Penguins are at home in the cold waters of the Antarctic, in the land of ice and snow. You would never expect to see a penguin species living on a tropical island. One species does that on the Galapagos islands in Ecuador. While it can stand the hot temperatures on land, it still depends on cold ocean currents to survive.
Galapagos penguins are one of the smaller penguin species, averaging about 53 cm tall and weighing 1.7 to 2.6 kg. The males are slightly bigger than the females. Like other penguins, they are black on the back and white underneath, which helps camouflage them from predators when they're swimming. A predator looking up would see the penguin's white stomach against the lighter surface. A predator looking down would see the dark back. Galapagos penguins also have a white line that runs back from their eye to under the chin, and a black mark that starts at the top of their chest and runs to their feet.
Diet and Breeding
Galapagos penguins mostly feed on small fish, though they will eat other foods such as mollusks and zooplankton. They prefer to swim underneath their prey, and come at the prey from below. Galapagos penguins mate for life and don't have a breeding season. In years where food is plentiful, they can lay up to three clutches of eggs. One parent stays with the eggs or chicks, while the other goes out to search for food. The penguins show affection by grooming one another and tapping their bills together. They also dance with one another in a ritualized manner.
True to its name, the Galapagos penguin lives only on the Galapagos islands. They don't migrate; they stay in the area around the islands all their lives. More than 90 percent live on the islands of Fernandina and Isabella. Parts of Isabella lie a few miles north of the equator, so the Galapagos penguin is the only penguin with a population living in the Northern hemisphere. The penguins live on the coastal areas of the island and nest in burrows underground.
The Galapagos was put on the endangered species list in 1970. As of 2010, there were as few as 1,000 pairs in the wild. The penguin is especially vulnerable to natural weather pattern changes, which can wipe out its food sources and breeding grounds. During an especially bad El Nino in 1982, 77 percent of the adult penguins died of starvation. Introduced predators such as rats and cats are also a problem for nesting penguins.