Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The Galapagos penguin is the most northerly of all penguins, occurring on the Galapagos Islands, on the equator (3). It is the third smallest penguin in the world (4) and is the smallest member of the Spheniscidae family (5). This diminutive penguin has a black head and upperparts, with a narrow white line extending from the throat around the head to the corner of the eye (6). The underparts are white with two black bands extending across the breast (2). The upper part of the bill and the tip of the lower part of the bill are black, the rest of the bill and a bare patch around the eye and bill are pinkish yellow (6). Although the sexes are generally similar in appearance, males are larger than females (5). Juveniles have a totally dark head, and lack the dark breast bands seen in adults (2). This species has more bare skin on the face than other penguins; this is an adaptation to the hot temperatures experienced on the Galapagos (4).
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Biology

The Galapagos penguin has a number of unique adaptations that allow it to survive the high temperatures and unpredictable food supply of the Galapagos (4). Foraging in the sea for small schooling fish during the day helps them to avoid overheating (4). Diving takes place between the hours of 05h30 and 18h30, with short breaks on land between dives (7). Most dives are shallow and take place close to the shore (7). This species has a number of behavioural adaptations that allow these birds to keep cool on land. These include standing with the flippers extended to aid heat loss, as well as panting and seeking shade (6) (4). When standing on land they tend to adopt a strange hunched posture, which shades their bare feet, another site of heat loss, aided by increased blood flow to the bare skin (6). Most penguins have a distinct annual breeding season at a particular time of year, but the Galapagos penguin does not. Furthermore, it may produce as many as three clutches in a single year. These adaptations help this species to cope with the highly unpredictable food resources reaching the Galapagos. The unpredictability of the ocean currents that bring small fish to the islands is compounded further by changes in water temperatures caused by El Nino events (4). The flexibility of breeding in this penguin allows it to take advantage of times of high food abundance (6). When the surface temperature of the sea becomes high, food shortages result as the water becomes very poor in nutrients. These periods are known as El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO). During these periods, the penguins will delay breeding completely until the food resources improve (6). Pair bonds are for life, enabling these birds to begin breeding quickly when conditions improve. The bond is reinforced by mutual preening and bill tapping. Two eggs are produced at an interval of around four days. Incubation takes up to 40 days and is shared by the male and female. After 30 days the chicks develop plumage to protect them from the sun. After 65 days the chicks will have fledged (6).
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Distribution

Range Description

Spheniscus mendiculus is endemic to the Galpagos Archipelago, Ecuador where its population is thought to number fewer than 2,000 individuals. Approximately 95 % of the Galpagos Penguin's population is found on Isabela and Fernandina Islands in the western part of the archipelago, with the remaining 5 % on Bartolom, Santiago, Logie and Floreana Islands in the central-south area of the archipelago (Jimnez-Uzctegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). Analysis of mark-recapture results indicates that past population estimates were too high. In 1971, 1,931 penguins were counted, equating to a population of 3,400 individuals (Boersma 1998). The 1982-1983 El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO) reduced the population by 77%. After this, the population entered a slow recovery phase. However, the 1997-1998 ENSO induced a further decline of 66% (Mills and Vargas 1997, Boersma 1998, Ellis et al. 1998). Although the annual penguin census shows a relatively stable and even slightly increasing population trend over the last nine years, the current small population size (1,009 individuals counted in 2007) represents only a small fraction of that in the 1970s (Vargas et al. 2005, Jimnez-Uzctegui et al. 2006, Vargas et al. 2007). The main breeding range stretches along the coast of the two westernmost islands, encompassing approximately 402 km of coastline, where 96% of all nests are found (Steinfurth 2007).

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Spheniscus mendiculus is found on the Galapagos Islands, off the western coast of Ecuador. Spheniscus mendiculus is a year-round resident of the majority of the 19 islands in the Galapagos chain. Most individuals are found on the two larger islands of Fernandina and Isabela.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

Other Geographic Terms: island endemic

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 2005. Galapagos Islands. Pp. 80 in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Vol. Volume 5, 15th Edition Edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc..
  • Harris, M. 1974. A Field Guide To The Birds of Galapagos. Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.
  • Sibley, C., B. Monroe Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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Range

Galapagos Islands (Fernandina and Isabela).
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Historic Range:
Ecuador (Galapagos Islands)

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Range

Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, with 95% of the population occurring on the western islands of Ferdinandina and Isabela, and 5% on Bartolome, Santiago and Floreana (2). This species has the smallest breeding range and lowest population numbers of all penguins (6). In 1999 the population numbered just 1,200 individuals (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Galapagos penguins are fairly small penguins, averaging only 53 cm in height and ranging in weight from 1.7 to 2.6 kg. Sexual dimorphism exists, in that males are slightly larger than females. Galapagos penguins are the smallest members of the Spheniscus or "banded" penguins. Members of this species are mainly black in color with white accenting colors on various locations of the body and a large white frontal area. As in all banded penguins, the head is black with a white mark that begins above both eyes and circles back, down, and forward to the neck. They have the narrowest head-stripe of the banded penguins, a factor that distinguishes them from the similar Spheniscus magellanicus. Below the head stripe, S. mendiculus has a small black collar that merges into the back. Below the black collar there is another white stripe that runs the length of both sides of the body, followed by a black stripe that also runs the length of the body.

Range mass: 1700 to 2600 g.

Average length: 53 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

  • Simpson, G. 1976. Penguins: Past and Present, Here and There. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Located on the equator, the Galpagos Penguin represents the most northerly breeding penguin species. Nonetheless, its distribution is highly linked to the cool and nutrient-rich oceanic waters in the western archipelago that allows for a high density of prey year-round (Palacios et al. 2006). It nests at sea-level, and appears to forage close to shore and at relatively shallow depths (Mills and Vargas 1997, Steinfurth et al. 2008). Galpagos Penguins breed throughout the year, with two marked peaks from March to May and from July to September coinciding with variation in the upwelling (Steinfurth 2007). Recent studies show that during chick-rearing adult birds move up to 23.5 km from the nest, concentrating foraging within 1 km of the shore (Steinfurth et al. 2007). While breeding Galpagos Penguins show a high site-fidelity (>80%), non-breeding Galpagos Penguins (adults and juveniles) tend to migrate away from their colony (max. 64 km) (Steinfurth 2007).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Galapagos penguins occupy coastal areas and offshore waters where the cold Cromwell Current brings food and other population-sustaining necessities into the vicinity. These birds rest on sandy shores and rocky beaches and nest on areas of sheltered coast. Galapagos penguins primarily breed on the larger islands of Fernandina and Isabela where they lay eggs in caves or holes found in the volcanic rock of the islands. When feeding, they will hunt for small fish and crustaceans in the coastal waters, diving to a depth of approximately 30 m.

Range elevation: 10 (high) m.

Range depth: 30 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Other Habitat Features: caves

  • Davis, L., J. Darby. 1990. Penguin Biology. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.
  • Gorman, J. 1990. The Total Penguin. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.
  • Lynch, W. 1997. Penguins of the World. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc.
  • Marshall Editions Developments Limited. 1990. Penguins, The Galapagos Penguin. Pp. 49 in J Elphick, ed. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds: The Definitive Reference to Birds of the World, Vol. 1, 1st Edition. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.
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Galapagos penguins nest in burrows and depressions in volcanic deposits. They forage in the sea close to the shore during the day (5).
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Trophic Strategy

Galapagos penguins are carnivorous and eat all types of small fish (no longer than 15 mm in length) and other small marine invertebrates. Prey species include anchovies (Engraulidae), sardines and pilchards (Cleupidae), and mullets (Mulgilidae). Galapagos penguins use their short wings to swim through the water and their small, stout beaks to capture small fish and other small marine organisms. Galapagos penguins usually hunt in groups and capture small prey by seizing them from below. The position of their eyes in relation to the beak means that they see prey best from a position below the prey.

Animal Foods: fish; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans; other marine invertebrates; zooplankton

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Associations

Galapagos penguins are major predators of small fish and other marine invertebrates in the coastal waters of the Galapagos. They also act as prey for marine and avian predators in the Galapagos.

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Galapagos penguins lay their eggs in caves or holes in the volcanic rock, reducing predation on their eggs. They also vocalize, attack, and use body movements (wing-flapping, vocal calls, etc.) to frighten away predators. This is most effective when a group of penguins confronts a predator. Predators on young penguins include rats, crabs, and snakes. As adults, Galapagos penguins are preyed on by hawks and owls, as well as feral cats and dogs. When foraging for food in the water, Galapagos penguins are preyed on by sharks and other large, marine animals. The pattern of black and white countershading on their body makes them difficult to see underwater. A predator looking from above will see a black-colored backside of the penguin that blends in with the darker, deeper water. A predator seeing the penguin from below will see a white underside that blends with the lighter-colored, shallow water.

Known Predators:

  • Galapagos rice rats (Oryzomys galapagoensis)
  • Sally lighfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus)
  • Galapagos snakes (Dromicus slevini and Dromicus dorsalis)
  • Galapagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis)
  • short-eared owls (Asio flammeus)
  • barn owls (Tyto alba)
  • domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
  • domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Galapagos penguins rely on a series of vocal calls and sounds as well as a complex array of body movements for varying communication purposes. Vocalizations are crucial in helping to identify mates and chicks. These calls, along with body movements such as wing-flapping, help to deter egg-snatching predators. In courtship rituals, S. mendiculus relies heavily on displays and postures that advertise sexual status (paired or not paired), help to attract a mate, and reinforce the bond between the pair. Spheniscus mendiculus also uses vocalizations and body movements for general communication, such as greetings and displays of emotion.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: duets

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

  • Sparks, J., T. Soper. 1987. Penguins. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.
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Life Expectancy

Galapagos penguins can live for 15 to 20 years. Because of high mortality rates due to predation, starvation, climatic events, and human disturbance, most Galapagos penguins do not live to such ages.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
15 to 20 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
15-20 years.

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Reproduction

Breeding in Galapagos penguins involves a fairly complex set of courtship rituals before copulation occurs. First, male Galapagos penguins must locate a mate if they do not already have one. Since these penguins generally copulate with the same mate throughout their lifespan, each year only a handful of adult penguins need to attract a new mate. Those that are searching for a new mate exhibit various courtship rituals that attract a mate and strengthen the bond between the two partners. Paired individuals also participate in courtship rituals that enhance the pair bond. Such courtship rituals include displays of mutual preening, flipper patting, and bill dueling. After finding a mate, but before copulation, each penguin pair builds a nest that is continuously renovated until the eggs are laid. When the complex courtship and initial nest building are complete, the penguins begin mating. In Galapagos penguins, as in all other penguins, mating involves a balancing act in which the male climbs upon the back of the female that is sprawled upon the ground on her stomach. Once on top, sometimes after several tries, the male and female copulate--the process usually only takes about one minute. Steady copulation usually begins to occur early before the first egg is laid. As egg laying draws closer the penguins may copulate more frequently, mounting up to 14 times a day. Once the eggs are laid, both male and female S. mendiculus care for the young, including incubating the egg, fasting, and foraging for food. This reproductive process occurs every time a pair of Galapagos penguins mate, up to two or three times a year.

Mating System: monogamous

Galapagos penguins breed two to three times a year, producing two eggs per clutch. As the breeding season lasts year round, most breeding occurs whenever coastal waters are cold enough and abundant with food supplies. These factors, necessary for breeding, occur most often between May and July, thus prompting most of the breeding of Galapagos penguins to occur during these months. However, as climatic changes are unpredictable, breeding can occur at any time of the year when conditions are favorable. Galapagos penguins construct nests in caves or volcanic-formed cavities before copulation takes place. At egg-laying Galapagos penguins incubate their eggs, which lasts from 38 to 42 days. After hatching, the same process of caring for the chick and foraging for food continues. Chicks fledge at approximately 60 days and are fully independent within 3 to 6 months. Female Galapagos penguins must wait another 3 to 4 years to reach sexual maturity while males must wait another 4 to 6 years.

Their nesting behavior is unique. Galapagos penguins will make their nests out of any resources that are available and often steal pebbles, sticks, and other components from a neighboring nest when the inhabitants are not present.

Breeding interval: Galapagos penguins generally breed two to three times a year, breeding when food supplies are plentiful in the surrounding coastal waters.

Breeding season: The breeding season of Galapagos penguins lasts throughout the year; however, most breeding takes place between May and July.

Range eggs per season: 4 to 6.

Range time to hatching: 38 to 42 days.

Average fledging age: 60 days.

Range time to independence: 3 to 6 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 4 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 to 6 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Parental investment of Galapagos penguins is divided between both males and females. Incubation duties are shared and, when one incubates, the other ventures to coastal waters to forage for food. Similarly, at hatching, one parent broods and guards the newly-hatched chick while the other forages for food to nourish itself and the chick. The foraging parent returns with food to regurgitate for the chick. This intense guarding and feeding process occurs for about 30 to 40 days, at which point the chick has grown substantially and can then be left alone for periods of time while the parents forage. This post-guarding period generally lasts about one month, at its completion the chick will have completed its growth into an adult penguin.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Gorman, J. 1990. The Total Penguin. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.
  • Lynch, W. 1997. Penguins of the World. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc.
  • Muller-Schwarze, D. 1984. The Behavior of Penguins: Adapted to Ice and Tropics. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Richdale, L. 1951. Sexual Behavior in Penguins. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.
  • Stonehouse, B. 1975. The Biology of Penguins. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spheniscus mendiculus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2bde;B1ab(v)c(iv)+2ab(v)c(iv);C2a(ii)b

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Steinfurth, A. & Vargas, H.

Justification
Long-term monitoring indicates that this species is undergoing severe fluctuations, primarily as a result of marine perturbations that may be becoming more extreme. These perturbations have caused an overall very rapid population reduction over the last three generations (34 years). In addition, it has a small population, and is restricted to a very small range, with nearly all birds breeding at just one location. These factors qualify it as Endangered.


History
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Near Threatened (NT)