Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus), was first collected along the Malay Peninsula by Alfred Russell Wallace, the famed back-up singer to Charles Darwin. The "father of biogeography", Wallace was considered to be one of the preeminent explorers and evolutionary thinkers of the 19th Century. Over the course of 8 years, Wallace undertook about 70 different expeditions throughout the Malay archipelago, collecting more than 125,660 specimens (at least 1,000 new to science), including those of R. nigropalmatus.
He continued his mindfulness on the causes of evolution throughout his expedition. He wrote and published an essay titled “On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species” (1855), which elucidated his belief in evolution and the relation between biogeography and evolutionary change. This paper was seen by Charles Lyell and Darwin, but Darwin took relatively little notice.
While suffering from a severe attack of malaria, Wallace unexpectedly connected the ideas of Thomas Malthus to evolutionary change. Thomas Malthus wrote on the limits to population growth that might ensure long-term organic change. This became the concept of “survival of the fittest”, in which those organisms that are best adapted to their local surroundings are seen to have a better chance of survival, and thus passing on their traits to progeny. Excited over his discovery, he put it into essay form and sent it to Charles Darwin (“On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type”). His correspondence with Darwin over the past few years had maintained a shared interest in, what they deemed, “the species question”.
Little did Wallace know, Darwin had been entertaining similar ideas from his essay for upwards of 20 years, and now a threat to his superiority on the subject loomed. Darwin contacted Charles Lyell for advice and they agreed to present Wallace’s Essay, along with some unpublished fragments of Darwin’s writings, to the next meeting of the Linnaean Society on July 1, 1858 – without obtaining Wallace’s permission first!
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published just 18 months later, ensuring the world’s introduction to the concept of natural selection through his eyes. Although Wallace remained in the highest ranks of scientific dialogue, from that point on (at least in the public eye) Darwin would overshadow Wallace in all things associated with selection theory.
BBC Video with a guy that sounds a lot like David Attenborough demonstrating the parachuting behavior of Wallace's flying frog. At 1:00 you can see it take flight!