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Galapagos Penguins Adaptations: Warm Water Penguins?

Want to see some penguins – but don’t like the cold? Thanks to Galapagos penguins adaptations you can see these tuxedoed cuties where it’s nice and warm – on the equator.

In this post, you’ll learn all about Galapagos penguins, their adaptations, and where you can see them.

Galapagos Penguin facts

Learn more about traveling to the Galapagos where you can see these penguins in the wild.


Galapagos Penguins Adaptations

Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) are the only penguins that live (in the wild) in the northern hemisphere. And they are the most tropical of all penguins. Here are 12 Galapagos penguin facts.

In the following video, you’ll see these cute penguins closeup and learn how to identify them.

Watch on YouTube via Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels

7 Questions Answered About Galapagos Penguins

Let’s learn about Galapagos penguins adaptations by answering some common questions about these warm water penguins.

1) Where do Galapagos penguins live?

Galapagos penguins are endemic to the Galapagos Islands, which are located 1000 km (600 miles) off the coast of mainland Ecuador. You won’t see them in the wild anywhere else in the world. The best islands to see them on are Fernandina and Isabela. You may also see them on Floreana, Santa Cruz , Bartolome, and Santiago.

They nest near the shore in the crevices and cavities of rocks.

2) How do Galapagos penguins survive in a tropical climate?

Hot temperatures can make it hard for these penguins to keep cool. Some Galapagos penguins adaptations are seen in the way they stand on hot sunny days.

By leaning forward they shade their feet from the sun, and they stretch their flippers out to the sides. This stance helps them keep cool because they loose heat from the underparts of their flippers, and the skin on their feet. They also cool down by panting.

You’ll learn more about this behavior in the following video.

Watch on YouTube via Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels

Another adaptation to hot temperatures is seen in their breeding behavior. Water temperatures in the Galapagos can be unpredictable, some years are harder on the penguins than others. When water temperatures are abnormally high, their food supply is reduced. Sometimes this results in a suspension of breeding, which helps ensure survival of the adult species.

They protect their eggs from the sun by laying them in the cracks, caves and crevices of rocks.

One advantage of the warm water is that it makes it possible for them to hunt for food even when they are molting. Because of cold water temperatures, most penguin species don’t usually hunt while molting, so underweight birds can face starvation in years when food is scarce. Galapagos penguins have it easy in this regard.

3) Are Galapagos penguins good swimmers?

Galapagos penguins are very good swimmers. Underwater they use their wings (fins) to propel themselves forward, and their feet to steer. It looks like they are flying.

They can dive to depths of 164 feet (50 meters) in search of food.  They have also been seen “porpoising,” much like dolphins leap happily above the water.

Above the water they swim at a slower pace and look very much like ducks.

Galapagos Penguin swimming

Photo credit Charlesjsharp

4) How big are Galapagos penguins?

This is the second smallest penguin species in the world. An average Galapagos penguin grows to around 19 inches (49 centimeters) long and weighs about 5.5 lb (2.5 kilograms). When they stand up, they are only about 14 inches (35 centimeters) tall.

The females are smaller than the males but look very similar.

5) What do Galapagos penguins eat?

They eat small fish, squid, and crustaceans.

The diet of the Galapagos penguin is dependent on the rich nutrients brought to the Galapagos by the cool Cromwell current and Humbolt current. When these currents are disrupted by El Niño, Galapagos penguins can suffer. This is where we see some of the Galapagos penguins adaptations.

For example, when the Cromwell and Humbolt currents don’t supply sufficient food, Galapagos Penguins may postpone breeding completely. This helps to ensure the survival of the adult population.

Galapagos Penguins Adaptations

6) How many Galapagos penguins are there?

There are only about 1000 breeding pairs, which makes them the rarest penguin species. Galapagos penguins do not migrate and are only found in the Galapagos Islands.

The population suffered greatly in 1982/83 because of El Niño, it was reduced by 75%. The same thing happened in 1997/98 when the population was reduced by 65%. Because of their restricted breeding area, the effects of El Niño, and vulnerability to predators (natural and introduced) they are endangered.

7) How many eggs do Galapagos penguins lay?

Galapagos penguins usually lay 2 eggs, but in most cases only one chick survives. The eggs are incubated for around 40 days by both parents. They continue to look after the chick for another 60 days until it’s ready to fend for itself.

This is another area where we can see some Galapagos penguins adaptations. These penguins can breed a couple of times during a year of rich food supply. This can happen at anytime throughout the year, but is usually during April/May and August/September.

Galapagos penguin on the rocks

Photo credit putneymark 

I hope those answers helped you learn more about Galapagos Penguins. If you have a question that was missed, please ask it in the comments section on this post.


Seeing Galapagos Penguins in the Wild

Have you seen Galapagos Penguins in the wild? Do you have plans to? If so, share your experience with us by commenting.

In this final video, you’ll see the penguins swimming underwater, and get an idea of what it would be like to spend time with them in the wild.

Watch on YouTube via Graham McConnell

Don’t you love how they fly around underwater? They’re just so cute!

Read more about Galapagos Sea Lions and Family Learning Journeys in Ecuador.

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