The mustached monkey named after a former German emperor

The animal kingdom is filled with millions of examples of the weird, wacky and wonderful, but only one creature can claim to resemble the former German Emperor, Wilhelm II. That unique title belongs to the emperor tamarin monkey, a friendly, squirrel-sized primate native to South America’s Amazon rainforest. 

emperor tamarin wilhelm ii

The resemblance comes down to a truly magnificent mustache and is the reason for the emperor tamarin’s name. It is a rather superficial difference, admittedly. These dwarf monkeys never dragged their country into one of the bloodiest wars in history, decimating Europe, leading to the end of their own empire, the establishment of the Weimar Republic and the eventual ascent of a certain Adolf Hitler. And yet they are forever associated with Wilhelm II, who inspired the word ‘Emperor’ in their name.

Thankfully, the monkeys’ intentions are rather more innocent than their mustache-bearing forefather. They prefer to spend their time on top of canopies in the Amazon rainforest and lowlands, rarely touching the forest floor. The population of emperor tamarins covers parts of western Brazil, eastern Peru and northern Bolivia.

German Emperor Wilhelm II

At their biggest, emperor tamarins typically grow up to 10 inches in length and weigh an average of 18 ounces. Most special, however, are their 15-inch tails, helping them navigate the tree-tops, and, of course, those unmissable white whiskers. The mustaches serve a slightly less practical purpose, with scientists believing that they might just help emperor tamarins identify their own species.

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Technically, there are two species of emperor tamarin. The first is known as the black-chinned emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator) and the second is the bearded emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator subgrisecens). While there are differences beyond their facial hair – both are predominantly gray and black in color, but the chest and belly fur on the black-chinned tamarins are a mixture of red, orange, and white, and their arms and legs are more orange – once again distinctive facial hair is a key reason behind the two different names.

emperor tamarin wilhelm ii
Emperor tamarin sitting on a branch

Both species of emperor tamarin share similar behaviors. They live in small groups, typically under ten, and usually with one breeding female and two breeding males. Their gestation period lasts between 140 and 145 days, after which females give birth to one or two young. Adult males assist in the birth process, taking the newborn immediately and washing it. They have also been reported to spend time with other species of tamarins, particularly the saddleback tamarin.

While I imagine Wilhelm II lived on a diet of bratwurst and other fine German cuisine, emperor tamarins predominantly eat fruits and flowers, as well as extracts from the trees they are living in. Depending on their habitats, some consume insects and even small Amazonian frogs.

Emperor tamarins have a lifespan of between 10 and 20 years.

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