Let’s face it, everyone loves a cute penguin! From Happy Feet to Skipper, Kowalski, Rico & Private, adventurous penguins have hit the big screen. In the real world, what greater adventure than the penguin who moved to Galapagos to live on the equator? The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest in the world, and the only one of its species found in the heat of the tropics. Visitors can even swim or snorkel with Galapagos penguins.
Keep Reading to learn one of the most unique and unbelievable wildlife stories on the planet. We give you 14 Galapagos penguin fun facts, and heaps more information besides.
The Galapagos penguin is related to the Humboldt Penguin from Chile. They originally washed up on Galapagos shores some 4 million years ago, swimming up on ocean currents. The Galapagos waters are very rich in fish and nutrients, so they decided to stay here where they have plenty of food.
Penguins are designed for the cold weather of the Antrarctic, so the Galapagos penguin has had to adapt to live in hot weather.
Firstly, they became smaller, losing excess body fat that was no longer required to keep them warm in cold seas. Today Galapagos penguins are perfectly lean and streamlined for the hot sun on the equator.
Secondly, Galapagos Penguins had to adapt a method of thermo-regulation. Penguins have no sweat glands, so they cannot sweat like humans to cool off. Instead they have learned to pant like dogs in order to keep cool. They also tend to keep out of the hot midday sun, staying in the shade or taking a dip in the sea.
If you happen to see them hunched over in a strange standing position, it’s to keep their delicate feet in the shade to avoid sun burn.
Galapagos penguins can grow up to 19inches (48cm) tall, weighing just 5.5 pounds (2.5kg). For comparison an adult Emperor Penguin weighs a full 18 times more! In fact, only the Little Penguin (Fairy Penguin), found in Australia and New Zealand, is smaller in size than the Galapagos penguin.
Galapagos penguins are rather romantic creatures. Once they choose a mate, they stay together as a couple through good times and bad. Penguin couples can often be observed preening one another, and tapping bills to strenthen their bond and communicate emotions.
They also develop strong family relationships. After their eggs hatch, chicks mature into fledglings. Unlike other penguins though, the chicks at Galapagos stay with their parents after this event, being cared for and fed into young adulthood.
In the warm & wet season (January to May), the Galapagos waters heat up. During this time Galapagos penguins are found mostly on the western side of Isabela Island and Fernandina. Here the waters are cooler and richer in nutrients, so food is in greater supply.
In the cool & dry season (June to December) the waters across the archipelago cool down, so some penguins can migrate east to Bartolome island.
The cooler seas in dry season (June to December) cause an upwelling of nutrients and fish. This is the optimal time for penguins as food is abundant, so they take advantage by nesting and mating. They can be more confident that they will find the necessary resources to reproduce and feed their young.
Like all penguin species, they are fast and agile in the water, and highly skilled at catching fish. Galapagos penguins hunt during the day, usually close to their nesting sites. Their principal diet consists of anchovies, sardines and mullet, diving to depths of up to 30meters in search of a tasty meal.
The Galapagos penguin is endemic to the Galapagos islands – that means that you can only find it here. In fact it is the rarest penguin species in the world. Today it’s estimated that there are just 1,200 mature adult penguins living at the Galapagos islands, with a decreasing population trend.
In the wild Galapagos penguins can be expected to live for between 15 and 20 years.
A curious penguin fun fact is that no species have teeth. Instead of chewing their food, penguins snag fish with their beak, and have sharp ridges on their tongues and throat to help swallow slippery prey.
While most penguins species molt just once each year, the Galapagos penguin will shed his/her feathers 2 or 3 times over the same period.
The strong tropical sun take it’s toll on feathers, so more frequent molting is required to keep feathers in pristine condition. They’ll usually molt before breeding, and are unable to go into the water until a new coat grows.
Galapagos penguins swim like torpedos, capable of reaching impressive speeds of up to 35km/h. Compare that to the much slower 7.6km/h of Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. If you are lucky enough to snorkel with a Galapagos penguin you’ll appreciate just how fast and agile they are in the water, making sharp direction changes look easy.
Similar to other penguin species, The Galapagos penguin is a flightless bird so don’t expect to see them in the air. In fact they are also rather clumsy on land. It’s only in the water that penguins are truly at home.
Time for our final Galapagos penguin fun fact ...
The most common natural predators of Galapagos penguins are sharks, fur seals and sea lions. On land they also face threats from invasive species that have been introduced by humans, such as cats, dogs and rats.
Another important threat to Galapagos penguins is the El Nino weather phenomenom. El niño years mean unusually warm Galapagos seas, causing penguin food supplies to dwindle. Survival at this time is tough, often forcing penguins to abandon their chicks and nests. Even adults themselves often find it hard to find enough food to survive. In the major El Nino of 1982, as many as 77% of Galapagos penguins perished. It took decades to recover to healthy population numbers again.
We hope that you enjoyed learning our Galapagos Penguin fun facts. Check out our more detailed blog about the Galapagos penguin species, including where & how to see them. Even better come see these cute fellas for yourself! It’s surprisingly easy to organise a vacation to Galapagos with our help, and there are lots of other amazing Galapagos animals and birds to see too!