Skip navigation
Go to home page > News > Our blog > How the Galapagos Penguin adapted to life in the sun
Galapagos penguin
13/11/2015 Wildlife facts

How the Galapagos Penguin adapted to life in the sun

The Galapagos Islands are home to some uniquely adapted animal species, but you probably don't associate this tropical archipelago with cold-loving penguins.

Photograph of Daniel Swindlehurst

Daniel Swindlehurst

Volunteer at Galapagos Conservation Trust

People are often surprised to discover that Galapagos does have its very own penguin species, and, true to Galapagos form, it’s unique.

A surprising home for penguins

Although the Humboldt and Cromwell ocean currents bring cool penguin-friendly waters to the Galapagos, and supply nutrients that allow the archipelago to support large stocks of fish on which the penguins can feed, the Galapagos Islands bake under a fiercely hot equatorial sun, and the life giving ocean currents can also periodically disappear.

To cope with the heat, and periods of greatly reduced food supply, the Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), the world’s only equatorial penguin species, has had to evolve a suit of unique physical and behavioural adaptations.

Galapagos penguin
Galapagos penguin © Simon Pierce
Galapagos penguin

Galapagos penguin

Spheniscus mendiculus

A favourite with many visitors to the Islands, the Galapagos penguin is the most northerly occurring species of penguin in the world.

Learn more

Living in the sun

To prevent overheating in the sun, Galapagos penguins have less body fat and fewer feathers than cold-weather penguins, and they have areas of bare skin that they use to radiate heat away from their bodies. The Galapagos penguin is also the second smallest penguin species, as a small body size means a larger surface area in relation to their volume, with which they can lose body heat more efficiently than larger penguins. Penguins can’t sweat to lose heat, so the Galapagos penguins pant when they’re hot, like dogs.

Galapagos penguins, sensibly, tend to hunt in the cool water during the day and come onto land at night. And when on land during the day, the penguins adopt a characteristic pose, holding their wings out at their sides to lose heat to the cooling sea breeze, and they hunch over their feet to keep them in their shadow, to stop the exposed skin from absorbing the sun’s rays.

Surviving starvation

A small body size helps the Galapagos penguin cope with periods of little or no food, as a smaller body requires fewer calories, but Galapagos penguin society also shows adaptations to help them cope with periodic scarcity.

Whereas most penguin species hunt in groups, Galapagos penguins usually hunt by themselves or in pairs, to ensure they search far and wide for food, and whilst most penguin species nest in colonies, the Galapagos penguin often makes solitary nests in order to take advantage of limited areas of shade. When it comes to breeding, most penguins usually have seasonal breeding cycles, but the Galapagos penguin instead breeds opportunistically, whenever conditions are favourable.

Galapagos penguin
Galapagos penguin in the water © Jonathan Green

Conservation status

The Galapagos penguin is the rarest penguin species in the world, and is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. As they’re only found in the Galapagos Archipelago, the penguins are vulnerable to environmental changes, both natural, such as changes in ocean currents, and also man-made, particularly the introduction of cats, dogs and rats, which feed on penguin eggs and chicks.

Galapagos penguin adoption pack

Adopt a Galapagos penguin

Postal adoption pack includes a fact file and a personalised certificate printed on 100% recycled paper, plus a soft toy.

Shop now

Related articles

14th Nov 2023
Wildlife facts

Meet the six Galapagos species you can adopt with GCT

One of the ways we encourage people to support the wildlife of Galapagos is through our species adoptions, which help fund several projects across the Archipelago.
Read more
27th Dec 2019

Reducing the threat of Avian Malaria

Avian malaria is a newly recognised threat to the famous finches, penguins and mockingbirds of Galapagos.
Read more
9th Feb 2017

My Galapagos Experience

This month’s guest blog was kindly written by Jo Clough, who has been a member of GCT for 19 years.
Read more
20th Jan 2017
Wildlife facts

Penguin Awareness Day

There are 17 species of penguin around the world – but only one species lives on the Equator, the Galapagos penguin.
Read more

Get the latest news from Galapagos

Join our mailing list to receive our monthly email newsletter, bringing you the latest news on Galapagos and our work to protect the Islands.

Share This Page