was the British herpetologist John Edward Gray (1800-1875) who
classified the diurnal geckos of Western Indian Ocean into a
new genus. He honoured the Dutch helminthologist Murk Van Phelsum
with the name of the new genus, Phelsuma.
The first written
accounts however date from as early as 1708 by François Leguat,
1761 by Alexandre-Guy Pingré and 1795 by Philibert Marragon.
Both publications are about Rodrigues Island (Mascarenes) and
the species mentioned are most likely the now extinct Phelsuma
gigas and Phelsuma edwardnewtoni.
It is very remarkable
that also the first Linnaean described species, Phelsuma
cepediana (Merrem, 1820) and Phelsuma ornata (Gray,
1825), both originate from a Mascarene island, Mauritius.
The Belgian zoologist
George Albert Boulenger (1858-1937) classified the genus Phelsuma
under the family Gekkonidae in his "Catalogue of the British
Museum". Various museum species where described by him like
Phelsuma edwardnewtoni and Phelsuma guentheri.
At the same time the German herpetologist Oskar Boettger (1833-1910)
was in the position to describe several species obtained from
German expeditions to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands.
It is the Swedish
scientist Hialmar Rendahl in 1939 that recognizes several groups
within the genus itself. He based himself mainly on the position
of the nasal cavity. Rendahl pointed out that in all Mascarene
species the nasal cavity is located right between the rostral
and the first super labial, whereas in all other species the
nasal cavity is located more towards the eye.
The first Monograph
on the genus Phelsuma comes from the hand of Arthur Loveridge
in 1942. Those days only 23 species where known. Next to an
identification key in this revision, the author also provided
a useful table with morphological features.
(1894-1975) was undoubted the authority on Phelsuma for almost
20 years. From 1954 until 1975, Robert Mertens described not
less than 20 new species and subspecies, 13 of them still remain
valid after numerous revisions. Next to that he published several
articles on biogeography, ecology and ethology. In his revisions
he followed Rendahl's (1939) theory and considered these three
features as a recent evolvement within the genus;
colouration instead grey or brown
of the nasal cavity above the first lip scale
Another 30 years
past after Mertens' (1962-1966) big revision of the genus and
various new species have been described. Some even that are
hard to classify in the groups mentioned in Mertens' work like
e.g. Phelsuma klemmeri (Seipp, 1991).
Jean Vinson and
Jean-Michel Vinson also consider all Mascarene species as a
separate group within the genus and suspect that three different
colonization waves from Madagascar lead to the current population
on Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues and the other, smaller Mascarene
Islands (1969 & 1975).
the late 1970's and 1980's it was the German herpetologist Harald
Meier, in the footsteps of Robert Mertens, that contributed
to the knowledge of the genus with 12 new taxa, obtained during
his many travels to the south western Indian Ocean.
The British herpetologist
Anthony S. Cheke revised at the same time (1981-1982) the genus
on the Seychelles islands and travelled to the many remote islands
of the archipelago and to Agalega which led to the description
of Phelsuma borbonica agalegae (1975).
Also A. S. Gardner
concentrated on the Seychelles Islands and published several
papers on the systematics of the genus Phelsuma (1984-1986).
At this point
in time, 63 taxa of the genus have been described from the Indian