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Endemic Species

They only live here

What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment we live in seriously.{i}

St Helena is officially Britain’s wealthiest place on Earth for natural treasures

Endemic Species

When first visited, the island was uninhabited, covered by one entire forest, and its shores abounding with turtles, seals, sea-lions, and various sorts of wild fowl. Its settlement, and early improvement in 1513, are attributed to the debarkation of a Portuguese nobleman[᠁], Fernandez Lopez by name, [᠁] he quickly brought some spots under cultivation, and imported hogs, goats, domestic poultry, partridges, and wild fowl, besides various sorts of fruits and vegetables, all of which increased and throve exceedingly, such as figs, oranges, lemons, peach-trees, &c.{j}

By the way, the claim that the island was covered by one entire forest is disputed. See the section ‘St Helena’s Early Botanic Appearance’ in Ian Bruce’s 2022 article ‘The Discovery of St Helena’.

SEE ALSO: Many of our endemic species can be found in our National Conservation Areas. Recycling is also related.

The facts

Endemic (and other) species are defined as follows:

Endemics at discovery
Endemics at discovery{k}

St Helena is home to a third of the endemic species that can be found on British territories worldwide. Over the 14 million years since its creation by volcanic action, St Helena developed a unique biosphere of incredible diversity, protected by thousands of Km of ocean. But it was discovered by people who brought goats, cats, rats and other species that had a huge impact on its fragile environment. Despite this, what remains today is still clearly remarkable and unique and of international significance.

St Helena currently has about 502{3} endemic species, not including those in the marine environment but including 50 species of plants (of which 37 are flowering plants and 13 are ferns). Our best known endemic, and also our only known endemic animal, is the St Helena Plover or ‘Wirebird’.

And despite the small size of the island, some of the ‘critters’ can be quite elusive: the 3mm long leaf hopper chlorita edithae was described by Vernon Wollaston during his visit to the island in 1875 but it wasn’t seen again until 1st April 2013!

St Helena has more endemic species than any other British Overseas Territory (see graph below).

Read on below to learn more about just a few of our more curious species…

Ocean islands are, to the naturalist what comets are to the astronomer{l}

Invertebrates (‘bugs’)

Our wide variety of endemic bugs includes many spiders, such as the Golden Sail Spider argyrodes mellissii{4}, Peaks Burrowing Spider (just one of possibly six new endemic spiders for the Peaks discovered in 2008), various Wolf Spiders and the Mole Spider. Also included are the Pseudo Scorpion sphallowithius excelsus, the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse pseudolaureola atlantica, She Cabbage Beetle (a beetle that lives and feeds exclusively on the She Cabbage Tree{5}), Blushing Snail succinea sanctaehelenae and Myrtle Ashmole Booklouse.

Blushing Snail succinea sanctaehelenae
Blushing Snail succinea sanctaehelenae{m}
Vibrant Blue Leafhopper
Vibrant Blue Leafhopper{1}{e}
Spiky Yellow Woodlouse…with babies!
Spiky Yellow Woodlouse…with babies!{e}
Leaf hopper
Leaf hopper
Wasp Helenanomalon Bonapartei
Wasp Helenanomalon Bonapartei{e}
Peaks Burrowing Spider
Peaks Burrowing Spider
Wolf Spider on Prosperous Bay Plain
Wolf Spider on Prosperous Bay Plain
Golden Sail Spider argyrodes mellissii
Golden Sail Spider argyrodes mellissii{2}{m}
mellis chafer
mellis chafer
Rainbow Bug vernonia wollastonia
Rainbow Bug vernonia wollastonia{n}

Below: Blushing SnailSpiky Yellow WoodlouseSpidersMyrtle Ashmole BooklouseVarious Ground-beetlesAnd many others…Lost and found

Blushing Snail

A tiny, terrestrial snail found only on St Helena, the blushing snail succinea sanctaehelenae is the only indigenous snail still surviving on the island.

Prior to the 1850s, at least 20 species of snail had been recorded on St Helena; however, the snail fauna of the island was drastically reduced by deforestation, the introduction of non-native species and domesticated animals, pollution and over-collecting. Commonly pale amber to golden brown in colour, different populations of the blushing snail vary extensively in their shell shape, size and colour. In general, its glossy shell is made up of a small number of whorls which increase rapidly in size, so that while the aperture is very large, the tip (spire) of the shell is short and pointed. It is 1-1.5cm in size.

The blushing snail is widely distributed around the island, but is particularly abundant throughout the central peaks of St Helena, in habitats which include remnants of native cloud forest, as well as pasture, areas of New Zealand flax and forestry plantations. It is also found on the more arid plains of the island, and along stream gorges.

Other Snails

In 2004 it was reported that two minute snails earlier collected near Prosperous Bay Signal Station were in fact of the rare endemic species nesopupa turtoni. They were hard to spot - at 3mm long x 1mm wide they are not much bigger than a grain of rice!

Spiky Yellow Woodlouse

The spiky yellow woodlouse pseudolaureola atlantica is one of the best-known of St Helena’s endemic invertebrates, but it is currently in trouble.

It has always been a rare animal, hiding amongst dense ferns deep in the darkest and oldest patches of vegetation on the Peaks, but stories passed down from older Saints tend to suggest that it was at least a reasonably familiar sight. In the 1990s it was sometimes seen near Diana’s Peak, and at High Peak it could occasionally be so abundant that conservationists had to brush them off their clothes after walking through the site of a well-known colony.

Today, things are looking very different. We now know of only one tiny site, at High Peak, where the spiky yellow can reliably be found, and even here it is extremely rare. No one yet knows why this sensitive and unique species has declined so dramatically, but it is possible that introduced predators and diseases have played a part. In particular, mice and rats are likely to have had an impact, as has the voracious ‘woodlouse-eating spider’, brought from Europe and now widespread all over the island.

The spiky yellow woodlouse is unmistakeable - a tiny, bright yellow ball of prickles which clambers over ferns and other vegetation. Unusually for woodlice, the spiky yellow does not feed on dead organic matter, or forage among leaf litter on the ground, but lives by clambering among fern fronds where it probably feeds on spores, scientists believe. It is critically endangered - only 50 or so survive (you could put the planet’s entire population in a beer glass).

It has been suggested that the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse should be declared our ‘National Invertebrate’, alongside our National Song, National Flower,…

And in January 2017 it was discovered that the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse fluoresces in ultraviolet light (which actually made counting them a whole lot easier…)

You can read a 2017 report about its ecology and habitat{e}.

Other woodlice

Another two woodlouse species also exist here. The ‘Shore Woodlouse’ Littorophiloscia probably colonised St Helena after arriving on bits of driftwood, and has now evolved into an endemic species. ‘Woodlouse of the high places’ Alticola also probably arrived by sea but has now left the shore and moved into the forested mountains.


The wolf spiders are a key group in the desert ecosystem on Prosperous Bay Plain. With a torch their presence can be observed through the reflection from their eyes - rather like cat’s eyes on a road. At night they either sit in their burrows waiting for passing prey, or venture out to hunt their prey. The prowling wolf spider hogna nefasta, the dominant predator of the Central Basin runs actively in the open but usually stays close to its burrows. The lurking wolf spider sits waiting for prey to pass.

Often found in patches amongst the samphire in the softer fine grit is the mole spider, which buries itself deep underground. It is possible that it doesn’t even come out for its prey but feeds on the beetle grubs and other invertebrates in the soil. You won’t see the spider, but you know its there because of the small ‘mole hill’ like mounds it creates from its deep underground chambers.

The Napoleon Jumping Spider paraheliophanus napoleon was declared Critically Endangered in November 2014. Named in honour of Napoleon, the spider has only ever been found in four distinct sites around the Island associated with endemic Scrubwood commidendrum rugosum, itself of Vulnerable status.

In 2023 it was reported that a further three new Wolf Spiders had been discovered on St Helena by Danniella Sherwood, a visiting spider expert. All three live at Diana’s Peak. They were the Daryl Spider, Mt. Vesey Spider and another Mole Spider.

Two new Pirate Spider Species were discovered in the Cloud Forest in 2024. They are now known as Ero lizae and Ero natashae, to honour the dedication of local conservationists who have devoted their lives to safeguarding the island’s natural heritage.

Myrtle Ashmole Booklouse

On the path from Mundens to Ruperts you can find the Ruperts Lava Tube - a tunnel which forms in lava flows when the lava on the surface cools and forms a crust, under which hotter molten lava flows out to leave a tube. It is home to an endemic booklouse which occurs nowhere else in the world; and the only place it has been found on St Helena is here. The booklouse, which is named after Myrtle Ashmole sphaeropsocopsis myrtleae, lives in complete darkness and is the first known species of psocid without eyes.

Various Ground-beetles

There are many of these, including: pseudophilochthus grayanus - confined to Diana’s Peak; pseudophilochthus dicksoniae - also confined to Diana’s Peak; pseudophilochthus sublimatus - recorded from the High Central Ridge (in an area which has subsequently eroded so status now uncertain); pseudophilochthus trechoides - restricted to forest on the High Central Ridge; pseudophilochthus gemmulipennis - confined to Diana’s Peak; pseudophilochthus evanescens - restricted to forest in the Cabbage Tree Road area of the High Central Ridge; apteromimus platyderoides - recorded from forest of the High Central Ridge; apteromimus wollastoni - recorded from forest in the Cabbage Tree Road area of the High Central Ridge, living in rotten dead tree stems; and endosmatium megalops - recorded from Actaeon and Diana’s Peak.

And many others…

How about succinea sanctaehelenae bensoniana, the arid form of the blushing snail, which occurs on Horse Point and Prosperous Bay Plain. The estimated population in 1993 was 600 individuals. The species as a whole is globally threatened.

Or nesiotes barbatus, a weevil of bastard gumwood forest last collected in 1880. Or nesiotes fimbriatus, another weevil of gumwood forest. Then there’s nesiotes breviusculus, a weevil of Cabbage Tree forest, recorded from Diana’s Peak, High Peak and West Lodge and the Rainbow Bug, vernonia wollastonia.

More information in the Ashmole Report of 2006.

Lost and found

Darter dragonfly
Darter dragonfly{g}

Some of our endemics seem to be lost forever, but other thought lost have been rediscovered. For example, Basilewsky’s crane fly, an endemic species from the High Peaks that had not been seen for 45 years and was thought to be extinct. In January 2016 one flew into naturalist Liza Fowler’ car at High Peak and landed on her!

In March 2020 it was announced that an endemic beetle, mellissius oryctoides, first recorded in 1967 and thought to have become extinct (only dead casings had been found), had been rediscovered during studies in February with seven specimens found alive (photograph, below).

In January 2022 it was reported that the St Helena Darter dragonfly, sympetrum dilatatatum (image, right), had been officially declared extinct by the IUCN. It was last spotted 13th October 1963.

Trees, Ferns, mosses, etc.

St Helena’s flora is dominated by non-native plants, many of which are invasive and harmful to the remaining native flora. Recent estimates suggest that more than 80% of vascular plants have been introduced by man, and in terms of total biomass it is closer to 99%. Nevertheless, the remaining native flora is both precious and fragile, and the focus of many conservation initiatives.{o}

Our endemic trees and ferns used to cover the island. The Common Gumwood commidendrum robustum, first recorded in 1670 by Caspari Bauhini in ‘Theatri Botanici Pinax’, remains reasonably established, being widely planted in the Millennium Forest and elsewhere across the island (though it remains ‘endangered’), but rarer species are now relegated to a few spots, including the St Helena Rosemary, St Helena Lobelia, Diana’s Peak Grass carex dianae, Tree Fern, a sedge called the St Helena Tussock or Fibre-Optic Plant bulbostylis lichtensteiniana and the St Helena Hair Grass eragrostis saxatilis. Read about some more below…

St Helena Ebony trochetiopsis ebenus
Bastard Gumwood
Bastard Gumwood
False Gumwood, flowering
False Gumwood, flowering
A Black Cabbage seedling in the Diana’s Peak National Park
Black Cabbage seedling
Barn Fern and Bone Seed being conserved in a shade house
Barn Fern and Bone Seed being conserved in a shade house
Boxwood mellissia begoniifolia{4}
Tea Plant
Tea Plant frankenia portulacifolia
Tree Ferns at sunset
Tree Ferns at sunset{d}
Gumwoods, at Peak Dale
Gumwoods, at Peak Dale

Below: EbonyRedwoodBastard GumwoodFalse GumwoodCabbagesLarge Bellflower and Dwarf JellicoBarn FernBone SeedTea PlantWhitewoodAnd also…

The St Helena Ebony

Thought to be extinct until 1980 when it was re-discovered by George & Charlie Benjamin, growing on an almost inaccessible cliff, the St Helena Ebony trochetiopsis ebenus is now our National Flower. Strictly, the Ebony is actually the Dwarf Ebony; there was also a Tree Ebony trochetiopsis melanoxylon, but this is now believed to be extinct. There is more about the evolution and history of the Ebony on our page National Flower.

The Redwood

One of our best examples of a moist forest tree species is the Redwood trochetiopsis erythroxylon. With its tall straight trunk and fine timber the Redwood was an important timber tree for early settlers whilst its bark was rich in tannins and harvested for tanning animal hides. The Botanist William Roxburgh, who visited St Helena 1813-1814, noted it as a beautiful tree. It is related to the Ebony, as is explained on our page National Flower.

Bastard Gumwood

The Bastard Gumwood commidendrum rotundifolium was formerly common on dry areas around 400m-520m above sea level and principally associated with dry gumwood woodland. It was used as a fuel wood and it is likely that regeneration was prevented by browsing livestock. The Bastard Gumwood was thought to have become extinct by the end of the 19th Century with the last known trees growing at Longwood, Black Field and Horse Pasture. However Stedson Stroud rediscovered a single tree growing out from a cliff at the southern edge of Horse Pasture in 1982. This tree was destroyed by a gale in 1986 and the species became extinct in the wild. Before this, cuttings and seedlings were successfully raised after many different attempts and over successive years; enough so that by 1988 17 plants were growing at Pounceys. By 1995 they ranged in height from 1.3m-2.5m but lacked vigour and were probably suffering from inbreeding depression.

False Gumwood

Below Mount Vesey is found one the rarest endemic trees on the island, the False Gumwood commidendrum spurium. There are only nine plants left in the wild - one near Coles Rock and eight others on the cliff below Mount Vesey. Like the She Cabbage Tree, the False Gumwood also has a beetle that relies only on False Gumwoods to provide its home and its food. Unlike those of the closely related Common Gumwood commidendrum robustum its leaves point towards the sky rather than drooping downwards. The false gumwood requires a habitat with high moisture levels compared to other members of its genus. It reacts badly to dry conditions and this is one of the reasons it is so rare.


There are three types of cabbages on St Helena, but unlike the cabbage you buy in the shops, these grow much like trees. They are the She Cabbage lachanodes arborea, He Cabbage pladaroxylon leucadendron and Black Cabbage melanodendron integrifolium.

The She Cabbage grows with a tall straight trunk and was formerly used as a roofing timber, and the pithy core for tinder. The She Cabbages are ancient relics, left over from a time long ago when Africa was wetter and different, and they thrived on St Helena, at least until people arrived here. There are now plantings of She Cabbage in Grapevine Gut and She Cabbage trees are now growing with healthy vigour in the gardens around Napoleon’s Tomb.

On the flank of High Peak, one of the highest hills on the island of St Helena, there is a tiny scrap of land known as the Dell. The size of a tennis court, it is the island’s most important terrestrial habitat and one of the world’s most precious ecological niches. The Dell is the last fragment of black cabbage tree woodland that once covered the island’s peaks. With its flat crowns of leathery leaves that form a dense, dark protective canopy, the black cabbage tree provides a warm, moist home for several local creatures, including the spiky yellow woodlouse However, St Helena’s rugged slopes were largely stripped of black cabbage trees, which were chopped down to make way for the large-scale planting of flax for the flax;island’s flax exporting and rope manufacturing companies.

Large Bellflower and Dwarf Jellico

The Large Bellflower wahlenbergia linifolia and Dwarf Jellico both grow on the highest points on the peaks, often on isolated rocky outcrops. Their demise has also been a consequence of habitat loss, with the reduction in the tree fern thicket as cultivations spread into the Peaks and because of the spread of alien invasive species, such as flax and fuchsia, onto the central ridge and up into the tree fern thicket. Numbers of Large Bellflowers are so small that it is unlikely that the population can recover on its own. There is also the Dwarf Bellflower, which is more widespread.

The Barn Fern

Scattered very thinly in a few isolated locations around the Island, the Barn Fern at the airport construction site was the subject of some very special attention. Before the earth moving equipment moved in to Prosperous Bay Plan the Barn Fern was moved out to the A&NRD nursery at Scotland for safe keeping. The few specimens now looked after in one of the nursery’s shade houses represent about 75% of all Barn Fern in the entire world. They will eventually be re-planted out into the wild.

The Bone Seed

The Bone Seed plant ostespermum sancataehelenae, named after the appearance of the seed it produces. It is sparsely scattered among a few locations, mostly along the south coast from Man and Horse to Gill Point. The Bone Seed is unique in that it is the only one of St Helena’s endemics which produces coloured flowers; yellow. All other endemics have white flowers, or in the case of the Redwood, white flowers which turn red.

The Tea Plant

The St Helena Tea Plant frankenia portulacifolia is a dry land endemic, with petite white flowers, tiny leaves and delicate branches. It is listed as vulnerable on the international Red List of threatened species, but its status is under review. Known to exist on Prosperous Bay Plain, but disturbed by the Airport Construction, another significant population was discovered in March 2015 growing in nearby Fisher’s Valley, with bushes up to 1.5m tall.


Whitewood Petrobium arboreum is the local name for a handsome endemic tree that grows in the moist cloud forest of the Central Peaks - a tree-like member of the daisy family like the gumwood. It is a medium-sized tree with upright cylindrical canopy that can reach 4 metres or more in about twelve years. The leaves are bright green with serrated edges, thick and leathery which helps resist water loss from the biting winds on the peaks. It has clusters of creamy white daisy-like flowers that turn brown as they age, appearing around the middle of April. There are not many mature specimens of Whitewood in existence. Most can be seen within the Diana’s Peak National Park. Whitewood should not be confused with the similsarly-named but completely different invasive species, Whiteweed.

And also…

The Boxwood mellissia begoniifolia{4} was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered by Mr. Stedson Stroud and propagated. There are some island mosses growing up at High Knoll Fort.

On Pig Hill there is a rare lichen clinging to the cliff, this being the only place this lichen manages to survive. The very unfortunate thing about Pig Hill is that it is too close to Dry Gut (where the airport is located). So to protect this rare species Basil Read altered their plans and arranged to work at a safe distance away from this rare type of lichen.

On 31st January 2019 it was announced that a £300,000 project had been approved by the Darwin Plus Initiative. Aimed at restoring the endemic habitats at the Peaks, the project is entitled ‘Fragmented cloud forest habitat rehabilitation through innovative invasive plant management’. The focus of the project also covers effective pollination of these plants by endemic and non-endemic insects.

Paul Tyson

See the photograph (right). The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path.

The Diana’s Peak National Park is a huge success story in habitat restoration. Tree ferns and Black Cabbage Trees now dominate the landscape here, forming their own sunlight blocking canopy and preventing the re-establishment of flax on these slopes. In turn, these provide the niche microclimates for lichens and mosses, ground level ferns and other endemic shrubs and flowers as well of course as the hundreds of insect species.

The difference is striking, the path marking the limit of the current work, below our path a uniform green of flax, a desert devoid of all biodiversity. Above the path, a stunning patchwork of colour of tones and textures, a diverse habitat of rare and wonderful plants and animals. The results here are a testament to the many people who have worked on this landscape and as we left the national park, and re-entered the fields of flax I felt hope for St Helena and other rare and endangered habitats in this world.

There is a great deal of trouble in the World for its precious wild places, but if a tiny outpost of the old British Empire can achieve such results, maybe all is not lost.{p}

Many mostly-older Saints still make use of ‘traditional remedies’. Some of these are documented on our page Edible Wild Plants. Most, however, feature introduced and now naturalised plants.


Fish stamps

138 species of fish are known from the waters around St Helena. Endemic species of marine fish include the Bastard Five Finger chromis sanctaehelenae; Cavalley Pilot stegastes sanctaehelenae; Deepwater Greenfish holanthias fronticinctus; Deepwater Jack pontinus nigropunctatus; Greenfish thalassoma sanctaehelenae; John Melliss’s Scorpion Fish scorpaena mellissii{4}; Silver Eel ariosoma mellissii{4}; Skulpin physiuculus helenaensis; Springer’s Blenny scartella springeri; and St Helena Dragonet callionymus sanctaehelenae. (You can see some of these while diving around our coast.)

A further 16 species are recorded only in St Helena and Ascension Island.

More about fish on our page Fishing.

Not a new endemic fish

On 22nd November 2018 The Sentinel reported that a possibly new endemic fish had been spotted around St Helena by Leigh Morris of the Blue Marine foundation, while diving around the Bedgellett. The following later appeared on the SAMS Facebook™ page:

Feedback from three internationally recognised fish taxonomists has been received, regarding the potential new fish species that was covered in last week’s Sentinel.

Leigh Morris, who photographed the fish while on a night dive around the wreck of the MV Bedgellett in St Helena’s waters, sent the photo off for international advice and got back the following:

We know it is most likely a new species. So (we need to) catch it! - Professor Dr. Peter Wirtz

It looks like an Ophidion, but I don’t know of a species with this colouration. - Jorgen Nielsen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark

It looks like it might be something really new. I think it is a Gadoid fish, not an eel, and it is either from the family Euclichthydae. The only known species around New Zealand and Australia. - Dr. Vlad Laptikhovsky of CEFAS

In April 2019 The Sentinel reported that, following further photography, the fish had been identified as a Cusk Eel Brotula cf multibabata, which is not endemic but has only been previously reported once around St Helena.

Others, now probably extinct

Loss of species is not at all a recent problem. In 1843 botanist Joseph D. Hooker visited the island and, of the deforestation and native flora of the island, wrote:

In 1839 and 1843 I in vain searched for forest trees and shrubs that flourished in tens of thousands not a century before my visit, and still existed as individuals twenty years before that date. Of these I saw, in some cases, no vestige, in others only blasted and lifeless trunks cresting the cliffs in inaccessible places. Probably 100 St Helena plants have thus disappeared from the Systema Naturae since the first introduction of goats on the Island.

The St Helena Rail atlantisia podarces now exists only in fossils. It was one of the largest rails - comparable in size to New Zealand’s Weka gallirallus australis. It was flightless but had long wings and long claws; probably adaptations for clambering around on the island’s steep slopes. Being flightless it probably did not survive long after human settlement and the introduction of predators such as rats and cats.

Giant Earwig
Giant Earwig labidura herculeana

Perhaps the island’s most famous invertebrate was the Giant Earwig labidura herculeana, which was 78mm long and lived under rocks on Prosperous Bay Plain. It seems to have been the first endemic insect noted by scientists and was first described in 1798. It was last seen in 1968 and attempts to find it, including by the Zoological Society of London, have failed and it was declared extinct in August 2014. (According to Science News: The Saint Helena giant earwig disappeared from its South Atlantic home after nearly all the surface stones that could provide the insect with shelter were taken away for use in construction.) Learn more about it here{q}. In May 2023 a specimen was returned to St Helena from the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale in Belgium, where it had been taken after collection by Belian researchers in the 1960s. It is now on display in Museum of St Helena.

St Helena Olive nesiota elliptica (flowers)
St Helena Olive nesiota elliptica (flowers)
St Helena Olive nesiota elliptica (tree)
St Helena Olive nesiota elliptica (tree)

The extinction of the St Helena Olive nesiota elliptica in November 2003 was a tragic loss to St Helena and the world. The last wild plant had died in 1994. It was taxonomically unique; it was not only a species found only on St Helena but it was the only member of the genus nesiota, a higher order than species which was also totally unique to St Helena. It was a beautiful tree whose majesty will never again have an opportunity to grace the ridges and inspire Islander’s and visitors alike.


The Giant Ground Beetle aplothorax burchelli was last collected in the Plain areas in 1967. No individuals have subsequently been seen despite searches in 1988 and 1993. Similarly the St Helena dragonfly sympetrum dilatatum, which has not been seen with certainty since 1963 and is considered to be extinct in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.

The death of the last wild St Helena Olive was announced on Radio St Helena, 4th October 1994 (right):

Also probably now extinct is the Giant Woodlouse, though remains were found as recently as 2013, and the Red Beetle which has not been seen since the 1970s.

In all there are 48 species that have not been sighted for at least fifty years.

You can also read a scientific study into our extinct bird species, published in 1975.



Worthy of a special mention because of its unusual name, ‘Gobblegheer’ psoralea pinnata (pronounced Gobbley Gheer) is also known as ‘Christmas’ because that is the time of the year when it flowers. It was always used as a Christmas decoration, substituting for Holly and Mistletoe, and also apparently good for repelling flies which are prevalent at that time of year. It grows to a small tree, about 3m tall, establishing at altitudes above 300m. ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{6}’ describes it as ‘very common’ but in the 1960s the Government of St Helena encouraged people to cut it down for firewood which has rendered it much less common.

Going back to its substitution for Mistletoe, there is apparently an old song that begins Underneath the Gobblegheer with her legs up in the air…

Other Information

Below: SinnersWhy are so many endemics called ‘Bastard …’?Conservation AreasEnvironmental Observances


Consensus is that the primary destructors of our endemic habitats are:

Why are so many endemics called ‘Bastard …’?

Considering how important our endemics are, it may seem curious that so many of them have a name which would be considered by many as a derogatory term.

The answer lies in the genetic lineage, which for many of the endemic plants and animals living here is uncertain. In the past they may have been ‘crosses’ - mixtures of ‘pure’ species - but now they are recognised as a species of their own. Unusually, the Wikipedia is not helpful on this topic.

St Helena could yet serve as an exemplary case study for small island sustainability the world over.{t}

Conservation Areas

The map below (from 2011) shows the island’s designated conservation areas:

Environmental Observances

A number of annual days celebrate environmentalism. None are currently marked with public celebrations on St Helena.

World Wildlife Day logo

For more annual events see our page This Year.

Read More

Below: Philip and Myrtle AshmoleArticle: The Plant Protectors - What is it like looking after our island’s endemics?Article: Rare woodlouse found to glow in the darkArticle: Sedge Rediscovered after 200 YearsArticle: New wasp genus found on remote St HelenaExtract from the 2014 RSPB report ‘The UK’s wildlife overseas’ - St Helena

St Helena National Trust

For more information about the ecology of St Helena and the many projects to support our endemics see the St Helena National Trust website. Many species are also listed on the Wildscreen Arkive.

See also the Tourist Information Office brochure on St Helena Flora & Fauna.

Philip and Myrtle Ashmole

Philip and Myrtle Ashmole
Philip and Myrtle Ashmole

Ammonite snail
Ammonite snail, as discovered by the Ashmoles

The book ‘St Helena and Ascension: a Natural History’{7} by Philip and Myrtle Ashmole was written after their 2000 visit and remains the definitive guide to the wildlife on St Helena. The Ashmoles have the distinction of rediscovering, amongst other things, the Ammonite Snail in 1994 in a small remote corner of a high ridge.

Article: The Plant Protectors - What is it like looking after our island’s endemics?

By Andrew Turner, SAMS, published in The Sentinel, 4th October 2019{8}

The prospect of a climb up to 800m first thing in a morning up muddy slopes and thick plant growth, just to get to work, is not something that most of us these days would even consider.

But for the determined conservationists of St Helena, it’s a reality.

Plant Protectors 2
Plant Protectors 2

There’s a distinct kind of chilling mist that you only get round the peaks in the early hours of the day. Mic-kail (as videographer) and I experienced this last Tuesday morning as we began the ascent to meet the Terrestrial Conservation team at the Nursery on Diana’s Peak.

For the team, the long walk is just another day in the office. But by the time we reached the Nursery, I was already looking for the nearest place to sit down and catch my breath.

The Nursery is an incredible place full of Redwoods, Whitewoods, She Cabbage and at least six different varieties of ferns. Perry Leo, who looks after the Nursery, showed me around the endemic plants and how they are protected at their most vulnerable stage as seedlings, when pests represent a particular problem.

Mostly it’s the aphids and whitefly, Perry said. Out in the field we get rats and also rabbits sometimes. We use sticky pads and sprays [for the insects]. For the rats, the team sets poison and for smaller plants we put a cage around them to try and help them.

But the work at the Nursery is only part of the conservation efforts centred on the Diana’s Peak National Park.

Led by conservationist Andrew Darlow, the team began to pack some of the older plants in bags and I was told we were heading up to the planting site.

With a bag of surprisingly heavy plants cradled in our arms, we set off on the long trek up to Cuckold’s Point.

Often, and no matter the weather, the team carry armfuls of plants with them on the trek from the Nursery up to the top of the peaks, even while balancing along various ledges and mountainsides.

By the time we reach the top, I’m done for. And it’s still only 8:30am for the team; this is still just the start of the day.

The endemic plants we carried are being used to fill the void left by invasives, such as flax, which the team is clearing and composting in the area.

The entirety of the hillside needs to be cleared of invasive plants and replaced quickly with endemics to prevent the invasives growing back, and the clearing is done in stages to prevent landslides occurring due to open soil on the slopes. The flax, the team said, is perfect for compost so even the cleared invasives are being reused as a result of the project.

St Helena houses around 30% of the biodiversity in the whole of the UK and its overseas territories, and Diana’s Peak National Park is a main habitat for endemic plants and insects. The work the team is doing is replenishing the island’s natural environment and allowing the flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, a better chance to survive.

But the work is labour-intensive, and can also be dangerous. The majority of the mountainsides have no access paths, meaning that the team have to make their own paths. With many ledges and cliffs hidden by the thick flack growth, a constant exercising of caution is necessary.

You need to be fit, you need to know things, said Shade-House Nursery Office Mark Williams, who has been with the team for approximately three months. It’s all about health and safety up here on the peaks when you’re working on the ledges - there are deep drops which you can’t see because of the Tree Fern that’s covering them, so you’re just walking blind.

Approximately a quarter of the sites being worked on require the team to use climbing gear.

Their work can be pretty gruelling, but it’s crucial for protecting the island’s biodiversity.

The wide-ranging benefits of the Peaks Project for the island include helping our endemics, bettering our tourism product - and even helping to improve the island’s water situation.

Andrew explained that the endemics hold the soil in the peaks in place much better than the flax. Flax often falls off the hillsides and can create dangers once it starts rolling; and it holds more water than the endemics. Endemics mean less risk of landslide, and more chance for essential groundwater to run down from the peaks and supply the island’s reservoirs.

SHG funds the recurrent peaks team but there is also a special project-funded team that are doing most of the more inaccessible areas.

We’ve been running mainly on Darwin funding and this is the second three-year project, Andrew said.

If you enjoy the post box walks and decide to tackle the climb up to the top of St Helena’s highest point, you might just see the team out there toiling away. Stop and have a talk with them, it’s definitely worth it to meet the people who work so hard to preserve the endemic habitat and make the peaks as special as they are.

Article: Rare woodlouse found to glow in the dark

By Megan Shersby, published on www.discoverwildlife.com 25th January 2017{8}

The spiky yellow woodlouse fluoresces under UV light.

The spiky yellow woodlouse is Critically Endangered and found on St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is one of a number of endemic and rare species on the remote island.

The spiky yellow woodlouse is the only the second woodlouse species known to glow under ultraviolet (UV) light, a feature that is more commonly seen in scorpions. As well as being an extraordinary find, the fluorescence has helped researchers to find the species during surveys.

The woodlouse is normally difficult to spot against the fern fronds, but the UV torch has enabled the surveyors to find it more easily and even find it in new locations.

As many as 57 individuals have been counted in a five minute search, said Amy-Jayne Dutton from St Helena National Trust. An astonishing number for a species whose population was originally thought to number 50 in its entirety.

With its striking prickly appearance and its tendency to live on trees and ferns, the spiky yellow woodlouse was already known to be quite unusual and this latest discovery adds to this species’ list of interesting characteristics.

Article: Sedge Rediscovered after 200 Years

Published in the St Helena Herald 30th May 2008{8}

Lost sedge bulbostylis neglecta

Close-up of lost sedge

The sedge Bulbostylis neglecta, was first discovered by William Burchell an early botanist on St Helena. He found it on Side Path opposite High Knoll Fort and close to Alarm House over two hundred years ago and it has not been seen again until now. Samples of the plant were sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew by Dr. Lambdon for confirmation. Dr. Dave Simpson, a sedge expert compared the new samples with those that Burchell collected two centuries earlier and it became apparent that the samples were indeed from the same species.

Dr. Colin Clubbe, Head of Conservation and Higher Education (Kew) who arrived to the island on Friday 23rd May 2008 as part of the ANRD OTEP Species Recovery Project was escorted to the top of High Hill by EU Invasive Species Officer Mr. Andrew Darlow with Dr. Phil Lambdon accompanied by Mr. Pat Joshua, Nature Conservation Group volunteer, Tom Belton, weed ecologist for the invasive species project and Gary Walters from Radio Saint Helena who recorded the event for a radio program. Half way up High Hill, Phil pointed to some tussocks of hair grass which he says is endemic and nowadays is quite rare.

At the top of High Hill, Andrew proudly presented to the group the long lost sedge. It looked very happy in its surroundings together with younger ‘Sedglings’.

When asked how the outside world would view this find, Doctor Clubbe said…

I hope the outside world would be as excited as we are. The world is a richer place for the vast diversity of plants, animal species we have on the Earth. In many areas we are losing species and the world is becoming depauperate, so instances like this where there is rediscovery through the dedication of local teams who are out in challenging conditions day after day, are a great inspiration. The fact is we have got this species back after over two hundred years. Now that it has suddenly come to light again gives us hope and inspiration that our conservation efforts are all worthwhile.

Article: New wasp genus found on remote St Helena

Published in The Independent 23rd January 2015{8}

One of the new wasps species, helenanomalon bonapartei
One of the new wasps species, helenanomalon bonapartei{e}

Two species of wasp have been identified as belonging to a whole new genus endemic to the isolated Atlantic island of St Helena.

St Helena, a British Overseas Territory, is home to more than 400 species that can’t be found anywhere else. However, the wildlife is under serious threat from development and invasive species.

The new wasp genus, named helenanomalon in honour of its home territory, belongs to a family of parasitic wasps - those that spend a part of their lifecycle on another organism that they eventually kill. However, little is known about the specific lifestyle of helenanomalon since only a handful of specimens are known to exist.

The most recent specimens came to the Museum following a collecting expedition in 2006 that included the former Head of Entomology collections at the Museum, Howard Mendel. On re-examining the specimens, and a couple of others at the Musée de l’Afrique Centrale, Museum hymenoptera curator Dr. Gavin Broad assigned them to two different species in the new genus: These little wasps belong to the family ichneumonidae, a huge family with over 24,000 described species in the world, but with only six species known to have made it all the way to St Helena. That two of these species form a genus not known anywhere else in the world is remarkable.

One of the new species, helenanomalon bonapartei, is named after St Helena’s most famous exile, while helenanomalon ashmolei is named after Philip and Myrtle Ashmole, who have led recent work in exploring and documenting the fauna of St Helena.

Islands like St Helena often host unique organisms that have evolved in isolation for millions of years. However, these species are also extremely vulnerable to changes such as introduced predators and habitat loss.

St Helena used to be home to the world’s largest earwig, the giant earwig, which reached over 8cm long and lived in deep burrows. Only a few specimens of the giant earwig have been recorded, and several scouting trips since the 1960s have failed to find any living examples. It is now considered extinct.

Says Dr. Broad: The extinction of the giant earwig was a sad reminder of how vulnerable island endemics can be. There is still much work to be done on assessing just how unique the St Helena fauna is, and Philip Ashmole tells me that they have collected other potentially new genera of insects and spiders but the taxonomy of the groups concerned is difficult and there are few people with the expertise.

The native vegetation has been massively reduced by the usual pressures of introduced goats, non-native species, inappropriate agriculture, and so on. Restoring the native vegetation, particularly the seriously denuded forests, is the most important step in conserving the unique invertebrates.

Extract from the 2014 RSPB report ‘The UK’s wildlife overseas’ - St Helena

Published by the RSPB 2014{8}. See full RSPB’s 2014 report ‘The UK’s wildlife overseas’.

St Helena Flag
RSPB Location map

Total species recorded 2,932
Native species 2,144
Known endemic species 502
Endemic species assessed for IUCN Red List 26
Endemic Globally Threatened species 21
Known non-native species 788


St Helena is located in the tropical Atlantic, approximately 2,000km west of the African coast and 2,900km east of South America. The island has an area of 122km² and a resident population of c.4,000. It is a volcanic island with a large variety of terrain from flat plains to a high central ridge with a maximum height of 823m above sea level.

The variety of altitudes, terrain and climate in such a small area across the island has provided the conditions for the evolution of a wide variety of habitats and a large number of endemic species.

Unfortunately, despite conservation efforts, one of these endemic species - the Saint Helena olive tree - was the last documented extinction of a species in the island OTs: the last individual died in November 2003. Scientific research on St Helena has focused on terrestrial species and there are conservation focused projects for birds, vascular plants and invertebrates.


Results are summarised in the table above and in figure 17. Our knowledge of species occurring in St Helena is good, particularly for the terrestrial invertebrates. Extensive research over many years has identified more than 1,300 terrestrial invertebrate species - and more than 400 of them are believed to be endemic to the island.

To date 120 (6%) of the 2,144 native species on St Helena have undergone assessment against IUCN Red List criteria. Of the 120 native species assessed, 38 are Globally Threatened with a further nine Near Threatened and four Data Deficient. The remaining 69 assessed native species are Least Concern.

We found records describing 502 species as endemic with at least another 19 potentially endemic. Twenty-one of the 26 IUCN assessed endemic species are Globally Threatened (4 VU, 7 EN, 10 CR{9}), whilst there is a further 1 EW and 1 EX (but since rediscovered). The species recorded as extinct and rediscovered is the snail Nesopupa turtoni, found by the Ashmoles on Prosperous Bay Plain in 2003.

Numbers of species recorded and our level of knowledge for each taxonomic grouping in St Helena:

Spiky yellow woodlouse
The unique spiky yellow woodlouse, Pseudolaureola atlantica, clings on in a remnant fragment of cloud forest in St Helena. Just c. 90 remain.


We have good knowledge of the terrestrial flora and fauna of St Helena. Extensive research by interested individuals has given more effort to some species groups that are less well documented on other OTs, particularly terrestrial invertebrates and lichens.

The largest knowledge gaps are in relation to the marine environment, particularly marine invertebrates. A current Darwin Initiative-funded marine biodiversity and mapping project has discovered some potentially new endemic species. The team is currently working alongside taxonomic experts to identify these fully.

Research has proven that there are a huge number of endemic invertebrates on St Helena, including species waiting for taxonomic description, such as a species of mole spider. We have distribution information for some species that shows distinct species compositions in the different habitats, such as the Peaks National Park and Prosperous Bay Plain.

Very few of the endemic invertebrates have had their conservation status assessed. Those that have been completed are frequently outdated, and many species could qualify for inclusion on the Red List. Some un-listed species could be threatened with global extinction. Conversely, there is some evidence to suggest that due to the focussed and necessarily limited nature of the work done so far, some species might be considered more endangered than they are in fact. A full assessment of terrestrial invertebrates is underway and is due to be completed by 2016. As part of this project David Pryce, St Helena National Trust and Lourens Malan, St Helena Government have rediscovered several endemic species previously thought to be extinct.

Global importance

Bugs on the brink project - Buglife

Famous for being Napoleon Bonaparte’s final place of exile, St Helena is also known as the Galapagos of the South Atlantic, because of its unique wildlife. Its wildlife has developed in extreme isolation and now St Helena hosts a staggering number of invertebrate species, over 400, that are not found anywhere else in the world - it actually has more endemic invertebrate species than the UK and all the other OTs put together.

Unfortunately, many of St Helena’s unique invertebrates are on the brink of extinction, hanging on in fragments of native habitat. Some of its most iconic species, like the giant earwig Labidura herculeana, are feared to have already been lost.

However there are glimmers of hope. Buglife, the St Helena National Trust, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the St Helena Government are working in partnership to conserve what is left of the unique and threatened wildlife of the island. Buglife hope that by helping to restore native habitats, training local staff and teaching people about the vital role played by invertebrates that many of these species can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

Bugs on the brink project: laying the foundations for invertebrate conservation on St Helena is funded by the Darwin Initiative.


{a} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (‘SHATPS’){b} Government of St Helena{c} RSPB’s 2014 report ‘The UK’s wildlife overseas’{d} Ed Thorpe{e} St Helena National Trust{f} Sasha L Bargo{g} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{h} Government of St Helena{i} Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama{j} Robert Montgomery Martin, in ‘History of the British Possessions in the Indian & Atlantic Oceans’, 1837{k} Philip and Myrtle Ashmole{l} Dr. Hooker, addressing the British Association at Nottingham, 1863{m} Roger S Key{n} Jo Hatton{o} Napoleon’s Garden Island by Donal P McCracken (2022){p} Quoted from the posting ‘Walking St Helena - Diana’s Peak’ on blog Two Years in the Atlantic{10}, 30th March 2015{8}{q} earwigs-online.de{8}{r} Radio St Helena/Museum of St Helena, digitised by Burgh House Media Productions{s} Paul Carroll{t} www.mygreenpod.com{11}, 14th August 2015{8}


{1} a.k.a. ‘the vulture hopper’ nehela vulturina.{2} Named after John Melliss.{3} See the RSPB’s 2014 report ‘The UK’s wildlife overseas’.{4} Named after John Melliss.{5} To have a rare endemic as your sole habitat and food source is perhaps taking ‘endangered’ to extremes!{6} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{7} Anthony Nelson, 2000, ISBN 0 904614 61 1.{8} @@RepDis@@{9} Some authorities have synonymised the Critically Endangered endemic fish Callionymus sanctaehelenae with a worldwide un-assessed species C. bairdi.{10} See more blogs.{11} Article included on our page Read articles about St Helena.


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