The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is a penguin species which is exclusively found on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of South America. As this species is restricted to the Galapagos Islands, most people are not even aware of their existence, leave alone the interesting facts about it. Such ignorance about a penguin that has been declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is doing no good to our planet.
Interesting Facts About Galapagos Penguins
Not many people knowing that Galapagos penguins are the northernmost dwelling species of penguin in the world, or that they are the smallest penguin species in South America. There exist several interesting facts about them, including the fact that they are opportunistic breeders (i.e., they can breed at any time of the year) and their adaptation tactics are mainly directed at losing heat rather than gaining it. Given below are more of such details about these penguins.
Geographical Range and Habitat
As their name suggests, the Galapagos species is endemic to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific which belong to the Republic of Ecuador. It is the only species of penguin which is found towards the north of the equator. While this island group consists of several volcanic islands, ninety percent of the Galapagos penguin population is restricted to the islands of Fernandina and Isabela in the west. Rest of them are spread on other islands; namely Santiago, Santa Cruz, Bartolome, and Floreana.
The Galapagos penguin is a classic example of black and white penguin species which we often associate with the word 'penguin'. These birds are typically characterized by a white line which begins behind their eyes, runs down their chin, and further down their body. On an average, they go on to attain a height of 19 - 20 inches and weigh up to 6 lb. This makes them the third smallest penguin species in the world and the smallest in South America.
Diet and Hunting
Galapagos penguins mostly feed on small fish species, such as sardines and mullet, which are brought in by the water currents of this region. In fact, the Galapagos species is highly dependent on water currents for food. In times of food scarcity, they also feed on crustaceans which come their way. These penguins hunt within a radius of few miles from the breeding site and most often resort to hunting during the daytime. More importantly, they have a peculiar style of hunting wherein they swoop into the water, position themselves beneath their prey, and grab it on their way back.
Lifespan and Reproduction
Galapagos penguins have a lifespan of 15 - 20 years in the wild. Interestingly, they attain sexual maturity between the age of 3 - 8 and continue to be sexually active throughout their life. As they don't have a specific breeding season, Galapagos penguins can breed anytime during the year and that too, as many as three times in a year. The flexibility in breeding season is one of the natural adaptations in this species, which helps them make sure that the young ones are born when food is available in abundance. This adaptive mechanism is quite important as this species relies on water currents for food supply. The female Galapagos penguin lays one or two eggs in the nest prepared at the breeding site which is within a range of approximately 50 meters from the sea. The eggs hatch after the incubation period of 38 - 40 days. In the case of two eggs, the parents choose the healthy hatchling and give it preferential treatment so that it survives, while ignoring the other.
Considering the fact that penguins, in general, are mostly associated with cold regions, it's a surprise to find this species living so close to the equator. Basically, Galapagos penguins have adapted to the warm climate in this region. They spend most of the time of the day in the ocean water, which is relatively cold owing to the cold water brought in by the Cromwell Current, and come on land after the sunset. These penguins are often seen standing with their flippers spread apart. This helps them lose heat and survive the soaring temperature of this region.
Of late, the Galapagos penguin is battling for its survival on the planet and has been enlisted as an endangered species by the IUCN. The species was declared threatened back in 1988. By 1994, there was a drastic decline in its population, as a result of which it was declared vulnerable, and within five years, it was declared endangered. If the situation continues, it won't be long before we see it featuring in IUCN Red List alongside other extinct animals.