Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)


Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family:    Spheniscidae
Size:    Length: Average 21 inches (53 cm)
Weight: Up to 3.75 to 5.75 pounds (1.7 to 2.6 kg)
Diet: Small fish and crustaceans
Distribution: Galapagos Islands
Young:  1 or 2 chicks, up to 3 times per year
Animal Predators:  Galapagos sharks, fur seals and sea lions; Galapagos hawks and rats prey on eggs and chicks
IUCN Status: Endangered
Terms: Young: Chick
Lifespan: Average 15 to 20 years in the wild, up to 34 years old in captivity



·      Galapagos penguins can swim at rates of up to 24 miles (40 km) per hour.

·      All penguins have body temperatures between 100 to 102º F/38 to 39º C.

·      Galapagos penguins are the only penguins to moult more than once a year. 

·      Penguin comes from the Latin word pinguis, which means fat.

·      Fossil records show that penguins once could fly, but gave it up for life in the sea 60 to 70 million years ago.

·      Galapagos penguins are the second smallest of the 17 penguin species. 



Galapagos penguins have a narrow white band that runs under the chin from the corner of each eye. They have a black back, head and flippers, and a white chest. Their bill has a hook at the tip. They are covered with stiff, small feathers that are almost like scales. There is a gland at the upper base of the tail that secretes oil, and the penguins spread the oil all over their body with their face and bill to keep their feathers waterproof. Their legs are farther back than other birds, and so they walk more upright, taking small, waddling steps. They also hop, using both feet, especially when coming out of the water onto land. While other birds have hollow, lightweight bones that make it easier for them to fly, penguins have solid bones. 



Galapagos penguins are the only penguins living in the northern hemisphere. It is believed that Galapagos penguins came to their equatorial home off the coast of Ecuador by the Humboldt current, which brings cold waters north from Antarctica. They live exclusively in the Galapagos Islands, especially in the cool waters surrounding Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, Bartolome, northern Santa Cruz and Floreana.


Feeding Habits

Galapagos penguins feed on small tropical fish and crustaceans. When searching for food, they swim with their head down in the water, then dive under the surface, using their flippers to propel themselves quickly through the water, with their feet acting as rudders. They fish alone or in groups, depending on the quantity of fish available. 



Galapagos penguins mate for life. They make a nest in a hole on the rocky shoreline and lay two eggs inside. The parents take turns incubating the eggs until they hatch 30 to 40 days later. Both parents feed and take care of the chicks, although, for unknown reasons, usually only one chick survives. At approximately two months of age, penguin chicks become independent and leave their parents. 



Galapagos penguins usually do not make much noise, but occasionally they will issue a braying sound that resembles the call of a donkey. The call is accompanied by the penguin stretching its neck out and spreading its wings. Although they have thick layers of fat like the other members of the penguin family that live in the cold Antarctic, penguins do not have sweat glands, so Galapagos penguins keep cool by holding their wings out when a breeze passes by, by panting, by staying in the shade or going for a dip in the cool water. They fish during the day and gather together in small groups on land at nightfall to sleep. 



All penguin species are protected by law from hunting and egg collecting. The Galapagos penguin is listed as Endangered by the IUCN because the population dropped by 77 percent during the El Niño event of 1982 to 1984, but they are slowly recovering. 



Penguins of the World, Wayne Lynch, Firefly Books 1997

International Wildlife, March-April 1991