Living on the equator, the Galapagos penguins stand out from other species in several ways. While they have a similar appearance to other penguins, they are only found in certain areas of the islands. Most visitors look forward to seeing them, but these shy animals are a little harder to spot than the active sea lions and ancient tortoises. Continue reading to learn more about fascinating facts about Galapagos penguins.
A Small Species
Standing at only 48 to 50 centimeters, the Spheniscus mendiculus is the second-smallest penguin species. Weights about 2 kilograms, and they have a lifespan of roughly 15 to 20 years. Covered in black, white and grey feathers, they have a distinctive white border that runs behind their eyes, around the black ears and down to the chin. Otherwise, these penguins sport the black head and back along with a white stomach that is found in most other species.
Galapagos Penguins in Fernandina and Isabela
If you want to see some tuxedo-wearing penguins on your trip, then be sure to include Fernandina and Isabela Islands in your itinerary. Roughly 90 percent of Galapagos penguins are found in these locations although they’re also seen on Santiago, Bartolome, Floreana and northern Santa Cruz as well. Visit our Northern or Western Galapagos Itineraries to see these amazing species!
Days in the Water, Nights on the Ground
During the day, the penguins retreat to the water for foraging trips. At night, however, they return to the ground to sleep in burrows. They have their flippers oriented outward while resting. The strong and rich currents in the region ensure that the diurnal animals are able to find plenty of food in the water when they’re out in the daytime.
Worried About Sunburns
People often wonder why these penguins walk in a slightly hunched manner. It’s because their feet are sensitive to the sun and can become burned. By hunching over slightly, they keep their feet in the shade. They also extend their flippers to radiate excess heat and regulate body temperature.
Galapagos penguins bond for life. The couples will preen each other, and they frequently tap their partners with their bill as a way of showing affection and developing a stronger relationship. Their mating season depends on the food supply, but it’s typically between May and July.
The animals make use of cracks and depressions in the lava rocks to lay their eggs. Both parents work together to incubate the eggs over a period of 40 days. Once the eggs hatch, the parents work as a unit to bring food to them until their feathers develop and they can leave the nest. Although they’re social animals who live in colonies, penguins do get territorial about their personal space. They will protect their nesting area from neighboring penguins.
Using body movements and vocalizations to communicate with each other, penguin noises are similar to the braying of a donkey, and each one has unique sounds that allow it to identify its mate and offspring. In addition to flapping their wings in a type of dance to attract mates, they’ll also use wing movements and certain postures to drive off predators.
Many travelers dream of snorkelling in Galapagos with the penguins, but this type of encounter is actually quite rare. This is partly because the penguins are extremely fast. They dart through the water in search of their prey, and they won’t give people around them much notice as they catch food. The penguin diet includes anchovies, sardines, mullet and more, and it’s believed that they may also feed on crustaceans.
Juveniles grow quickly; they approach adult size in just 30 to 40 days. Immature penguins are still easy to spot because their feathers are a soft grey rather than the stark black that comes in adulthood. They also develop the banding later, so they won’t have the unique markings of their parents.
When visiting the Galapagos, be sure to include some time for the penguins. These unique animals are endemic to the islands, and their numbers are shrinking. If you’re visiting with children, they’re sure to be delighted by the penguins if you’re lucky enough to see them.