Mundia elpenor (Olson)

Ascension Island Rail (Mundia elpenor)

The Ascension Island Rail was described in 1973 based on subfossil bones recovered from deposits on the desolate Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The species, however, had already been described by a eyewitness, an observative traveller named Peter Mundy, in 1656.:

Some of our company went up and broughtt downe six or seven goates, doubtlesse att first left there by the Portugalls: allsoe halfe a dozen of a strange kind of fowle, much bigger than our sterlings ore stares: collour gray or dappled, white and blacke feathers intermixed, eies red like rubies, wings imperfitt, such as wherewith they cannot raise themselves from the ground. They were taken running, in which they are exceeding swift, helping themselves a little with their wings … shortt billed, cloven footed, thatt can neither fly nor swymme. It was more than ordinary dainety meatt, relishing like a roasting pigge.” [1]


Ascension Island is a very dry place, and apparently always has been, without any typical rail habitats, no wetlands, no forests with dense undergrowth, nothing, thus, the rail is thought to have been an opertunistic omnivore that found its food amongst the large seabird colonies; it might have fed on seabird carcasses, eggs, and every kind of leftovers.



[1] R. C. Tempe; L. M. Anstey (eds): The Travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia, 1608-1667. Hakluyt Society SII 78(5): 1-226. 1936
[2] Storrs Olson: Evolution of the rails of the south Atlantic Islands (Aves: Rallidae). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 152: 1-53. 1973


Depiction by Peter Mundy, 1656

(public domain) 


edited: 07.02.2020