Life isn’t always easy for the Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus). Measuring just 19 inches in length, it is the second smallest penguin species in the world, after the appropriately named little penguin. Being so small, it has a number of predators. In the sea, it is prey for sharks, fur seals and sea lions. And on land, it has to watch out for snakes, rice rats, cats, Galapagos hawks, short-eared owls and even crabs.
This fragile penguin species lives only on the Galapagos Islands, with 90% living on Fernandina Island and Isabela Island, both in the western part of the archipelago. Estimates place the total population at between 1,500 and 1,800, making it the rarest penguin species in the world. It is also classified as endangered.
As well as being one of the smallest and rarest penguin species, the Galapagos penguin is also a geographic anomaly. It is the only penguin species to live north of the equator, thanks to the population on the northern tip of Isabela Island, which just creeps over the dividing line between the two hemispheres.
Galapagos penguins are able to survive on the equator thanks to the cooling effects of the Humboldt and Cromwell Currents, which allow them to live at a tropical latitude normally unsuitable for penguins. But heat remains a problem.
When it gets too hot on land, the penguins cool off in the water whenever possible. Sometimes, however, they need to stay on land to care for their chicks, so they have developed alternative ways to cool down. They can stretch out their flippers and lean forward to cast a shadow on their own feet, through which they can get rid of excess heat. Unlike most penguins, they can also pant to regulate their temperature. As for their eggs, these are kept in crevices deep in the rocks, away from the direct heat of the sun.
Other Iconic Galapagos Species