This is a bit of a sad one (sorry). An endling is the last known member of a species – so once it dies, that species (it can be an animal or a plant) is officially extinct.
The word was coined in the scientific journal ‘Nature’ in 1996. Other equally gloomy words for endling include ‘ender’ and ‘terminarch’. And if there’s a couple left, then they’re referred to collectively as a ‘relict’.
Etymology-wise, the ‘end’ bit of ‘endling’ is self-explanatory, I hope. Adding the suffix ‘-ling’ to a word either denotes that the thing is younger, smaller or inferior to the thing at the start (which is a terrible explanation but hopefully you get the gist) – think duckling, hatchling and so on. Or it can just mean that the thing is in the category described by the root word (that’s a slightly better explanation), as in earthling, and some other words which I can’t think of right now.
You can find a list of notable endlings on Wikipedia. It’s incredibly depressing though, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re feeling at all maudlin.
Now that we’re all thoroughly glum, here’s a nice story about an endling called Romeo, which I saw on QI this week (where I first heard the word). Romeo is a Sehuencas water frog, a native of Bolivia. He lives in Bolivia’s Natural History Museum (I suspect not voluntarily), and is 10 years old, which is pretty darn old in frog years. To try to see if he really is an endling, conservationists put a profile for Romeo on match.com. REALLY – you can see it here. (If you can’t be bothered to do reading, his profile begins with ‘Well, hi there. I’m Romeo. I’m a Sehuencas (pronounced “say-when-cuss”) water frog and, not to start this off super heavy or anything, but I’m literally the last of my species.’) Romeo had much better luck that I ever have with internet dating, and with money raised through the profile, some other conservationists found his Juliet in a Bolivian cloud forest (which is the most romantic-sounding thing ever), along with four other froggy pals. A breeding programme will be happening soon, so hopefully lots of Sehuencas tadpoles will follow. Hurrah!
(You can read more about R&J here.)