The only northern penguin in the world!

And it’s probably not as north as you’re thinking. The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the only penguin species native to the northern hemisphere, and can be found on Galapagos Islands - primarily the western islands of Isabela and Fernandina. Isabela barely crosses the Equator into the northern hemisphere, making the Galapagos Penguins the only species to naturally venture into the north. They are able to survive the warm equatorial temperatures because of the Humboldt and Cromwell currents, which are cold currents.

Galapagos Penguins are the smallest of the banded penguins which live in South America and the southern coasts of Africa. Adults stand around 19 inches (49 cm) tall, and weigh only 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg). Their heads are almost entirely black, with a white stripe running from the tops of its eyes and meeting in a bigger white patch on their chests, which is separated from the white of their bellies with another black band. Juveniles are dark gray almost all over their bodies, before they fledge into their adult plumage.

The diet of Galapagos Penguins consists mostly of small schooling fish like sardines and mullet, supplemented with crustaceans. They have developed some behaviors that help them cope with the warmer temperatures of the islands, which include standing with their flippers outspread, which helps their bodies to lose heat. When on shore, they will often hunch forward, shading their feet from the sun. And they pant, using the air moving in and out of their respiratory system to cool their internal airways and throat. They will also stand in the shade whenever possible.

Breeding can be tricky for Galapagos Penguins, as the El Niño effect raises the sea surface temperature and impacts the availability of the their food sources. They are able to put off breeding when the sea is higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius). This adaptation allows them to prevent wasting their energy in hostile breeding conditions. When Galapagos Penguins are able to breed, they form life-long monogamous pair bonds and lay their eggs (usually a clutch of two) in rocky crevices that are shaded from the sun, so that they don’t overheat. After a 40-day incubation period, the chicks must continue to be sheltered until they grow enough feathers to protect them from the sun. The chicks fledge at around 65 days.

Galapagos Penguins have an abundance of natural predators, which include sharks, sea lions and seals in the water, and hawks, cats, rats and crabs on land. Because there are only an estimated 1,500 individuals left, they are considered to be an endangered species by the IUCN. The penguins are greatly impacted by warm temperatures, and researchers feel that climate change could have a devastating impact on an already delicate population.

Source for all images used in this post.