• cotton-top tamarin;
  • communal rearing;
  • carrying;
  • food sharing


The Callitrichidae (marmosets and tamarins) typically give birth to twins, and infant care is shared by all group members. The potential benefits to callitrichids of having helpers were investigated in a study of 21 captive cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) infants, living in groups with two to 12 older members. Time carried and suckled and amount of food received from other family members were recorded for each infant during the first 12 weeks of life. The results showed that infants in larger groups were carried more and received more food than those in smaller groups. Twin infants in larger families were less likely to be on the same carrier. Singleton infants were carried more than twins but did not receive more food. On average, individual caretakers in larger groups carried less and shared less food with infants than those in smaller groups. When parental contributions to care were analyzed, no effects of group size were found on mothers' contributions to carrying or food sharing, but fathers in larger groups both carried infants less and shared less food with them. There appear to be several benefits of a communal rearing system to cotton-top tamarins. 1) Infants may receive more care in larger families, thus increasing their chances of survival. 2) The burden of care is spread over several animals, reducing the costs to a given individual. 3) The parents, particularly fathers, may benefit most from reducing the costs of investing in the present litter and increasing their ability to invest in future litters.