The Galapagos penguin is listed as endangered under
the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Penguins are flightless sea birds. They can be many
different colors from the chest up. Most species have
black backs and white fronts. Penguins are able to
control their body temperature on land by facing
either their black back or white front to the sun. This
coloration also camouflages them in the water.
They have a thick layer of blubber that helps keep
There are 17 penguin species, varying greatly in size.
The largest is the emperor penguin at 4 feet tall and about 65 to 90 pounds. The smallest is the little penguin, also known as the blue or fairy penguin, which weighs 2 pounds.
Penguins can live up to 15 to 20 years in the wild.
Penguins are found on every continent in the southern hemisphere, from the Antarctic to the Galapagos Islands.
Penguins are carnivores and mostly eat krill, a tiny shrimp-like animal, and other fish. Their sharp, spine-like teeth allow them to catch fish up to 10 inches long, which they swallow head first.
With compact, streamlined bodies, penguins can swim an average of 2.5 to 5 miles per hour – using their wings as paddles – with some species swimming as fast as 7.5 miles per hour. They also "toboggan," laying on their belly and pushing themselves along the ice with their flippers and feet. Most penguin species spend several hours a day preening and waterproofing their feathers with an oil produced from a gland located above their tail feathers. Feathers are important to keep penguins warm and to keep cold water from touching their skin.
Most penguin species gather in colonies in areas free from land predators during nesting. Many penguins build a nest of rocks, sticks or grass where one or two eggs are laid. Because penguins only eat in the ocean, they must fast while mating, incubating eggs and guarding chicks. The male and female usually take turns tending to the eggs and raising the chicks while the other mate returns to the ocean to eat. Adult feathers replace a chick’s down at about two to four months. Once the chick has adult feathers, it is ready to swim and hunt on its own.
Penguins living more than 60 degrees south of the equator are protected from hunting by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. Penguins are currently threatened by human activity, most notably by global warming. Even the slightest climate change affects sea water temperature, ice cover and the availability of food sources, and scientists believe that this is the most likely cause for recent declines in penguin populations. Other threats include oil spills, human exploitation for guano and food, entanglement in fishing gear, human encroachment, over-fishing of food sources and introduced predators such as dogs.
The Galapagos penguin is the only species listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
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