George Albert Boulenger

George Albert Boulenger
Born (1858 -10-19)October 19, 1858
Brussels, Belgium
Died November 23, 1937(1937-11-23) (aged 79)
Fields Zoology
Alma mater Free University of Brussels

George Albert Boulenger FRS[1] (19 October 1858 23 November 1937) was a Belgian-British zoologist who described and gave scientific names to over 2,000 new animal species, chiefly fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Boulenger was also an active botanist during the last 30 years of his life, especially in the study of roses.[2]


Boulenger was born in Brussels, Belgium, the only son of Gustave Boulenger, a Belgian public notary, and Juliette Piérart de Valenciennes. He graduated in 1876 from the Free University of Brussels with a degree in natural sciences, and worked for a while at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, as an assistant naturalist studying amphibians, reptiles, and fishes. He also made frequent visits during this time to the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris and the British Museum in London.

In 1880, he was invited to work at the Natural History Museum, then a department of the British Museum, by Dr. Albert C. L. G. Günther and assigned to the task of cataloguing the amphibians in the collection. His position in the British Museum meant that he had to be a civil servant of the British Empire, so became a naturalized British subject. In 1882, he became a first-class assistant in the Department of Zoology and remained in that position until his retirement in 1920.

After his retirement from the British Museum, Boulenger studied roses and published 34 papers on botanical subjects and two volumes on the roses of Europe. He died in Saint Malo, France.

According to biographical accounts, he was incredibly methodical and had an amazing memory that enabled him to remember every specimen and scientific name he ever saw. He also had extraordinary powers of writing, seldom made a second draft of anything he wrote, and his manuscripts showed but few corrections before going to the publisher.

Boulenger also played the violin, could speak French, German, and English apart from reading Spanish, Italian and a bit of Russian. As a zoologist, he also had a working knowledge of both Greek and Latin.

By 1921, Boulenger had published 875 papers[1] totaling more than 5,000 pages, as well as 19 monographs on fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. The list of his publications and its index of species covers 77 printed pages.

He described 1,096 species of fish, 556 species of amphibians, and 872 species of reptiles. He was famous for his monographs on amphibians, lizards and other reptiles, and fishes for example his monographs on the fishes of Africa.

He was a member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and was elected its first honorary member in 1935. In 1937, Belgium conferred on him the Order of Léopold, the highest honor awarded to a civilian.

His son, Edward George Boulenger (1888-1946), was also a zoologist.

Work on cave-dwelling fish

In 1897, King Léopold II of Belgium started to recruit naturalists to help create the Congo museum. Boulenger was named chairman for this commission.

His main discovery in 1921 was a strange fish from the Congo. It was eyeless and lacked pigmentation. He recognized it as new and unrelated to any extant epigean (eyed, surface) species of Africa. He wrote a brief paper describing this new species of cave fish, the first ever described from Africa. He called it Caecobarbus geertsii, from caeco = blind, barbus = barb, and geertsii, honoring a mysterious person, M. Geerts, who provided him with the specimen. Today, it is known as the Congo or African blind barb.


Boulenger described hundreds of reptile taxa; 587 species described by him are still recognised today. He also described some amphibians and many fishes.

These 24 reptile species, recognised today, bear George Boulenger's name in the specific name, as boulengeri, boulengerii, or georgeboulengeri:[3]

Cover of the book The Snakes Of Europe

In the above list, a binomial authority in parentheses indicates that the species was originally described in a genus other than the genus to which it is currently assigned.

The water cobra genus Boulengerina was named for G.A. Boulenger, but it is now treated as a subgenus of Naja containing four species: Naja annulata (water cobra), Naja christyi (Congo water cobra), Naja melanoleuca (forest cobra), and Naja multifasciatus (burrowing cobra).[4]


Books written include:


  1. 1 2 Watson, D. M. S. (1940). "George Albert Boulenger. 1858-1937". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 3 (8): 13–26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1940.0002. JSTOR 768868.
  2. Frans A. Stafleu & Richard S. Cowan (1976). Taxonomic literature: a selective guide to botanical publications and collections with dates, commentaries and types, 2nd edition. 1: A–G. Utrecht: Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema. p. 384. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  3. The Reptile Database.
  4. Wallach, V., W. Wüster & D. Broadley (2009). "In praise of subgenera: taxonomic status of cobras of the genus Naja Laurenti (Serpentes: Elapidae)." (PDF). Zootaxa (2236): 26–36.
  5. IPNI.  Boulenger.
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