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.
- 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/
Ecuador (Galapagos Islands)
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.
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.
Habitat and Ecology
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)
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.
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.
- 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
Life History and 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.
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.
Status: wild: 15 to 20 years.
Status: wild: 15-20 years.
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.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spheniscus mendiculus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
According to the IUCN Red List and the United States Endangered Species Act, Galapagos penguins are currently listed as endangered. Due to climatic changes brought about by El Niño and La Niña cycles, the food supply available to the Galapagos penguins varies greatly. These unpredictable shifts in food supply often lead to starvation and deaths and a substantial decline in the already dwindling penguin population. Furthermore, human disturbances and predation are major factors contributing to the decline of S. mendiculus. Human disturbance is the main cause for ecosystem harm that affects the nesting grounds of Galapagos penguins. Few efforts are underway to protect S. mendiculus. However, recently the Galapagos Conservation Trust launched the Sylvia Harcourt-Carrasco Bird Life Fund for Galapagos that will aim much of its efforts at conserving the population of Galapagos penguins. This fund provides a push for the conservation of S. mendiculus that may lead to other conservation actions, and eventually to a restored, healthy population.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Spheniscus mendiculus , see its USFWS Species Profile
The whole Galápagos Penguin population is found within the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve. The population is annually monitored and introduced predators are controlled by the Galápagos National Park Sevice. Research projects investigating the marine habitat use, diet, breeding activity and impact of introduced species were carried out between 2003 and 2005 (Vargas 2006, Steinfurth 2007). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue long-term monitoring programmes. Improve fisheries management. Increase protection levels within the Galápagos Marine Reserve in areas of penguin breeding sites (fishery exclusion zones should be set up to a distance of 24 km in each direction from a colony along the coast and extending out to sea for 1.5 km). Investigate marine habitat use by non-breeding birds. Monitor and minimise effects of human disturbance in breeding areas. Monitor and minimise penguin mortality from alien species at breeding sites. Develop stronger regulations in the islands to prevent further mammalian predator introductions. Provide nest-boxes in predator-free areas to help monitor reproductive success.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Galapagos penguins may cause minor economic harm to the seafood industry for humans. As S. mendiculus relies heavily on a diet of small fish, such as anchovies and sardines, collectively the species can have an effect on the number of small fish available to catch for human consumption in their range. It has been shown that a penguin population can eat upwards of 6,000 to 7,000 tons of food locally, approximately 3,000 tons of that total has some economic value to humans.
Galapagos penguins provide economic value to humans who use this species and its coastal habitat to promote ecotourism. Many tourists and avid birdwatchers will pay to travel and visit the habitats of the Galapagos penguins.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism
The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is a penguin endemic to the Galapagos Islands. It is the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild. It can survive due to the cool temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current. The Galapagos penguin is one of the banded penguins, the other species of which live mostly on the coasts of Africa and mainland South America.
The average Galapagos penguin is 49 centimetres (19 in) long and 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lb) in weight. It is the second smallest species of penguin. They have a black head with a white border running from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, to join on the throat. They have black-grey upperparts and whitish underparts, with two black bands across the breast, the lower band extending down the flanks to the thigh. Juveniles differ in having a wholly dark head, greyer on side and chin, and no breast-band. The female penguins are smaller than the males, but are otherwise quite similar.
While ninety percent of the Galapagos penguins live among the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela, they also occur on Santiago, Bartolomé, northern Santa Cruz, and Floreana. The northern tip of Isabela crosses the equator, meaning that Galápagos penguins occasionally visit the northern hemisphere, the only penguins to do so.
Ecology and behavior
The penguins stay in the archipelago. They stay by the Cromwell Current during the day since it is cooler and return to the land at night. They eat small schooling fish, mainly mullet, sardines, and sometimes crustaceans. They search for food only during the day and normally within a few kilometers of their breeding site. They depend on the cold nutrient-rich currents to bring them food.
The temperature at the islands stays between 15 and 28°C (59–82°F). During El Niño seasons, the penguins put off breeding, because their food becomes less abundant; this makes the chances of raising offspring successfully unfavorable compared to the chances of dying in the attempt. They usually breed when the sea surface temperature is below 24°C (75°F) which results in more food for them. The strong sun is the main problem for the penguins. Their primary means of cooling off is going into the water, but they have other behavioral adaptations because of all the time they spend on land. They use two methods of thermoregulation in warmer weather on land. One is by stretching out their flippers and hunching forward to keep the sun from shining on their feet, since they can lose heat from their flippers due to the blood flow there. They also pant, using evaporation to cool the throat and airways. Galapagos penguins protect their eggs and chicks from the hot sun by keeping them in deep crevices in the rocks.
The species is endangered, with an estimated population size of around 1,500 individuals in 2004, according to a survey by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The population underwent an alarming decline of over 70% in the 1980s, but is slowly recovering. It is therefore the rarest penguin species (a status which is often falsely attributed to the yellow-eyed penguin). Population levels are influenced by the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which reduces the availability of shoaling fish, leading to low reproduction or starvation. However, anthropogenic factors (e.g. oil pollution, fishing by-catch and competition) may be adding to the ongoing demise of this species. On Isabela Island, introduced cats, dogs, and rats attack penguins and destroy their nests. When in the water, they are preyed upon by sharks, fur seals, and sea lions.
There are fewer than 1000 breeding pairs of Galapagos penguins in the world. Breeding begins when the temperature of the sea surface falls to around 24°C. Most nests are seen between May and January. The nests are made within 50 metres (160 ft) of the water on the shore, usually on Fernandina and Isabela Islands. Adults stay near the breeding area during the year with their mate. When the penguins are breeding, incubation takes 38–40 days with both parents helping out. The Galapagos penguin mates for life. It lays one or two eggs in places such as caves and crevices, protected from direct sunlight, which can lead to the eggs overheating. One parent will always stay with the eggs or chicks while the other is absent for several days to feed. The parents usually rear only one child. If there is not enough food available, the nest may be abandoned. Thirty days after the chicks hatch, the chicks' feathers are brown above and white below. These feathers are to protect the chicks from the strong sun rather than keep them warm. Bermudian naturalist Louis L. Mowbray was the first to successfully breed the Galapagos penguins in captivity.
Because of the Galapagos penguin's smaller size, it has many predators. On land, the penguins are preyed upon by crabs, snakes, rice rats, cats, hawks, and owls. While in the water they are preyed upon by sharks, fur seals, and sea lions. They face many hazards due to humans, as well as the hazards of unreliable food resources and volcanic activity. Illegal fishermen may interrupt the penguins’ nesting, and they are often caught in fishing nets by mistake.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Spheniscus mendiculus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Bingham, Mike. "Galapagos Penguin". International Penguin Conservation Work Group.
- "Louis Mowbray". Bermuda Biographies. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
- "The Adaptations of the Galapagos Penguin For a Harsh and Unpredictable Environment". Archived from the original on 29 June 2009.
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