The Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit is temporarily closed through Fall 2022.

Golden Lion Tamarin

(Leontopithecus rosalia)


This tree-dwelling monkey has a small, rounded head surrounded by a thick, golden, lion-like mane that obscures its large ears.

The body and tail are covered with long, silky hair, ranging in color from pale blond to reddish gold, with occasional orange, brown, or black coloration on the tail and forefeet. The nearly bare face ranges from pale beige to almost black. The soft, leathery soles of the hands and feet are black.

These animals have extremely long toes and fingers that end in claws. Only the hallux (big toe) has a nail. Long digits and claws help these monkeys grab branches and probe crevices in tree bark for insects and spiders.

Tamarins live in monogamous family units of two to eight, consisting of a breeding pair, their offspring from one or two litters, and perhaps other extended family members. Twin births are the norm, and all family members help rear the infants.

A Note from the Caretaker

When you enter Upland Tropical Rain Forest, look up and to the left; this is the best place to spot these monkeys, as they are fed in this area.

Quick Facts

Learn more about the golden lion tamarin! Did you know that this species faces extinction due to loss of habitat?

Most of the coastal rain forest in the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo—where this species formerly lived—has been lost to development.

These monkeys are now found in only a few scattered remnant forests in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

In their natural habitat, golden lion tamarins eat fruit, flowers, insects, spiders, snails and occasionally small vertebrates (lizards, frogs, hatchling birds, and bird eggs).

At the Aquarium, they are fed two meals a day, which include sweet fruit, vegetables, insects and eggs.

The average adult weighs about 1.5 pounds and has a 10-inch-long body with a 15-inch-long tail.

The golden lion tamarin is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Only about 1,500 are left in the wild, and about 30% of these were either relocated from depleted areas or released as part of a reintroduction program.

The primary threats to this species' survival is continued loss of habitat and population fragmentation due to development.

Several public and private reserves for lion tamarins have been established in Brazil in an effort to preserve this species.

The tamarins at the Aquarium are part of a group managed by the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program, headquartered at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. This group oversees the management of both the wild population of golden lion tamarins in Brazil and the captive population worldwide.

The primary predators are birds of prey, snakes and small carnivores, such as coatis and margay.

Humans illegally hunt tamarins or collect them for pets.

Meet the Expert Ken Howell

As the curator of the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, Amazon River Forest and Australia: Wild Extremes exhibits, Ken starts his day early, walking through each exhibit.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter Sign up to receive updates on animals, news and events.