Flying Frog, 1855

Evidence of Wallace’s insight into natural selection prior to Darwin ‘s published papers.

Freak Scientist

Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin’s unheralded codiscoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, found inspiration in the specimens he collected on his travels.

One day in 1855, in the teeming rainforests of Borneo, a bizarre-looking frog glided down from the canopy, its webbed feet spread, and landed in the scientific literature. For when a Chinese laborer working in the area caught the green-and-yellow creature, he took it to the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who was collecting specimens nearby.

Fascinated by his amphibious gift, Wallace painted a watercolor of the flying frog, then an unknown species. He later discussed the species, named Rhacophorus nigropalmatus or “Wallace’s frog,” as an example of evolution’s stepwise process in his 1869 book The Malay Archipelago, in which he included a woodcut based on his original frog painting: “[I]t is very interesting to Darwinians as showing that the variability of the…

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