Galapagos Penguin – Spheniscus mendiculus
Spheniscus Genus – Banded Penguins
Height: 19-21 in.
Weight: 3.75-5.75 lb.
Life expectancy in the wild: 9.5 years.
Approximated Population: 1,800
Population tendency: Decreasing
IUCN Conservation Status: EN
Galapagos penguins are the smallest of the banded penguins, and they have no subspecies.
Among all banded penguins, the Galapagos penguin is the easiest to recognize because they have black feathers on most of their body, with some distinctive white marks on their face, beak, and chest.
The face is black with a C-shaped thin white line that starts from the top of each eye and continues around the head down to the throat area. In contrast with other banded species, this white line is jagged and not well defined. The beak is long and slender; the upper part is black while the bottom starts with a pink color at the base, blends into white at the middle and ends with a black tip. Starting from each leg and going up to the top of its chest, it has the thick black horseshoe-shaped stripe typical of the banded penguins. However, this line is also jagged and not well defined as the face line. In some individuals, this line is not even visible, and they have only a set of black dots instead. The chest and abdomen may have few small rounded dark spots completely random.
The chicks have dark gray or dark brown plumage on the back and white on the chest and belly without the distinctive marks described above.
Are the only species that can reach waters of the northern hemisphere of the earth.
Where do they live?
Galapagos penguins are the only species that can reach waters of the northern hemisphere of the earth, where the climate is warm and tropical, entirely different from the habitats of the larger species.
Their distribution is exclusively the Galapagos Islands, and their largest colonies are on Isabela and Fernandina Islands.
Their habitat is usually warm with temperatures between 59 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. They live surrounded by huge rocky shores with cavity formations that they use for shelter and protection from sunlight as well as sandy beaches.
Galapagos penguins are a sedentary species that stay near their colony and only venture to go as far as 3 miles away.
They live in relatively small communities compared to other penguin species, but they are well organized and coordinated to hunt in groups.
Most or the time they dive to a depth of 26 ft deep, but there are extreme cases of individuals reaching a depth of 180 ft.
They are the least noisy of the 17 penguin species. Their vocalizations are similar to donkey brays, and they produce sounds in high and low volume according to the purpose of the communication like hunting coordination or organization.
The warm climate and intense sun of their environment may sometimes overheat them, which they solve opening their flippers seeking to radiate heat and get the fresh sea breeze to lower their temperature. Ocean waters around the islands keep moderate temperatures, which are also ideal to end with body overheating if necessary.
Galapagos penguins live in a quiet environment where they have learned to coexist peacefully with many other species endemic of these islands, even with other birds such as the Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) and the Galapagos Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis urinator).
Some individuals of this species do not molt once but twice a year. The pre-molt begins two to four weeks before each process, increasing their body weight a few grams. The molting process takes 13 to 15 days and during this time they may lose up to 40% of their body mass.
In the molting process they may lose up to 40% of their body mass.
What do they eat?
These penguins feed on pelagic fish such as anchovies, sardines, and mullet. They usually watch their prey from below and catch it by surprise. Probably the reason why they do not swim far away from the coast is that the surrounding waters of the Galapagos Islands are a place where sharks usually roam.
Sexual maturity: Females: 3 to 4 years. Males: 4 to 6 years.
Incubation period: 38 to 42 days.
Normal clutch: Two eggs. Up to 4 per year
Galapagos penguins are monogamous and maintain 90% fidelity. They do not have a regular reproduction season, but it commonly occurs from April to May and from August to September. Females lay two eggs about the same size in nests built within volcanic rock cavities. Chicks leave the nest 60 days later, and they can feed themselves a few months later.
The decrease of food around the islands is one of the main threats that Galapagos penguins have to sort. El Niño phenomena alter their life cycle, their breeding season and prey availability.
Other threats include commercial fishing, pollution from oil spills, avian malaria caused by the Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito, parasites, and human disturbance.
Galapagos penguin range map
Salomon, David. Penguin-pedia, photographs and facts from one man’s search for the penguins pf the world. Brown Books. 2011.
Garcia Borboroglu, Pablo. Penguins: Natural History and Conservation. University of Washington Press, 2015.
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