Galapagos penguin

Not all penguins are found in icy-cold Antarctica; meet this one from near the equator!

Charles J. Sharp

Galapagos penguin


Not all penguins are found in icy-cold Antarctica; meet this one from near the equator!

Population 1,200
80% chance of extinction within the next 100 years

A remarkable species not just for its small stature but also for being the only penguin species that lives north of the equator in the wild. Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that is part of Ecuador, these birds have adapted to life in the tropics, a stark contrast to the icy habitats associated with most of their Antarctic relatives.

Galapagos Penguins are known for their adaptability, nesting in a variety of environments, including the sheltered environments of caves, crevices, and the unique lava tubes found on the volcanic islands. This adaptation is vital for protecting their offspring from predators and the harsh equatorial sun.

These penguins have several distinctive adaptations. Notably, they have bare patches of skin around their eyes and at the base of their bills, which are essential for thermoregulation. Without feathers on their legs and with these bare patches, they can expel excess body heat, helping them to cope with the tropical temperatures. This is crucial, as they inhabit an environment that includes both the cool, nutrient-rich waters brought by the Cromwell Current and the hot, arid conditions of the desert islands.

Despite their adaptations, Galapagos Penguins face considerable challenges. Their population is small and vulnerable, with estimates suggesting there are fewer than 2,000 individuals remaining. These penguins are subject to the whims of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which can dramatically alter sea temperatures and food availability. During El Niño events, the waters around the Galapagos can become too warm, leading to a collapse in the food chain that these penguins rely on, causing starvation and a consequent sharp decline in their numbers.

In addition to climate variability, the Galapagos Penguin is also threatened by marine plastic pollution. Plastics can be ingested by the penguins or their prey, leading to toxicity and potentially fatal obstructions. Human activity, including fishing and tourism, can also disturb their breeding grounds and lead to habitat degradation.


Population est.
Official estimate

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Colony

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No