ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for Alfred Russel Wallace’s Bicentennial: Wallace’s Flying Frog

Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developer of the theory of evolution through natural selection, was born on this day 200 years ago (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913). Here is his original sketch (1855) and published drawing (1869) of a frog previously unknown to science and now named in his honor, Wallace’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus):

Original field study by Wallace from Borneo, 1855
Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund [CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Malay archipelago : the land of the Orang-Utan, and the bird of paradise : a narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature, pp. 59-61. Engraving by John Gerrard Keulemans after an original drawing by Wallace. Via BHL (CC-0).

Note this important detail from page 59 above: “One of the most curious and interesting reptiles which I met with in Borneo was a large tree-frog, which was brought me by one of the Chinese workmen. He assured me that he had seen it come down, in a slanting direction, from a high tree, as if it flew.” Furthermore, the Chinese worker who brought it to him probably was not the first to see one in action either, as the local Indigenous people likely knew about them for ages. This is why it is better to say he was the first to scientifically describe the species he encountered on his travels and not say he “discovered” them. (Here is another example.)

PS – yes, they are amphibians, not reptiles; this was written back when they still were not properly distinguishing between reptiles and amphibians, i.e., herpetology. And they do not really “fly” either, they parachute and glide…which is still really cool, but not quite the same as true powered flight.

Image a Wallace’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) in mid-glide, from Bing Wallpaper archive, 29 Feb. 2020. Original caption:
For leap day (the extra day added to February every four years), we’re looking at a Wallace’s flying frog. Also known as parachute frogs, these critters live in the tropical jungles of Malaysia and Borneo. They spend most of their time in trees, gliding down to the ground to mate and lay eggs. They “fly” by leaping and using their webbed fingers and toes to glide as far as 50 feet. © Stephen Dalton/Minden Pictures

Check out The Alfred Russel Wallace Website for a full listing of Wallace 200 events and publications!

Book recommendations:

The Annotated Malay Archipelago (2014)
Radical by Nature: The Revolutionary Life of Alfred Russel Wallace (2023)
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