rare sight in North American zoos, but animal lovers in Europe can find the red-handed tamarin at the Zoo Barcelona, the Wingham Wildlife Park and Chessington Zoo in the United Kingdom, and the Santa Ana Zoo in Israel. If you live within the United States and still want to see a tamarin live, then you can find the closely related emperor tamarin (which has a very distinctive white “moustache”) at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the Franklin Park Zoo in New England, and many other zoos throughout the world. Marmosets are another common sight around the world as well.

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Red-handed Tamarin FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do red-handed tamarins eat?

The diet of the red-handed tamarin varies based on season and availability. It usually consists of eggs, insects, spiders, sap, gum, and seeds, but the majority of the diet is actually fruit. The red-handed tamarin is not particular about what kind of food it eats. This animal may end up eating dozens of different fruits over its lifespan. Due to the sheer abundance of food, it is rarely in danger of starvation.

What is the scientific name for the red-handed tamarin?

The scientific name of the red-handed tamarin is Saguinus midas. As mentioned previously, this name refers to the mythological King Midas, whose gold-tinged touch resembles the hands and feet of the monkey species.

Where do red-handed tamarins live?

The red-handed tamarin lives almost exclusively in the Amazonian rainforests. The territory of a single troop usually extends across several acres and includes enough trees to provide plenty of foraging opportunities and a good home.

Are red-handed tamarins dangerous?

Red-handed tamarins can be quite territorial, but they’re hardly dangerous unless directly threatened. Their aggression is often a tactic to scare off predators.

Are red-handed tamarins endangered?

The red-handed tamarin is currently listed as a species of least concern. This means it requires no particular conservation efforts to prevent extinction. However, the destruction of the Amazonian rainforests could cause the species to eventually become vulnerable in the future.

What Kingdom do Red-handed Tamarins belong to?

Red-handed Tamarins belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum to Red-handed Tamarins belong to?

Red-handed Tamarins belong to the phylum Chordata.

What family do Red-handed Tamarins belong to?

Red-handed Tamarins belong to the family Callitrichidae.

What order do Red-handed Tamarins belong to?

Red-handed Tamarins belong to the order Primates.

What genus do Red-handed Tamarins belong to?

Red-handed Tamarins belong to the genus Saguinus.

What type of covering do Red-handed Tamarins have?

Red-handed Tamarins are covered in Fur.

What are some predators of Red-handed Tamarins?

Predators of Red-handed Tamarins include hawks, snakes, and wild cats.

What are some distinguishing features of Red-handed Tamarins?

Red-handed Tamarins have small bodies and long, thin tails.

How many babies do Red-handed Tamarins have?

The average number of babies a Red-handed Tamarin has is 2.

What is an interesting fact about Red-handed Tamarins?

Red-handed Tamarins have red hair on their hands and feet!

What is the lifespan of a Red-handed Tamarin?

Red-handed Tamarins can live for 8 to 15 years.

How fast is a Red-handed Tamarin?

A Red-handed Tamarin can travel at speeds of up to 24 miles per hour.

Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals
  8. Animal Diversity Web, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Saguinus_midas/
  9. New England Primate Conservancy, Available here: https://www.neprimateconservancy.org/red-handed-tamarin.html

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