Alfred Russel Wallace

Naturalist / Scientist / Zoologist
Date Of Birth:
8 January 1823
Date Of Death:
7 November 1913
Best Known As:
Darwin's contemporary who came up with natural selection
Alfred Russel Wallace was a self-taught scientist who came up with the idea of natural selection in evolution theory at the same time as Charles Darwin. For whatever reason, Wallace was often skipped over in the history books, despite his incredible achievements in zoology and geobiology. His early job as a surveyor gave Wallace plenty of time outdoors and a chance to appreciate the local flora and fauna. While in Leicester, Wallace befriended Henry Walter Bates, a beginning entomologist. Together they collected and catalogued the area's butterflies. They went to South America in 1848, collecting specimens to sell and support them on their explorations. After about 18 months, the pair split up and Wallace went on to explore the Rio Negro. After four years, Wallace returned to England, escaping death when his ship burned and destroyed his written logs and almost all of his collected specimens. In 1854 he set out again, and it was the next eight years in the Malay Archipelago that made Wallace's career. While sick with malaria in Borneo, he wrote out his ideas on why the fauna and fauna of Asia was different than that of Australia, and drew a demarcation on the map that is still called the Wallace Line. He proposed the answer lie in evolution and natural selection. He sent his theory to Darwin in England, who had been researching that very notion for years but had not written about it. Darwin wrote out his ideas and presented them publicly along with Wallace's paper. "On the Tendency of species to Form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection" was presented to the Linnean Society in 1858. Wallace returned to England in 1862, an expert in his field and the collector of over 125,00 specimens of flora and fauna. Wallace was also a spiritualist, and did not believe evolutionary theory could account for humanity. He was also politically radical and a supporter of feminism and socialism. It's been suggested his politics kept him from being gainfully employed, especially later in his career (he lived to be 91). His books include Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853), The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan, and the Bird of Paradise (1869) and The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876).