Do You Know His Name? Darwin Co-Author, and Discoverer of the Largest Bee in the World

in StemSocial2 months ago (edited)

HMS Beagle
FMIB_47233_HMS_Beagle_in_Straits_of_Magellan_Mt_Sarmiento_in_the_Distance  Darwin, Charles (1890) free.png
Credit: Charles Darwin (1890) Journal of Researches Into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage Round the World of H. M. S. 'Beagle' Under the Command of Captain Fitz Roy, New York City, NY: D. Appleton and Company. Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington. Public domain.

In 1858 a paper that lists as its authors Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace was published by the Linnean Society. The name of the paper? On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection. Yes, that paper, the one in which the principles behind the theory of evolution and natural selection were introduced formally into the community of biologists.

Although Wallace's name appears on this paper, as author, that name has largely disappeared from public consciousness. When we speak of evolution, we think Darwinism. What is the story behind the association between the two scientists, an association so connected that each credited the other with doing ground-breaking work in the theory of natural selection?

Technically, the men were not co-authors. Both had written papers on the theory of natural selection and these two papers were published together on that historic day as a representation of a unified theory.

Megachile Pluto, Discovered by Alfred Wallace in 1859
bee Megachile pluto Stavenn3.png
Image credit: Stavenn. Used under CC 3.0 license.

Megachile Pluto, also known a Wallace's Giant Bee, is the largest bee in the world (discovered so far). Wallace was a naturalist who had been trying to sort out an understanding of how species variation came to be. He had spent years in the Amazon collecting specimens. He continued his pursuit in the jungles of Malaysia. That's when he came upon the giant bee.

The story of Megachile Pluto is fascinating in itself, but along with that is the story of Alfred Russel Wallace, a name that is new to me, although Wallace is credited with independently arriving at the theory of natural selection--apart from Darwin. In 1858 Wallace sent Darwin a letter that described the natural selection theory. A stunned Darwin had been preparing to publish his own paper. Upon receiving Wallace's he decided that the only ethical way forward would be to include Wallace's findings along with his own.

Forms of Papilio ormenus Accepted name Papilio aegeus ormenus Guérin-Méneville
Wallace1865TransLinnSocLondPlate3 Wallace A R 1865.png
Credit: A. R. Wallace, 1865. As illustrated in his paper On the phenomena of variation and geographical distribution as illustrated by the Papilionidae of the Malayan region. Public domain

Wallace and Darwin were not competitors. Each acknowledged the contribution of the other in the development of the theory of natural selection. Not only did Darwin acknowledge Wallace's contribution, by including his work in the 1859 ground-breaking paper, but Wallace was a fierce defender of Darwin's theory. In 1889, when Wallace published a book describing his work on natural selection, the book was titled Darwinism.

Striped Possum, Illustration in the "List of species of Mammalia sent from the Aru Islands by Mr A.R. Wallace to the British Museum"
wallace Striped_Possum,_illustrated_by_J._Wolf_(1858) public.png
Credit: J. Wolf, 1858. From the Biodiversity Library. Public domain.

Why did Wallace fade into obscurity and Darwin rise to become one of the most recognized names in science? According to James T. Costa, professor of Biology at Western, Caroline University, an examination of Wallace’s writing showed that he not only paralleled Darwin's research, but had original, unique insights of his own.

Illustration from Wallace's Book, Darwinism, Page 225
Darwinism by wallace Page_225 from the biodiversity heritage library.png
Credit: Alfred Wallace. Scanned from his book, Darwinism. Text may be found here. Scanned by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The script under the pictures reads: Scolopax megala (upper) S. stenura (lower). Public domain

Wallace Diverges From Darwin in Applying Natural Selection to Humans

Throughout his life Wallace expressed admiration for Darwin, and gratitude for Darwin's acknowledgment of his work. However, Wallace also stated that when his paper was published with Darwin's in 1859, it was done so without giving him the opportunity to edit. Wallace had never intended that paper to be published. It was sent merely as a letter of inquiry and as a matter of sharing research.

In time, it would turn out that Wallace had a view of natural selection that differed from Darwin's in one significant way: Wallace thought man was an exception. He felt that man's superior faculties could not be explained solely by natural selection. In 1869/1870 he published a paper entitled, The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man. A quote from that paper"

I believe, proved that, as soon as the human intellect became developed above a certain low stage, man's body would cease to be materially affected by natural selection, because the development of his mental faculties would render important modifications of its form and structure unnecessary. ..I am now myself going to state objections, and to place limits, to the power of "natural selection....

Illustration of Chimpanzee (From Darwinism)
Wallace_chimp natural selection as applied to man 1889.png
Credit: Alfred Wallace. From the chapter in his book on Application of Natural Selection to Man. 1889. Public domain.

Wallace compares brain sizes of apes and different types of humans. He compares brain sizes of prehistoric man to modern man. He compares hairy states, to hairless states. He addresses refinement of voice and softness of skin. After cataloguing all the ways in which modern, sophisticated man is superior, he asks why? How? If brain sizes are similar, then he surmises, it is not physical development (natural selection) which has guided man's advancement. It is something else. A quote:

The inference I would draw from this class of phenomena is, that a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms.

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, 1913
Portrait_of_Alfred_Russel_Wallace_(2) popular science library harvard university 1913.png
Credit: Popular Science Library, Harvard University. Public domain

In his paper, and in other writing, Wallace asserts the action of an independent power on the evolution of man. By this, was Wallace, in essence, asserting the Christian doctrine of Intelligent Design? That is argued by people who understand Wallace and the concept of Intelligent Design better than I do. Certainly, Wallace was not a Christian. That's what most researchers claim. His theory is commonly described as 'Intelligent Evolution'.

Some researchers believe Wallace's views on man's special place in nature was influenced by the death of a son, Herbert. Wallace was convinced that the human spirit lived on after death and he became increasingly interested in spiritualism. His desire to pursue this belief as a matter of science dismayed some of his colleagues.

Spirit Photograph of Wallace (With His Mother)
Wallace_Spirit_Photograph Georgiana Houghton 1885 public.png
Credit: Georgiana Houghton. Photo by Frederick Hudson in Chronicles Of The Photographs Of Spiritual Beings, E. W. Allen, 1882. Public domain

His active advocacy of spiritualism included his promotion of spirit photography as 'evidence' that life after death was provable. He states in his writing (as quoted on the Western Kentucky University website that spirit photography that which furnishes, perhaps, the most unassailable demonstration it is possible to obtain of the objective reality of spiritual forms

Does Wallace's insistence on the exceptionalism of man, and spiritualism, explain his obscurity? While this advocacy might separate his perspective from that of most scientists today, in other ways Wallace was more 'modern' than Darwin.

Wallace was an egalitarian and believed that all humans had the potential for personal development. Darwin did not believe this. Wallace's assertion of 'intelligent evolution' would likely not meet with favor in much of the science community. Still, considering the contributions he made to understanding the basic principle of natural selection, one has to believe (I believe) that his historical obscurity is undeserved. Wallace was a trail blazer who made an astounding contribution to the advancement of science.

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Shell Varieties, by @muelli
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These days everyone mentions Wallace alongside Darwin as if the two discovered the theory together. This annoys me! Darwin had discovered the theory long before, and only postponed publishing it for fear of how it would affect people around him, and also probably because he lost himself in the routine of verifying it and perfecting it, itself an excuse for postponing publication. And then suddenly the Wallace letter arrives and Darwin knows he either outs with it or he gets scooped and decades of work go to waste.

Everyone knows Darwin came first, but the rules of today say that if you don't publish, it's your own fault, so strictly-speaking - again by today's rules of bending-over-backwards fairmindedness - the two independently discovered the theory.

But Darwin didn't just discover his theory. The package matters, too. I could give you the gist of Hamlet in this here comment, but Shakespeare I am not. Darwin wasn't just a scientist, he was an artist in how he expounded his theory and was far ahead of his time in many ways, including that he avoided grave mistakes that biologists still make to this day in interpreting his theory. There's still things to be discovered by reading his work.

Wallace, on the other hand, as you say . . . man is an exception . . . spiritualism . . . it's almost like he hit on natural selection by accident. By not applying it to people, he reveals that he didn't really understand the theory. And it's not just him: Michael Shermer has a thing he calls "cognitive creationism, that we accept evolution fully from the neck down, but from the neck up it's all culture." Apparently it's still difficult for people to fully grasp Darwin, and Darwin himself is one of the few people who ever really got it.

Hello @alexanderalexis,

I love it when you get into a subject 😇 This one grabbed you. My impression, from my reading (remember, Wallace is new to me) is that Wallace had been working on this theory for many years. He had traveled extensively in South American and had collected a trove of specimens. These were all lost in a shipwreck. Undeterred, he went to Southeast Asia and continued to collect. Not only that, his observations about unique species in land separated by a small body of water led to something called the Wallace Line. This line actually predated discovery of plate tectonics, and actually traced the line where two continents had separated millions of years before.

Again, Wallace is new to me. I am introducing him to others as I am introduced to him myself. There is also this from the Natural History Museum in the UK

Wallace began his travels through the Malay Archipelago (now Malaysia and Indonesia) in 1854. Over a period of eight years, he accumulated an astonishing 125,660 specimens, including more than 5,000 species new to western science

He sounds like more than an accidental, incidental figure.

But then, it's all new to me😃.

Thanks for stopping by @alexanderalexis. Always a pleasure.


The kind of comment you read and become sooo disappointed to find the author doesn't post much... Loved this value addition to Ag's post.

Great post!
Yes, I know him from my studies on biology.
Why he didn´t become famous? Because nobody can spell "Wallaceism" as easily as Darwinism 😄.
Today, in a society where all shall be equal (even if they aren´t) and have the same possibilities, and inclusion&equality are seemingly the only priorities, and performance and persistence mean nothing, in fact Wallace with his egalitarianism could be re-invented.
But I agree with Darwin. Man is not an exception, evolution is still in place - and merciless.

You know him!! Wonderful. I didn't. He was modest. Never claimed the spotlight. And yet he worked so diligently, contributed so much. I began this blog thinking I was going to write about a very large bee 😄, but then I was captivated by this story of a forgotten giant of science.

Man is not an exception, evolution is still in place - and merciless.


Thanks so much for stopping by, commenting and supporting my blog.

I heard the name before. Generally speaking, few names become mainstream for various reasons. However, science and its advancement is never a one guy or the other thing. It's a process that takes a very long time and is influenced by everything going on at the time and everyone involved. In the end though, one or a few would end up pioneering the "breakthrough" and get all the "credit".

Thank you for this delightful article @agmoore.


Thank you @yaziris,

Following my heart :) This man was irresistible. Hard working (I do admire hard work), modest and accomplished. As you suggest, indirectly in your comment, a life or set of achievements can be a window into all of science. Little bits of the puzzle we put together to understand how we got here and where we are going.

I appreciate that you read my blog and that you commented.

Cheers to you, my friend.

Wallace might have been part of the publication, but he had a completely different view to what scientist accepts today. Also, his obscurity could be as regards to the fact that Wallace had never intended his work to be published at that time.


I could say this is the problem. In science, when we want to reference the author in the middle of an article, we forget the second person. Only the first author rings bell.

Thanks so much for that apt comment. Yes, authorship is often reserved for the name cited first. However, I believe Wallace's claim to credit is not based on the authorship of this paper. It is based on the considerable work he did independently in identifying and categorizing species. (See, for example, the Wallace Line.) He seems to have been quite prolific and insightful in that regard. Of course, I only just learned about him so I am hardly an authority.

Excellent article @agmoore! I love me a good scientific controversy. Interesting that the difference between the two related to how the theory applied to humans. As always, the argument needs to be settled through experimentation alone, but few are willing to tackle the big issues. I'm aware of one experiment on altruism that supported the notion that humans also follow the principles of natural selection. Unfortunately these types of experiments are often mired in controversy as people don't want to think about the implications of Darwin being right (or wrong). As usual, your piece is brilliantly written and with plenty of food for thought.

Thank you,my friend @litguru! If you look at the comments here you will see disagreements continue. That's wonderful. When a blog, a science blog, becomes a forum for discussion: that's ideal.

You are kind, and I will continue to read about Wallace. A fascinating discussion.

It looks like disagreement in the forum is on how much credit Wallace should get. I was referring to the idea of whether or not natural selection applies to humans. When it comes to disagreements on the theory itself, it's research and experimentation that can settle the matter. The theory of natural selection as first espoused by Darwin was based on direct selection- the notion that individual traits raise that individual's reproductive success. The theory, however, has undergone a few mutations to account for some complex behaviors that perhaps Darwin was not familiar with at the time of publication. We know that altruistic behavior exists, in which animals including humans use resources for the benefit of non-descendant relatives, but which eventually may (indirectly) benefit an individual's fitness. This is a form of evolutionary selection called indirect selection, which contrasts with direct selection- the idea that individual traits confer the advantage.

Marshall Sahlins (1976) critiqued the idea that indirect selection applies to human by discussing the issue of adoption in islands of the South Pacific. Cultures in that region are big on adoption so that up to 30% of children are adoptees. Sahlins argued that given that people adopted children who were not their kin, then evolutionary theory did not apply to understanding this behavior. He (mistakenly) thought that indirect selection was the only theory that could be applied in this case, and he was not aware that research on altruism had several possible explanations for the adoption case in Oceania. Moreover, the theory of indirect selection did not necessarily require that the adoptees were closely related in order to raise the fitness of the adopting parents. It only requires that they be genetically related.

An analysis conducted by Joan Silk of 11 cultures in Oceania showed that adoptions in the region were not genetically random (as Sahlins had surmised). The majority of adopters and adoptees were genetically related. Adopters tended to adopt cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. In other words, the process of adoption was not unselfish and random, as Sahlins believed, but was motivated by the fitness gained by the adopters. This provided support for the theory of indirect selection and is evidence that natural selection is at work in humans.

We know that people in that region also adopt non-genetically related children. So, how does natural selection deal with this? Adopted children could contribute to the family and thus raise the fitness of the adopters. This leads to the hypothesis that a family with few or no children would be more likely to adopt children, who would then help with the family work. An analysis by Silk showed that indeed small families tended to adopt children more frequently than large families. Thus, providing further support for the theory of natural selection in humans.

There is more to this than what I have outlined here, but the key point is that when it comes to settling the argument about whether natural selection applies to humans, as Darwin conjectured, or not, as Wallace believed, the issue needs to be settled in the realm of scientific research and analysis. Easier said than done when you start dealing with topics like monogamy, polygamy, coercive sex, etc.


Sahlins, M. 1976 The use and abuse of biology. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Silk, J.B. 1980. Adoption and kinship in Oceania. American Anthropologist. 82: 799-820.

Silk, J. B. 1990. Human adoption in evolutionary perspective. Human nature 1: 25-52.

John, A. 1993. Animal Behavior: An evolutionary approach. Sinauer associates, inc.

Finally I have had time to put everything aside and focus on your informative reply. Funny thing is, it never occurred to me that natural selection did not operate with humans. I see you enlist valid studies to support that view. My 'opinion' is more casual than that, and therefore less valid.

I think I feel this way for several reasons:

  1. I always think of us as animals. We are part of the animal kingdom. I don't know why we would be 'exceptional' and exempt from natural selection.
  2. I believe individuals can be altruistic, but that as a group humans are quite tribal. They operate for the success of the group. Those who don't are generally ostracized, to one one extent or another.

However, I am fascinated by your research. If you don't write a science blog about this, I may have to. Always my blogs are driven by curiosity. Questions, such as this one, arise and I want to know more.

Thanks for taking the time to share this with me.

I'm in agreement with you that it seems to me that the same rules would apply to all of us, but this topic is mine field of controversy. The issue is that human behavior is extremely complex when compared to that of a non-human animal. So, it's hard to get clean data out of humans. If I wanted to study human mating behavior, I would not be able to get ethics approval to put secret cameras in people's bedrooms to see how they behaved sexually in their natural environment. This would not be a problem, if I wanted to study squirrels. :)

If you don't write a science blog about this, I may have to.

Don't tempt me, or I may yet take a bite of that fruit.

Please do?!!!

I might just do it. Natural selection can be a dry subject, but if I can find a way to add a little spice, I'll be on it quicker than you can say survival of the fittest for reproductive success.

Oh yeah, just add an affair or something, or a perchant for wierdness. it'll be great.

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While this advocacy might separate his perspective from that of most scientists today, in other ways Wallace was more 'modern' than Darwin.

I strongly agree with your conclusion here. Though Darwin's theories were more favoured over Wasllace's, His ideas (Wallace) were indeed exceptional.

Darwins contribution has more use today but still does not undermine the ingenious contributions of Wallace.

Great and very interesting concept. enjoyed every bit of the analogy.

Thank you so much for the visit and the comment. In reading about Wallace I learned also that he came from very modest beginnings. He traveled a lot and was not part of the circle that Darwin belonged to. His political beliefs were also different: this might have set him apart from the well-healed members of the science community. For example, he had a problem with the concept of private property.

All in all, he was an unusual, brilliant man.

I appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

I've heard of darwin's theory before in secondary school. Interesting writeup.

I'm glad you found it interesting. As a former teacher, I love to hear that :)

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

You're welcome @agmoore i hope to see more of your posts

I am quite certain his leaning towards creationism is a major factor in his obscurity.

Hello @gentleshaid, thanks for stopping by and visiting. I do agree with you. Plus, he was not of the middle class and I think middle class scientists might have found him more off-putting than Darwin.

As least now my readers know about him.

Hope you have a great day!

Actually, I know about Wallace since my secondary school days. I got to know about his work in detail during my undergraduate. Just that I have never really sat down to think about him and Darwin in this light.

Believe me, there are so many issues in science mirroring this Darwin-Wallace issue or even worse. A colleague of mine made my research his and only mentioned me as a co-author in the research journal.

It was captivating, I couldn’t stop until I finished reading and went through all the comments. This is a great write up. I can’t remember having heard of Wallace before and this write up has given me the opportunity to learn a few things about him and reminded me of C. Darwin.

Thank you for the great contribution.

What a wonderful comment. Thank you! I also was quite taken with Wallace. I think I will be reading more about him, even if I don't write more. I think he has a great deal to teach me.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Beautiful pictures

Thank you!

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Fantastic post that deserves twice as much reward and then some. Is it just me or were these historical science figures more interesting in terms of backstory? Joseph Banks was another interesting cat.

I did know about Wallace and his evolution of man. Goes to show how science is influenced by politics, cultural, religion etc. Beats me why people think it's neutral.

As you know I've had my head stuck in mushrooms a lot of late. When they first started talking about mutualism/symbiosis (Anton de Bary in 1879, Pierre-Joseph van Beneden in 1876) no one believed it as they had their thinking firmly influenced by natural selection and competition, survival of the fittest. And imagine if Darwin had have heard of horizontal gene transfer!

If I was to have my time again I'd ditch the study of literature and transfer my degree to natural sciences. It's infinitely fascinating.

Thank you, @riverflows. Blogging for me is an adventure. I almost never blog about something I know well. That would be tedious. It's always a learning experience, as it was here. Even the comments (such as yours) continue the 'lesson'.

One principle I believe: nothing is fixed. We are constantly learning more about ourselves, the world around us, words, history...everything. How can anyone ever claim to be bored?

If I was to have my time again I'd ditch the study of literature and transfer my degree to natural sciences

When I went to college I chose history, because literature was something I would consume anyway--that would have been an obvious choice. But looking back, I probably showed the most natural talent in geometry. Another time, another school...who knows what might have happened?

Of course I'm going to look up Banks. The adventure continues, until the road comes to an end....

Thanks again for the comment.

I wish I had have known what would serve my passion in later life or that I would get sick of teaching so early in game! But here we are, and life is long, and there's much to learn.

You might find this entertaining, if you like a podcast.

This came up in my feed. I could have been a cool and inspiring botanist with a shady past...the world needed me and I just had my head in books...

You still can be. I didn't publish my first book until I was 64. Didn't matter if I was a success (although that book did get some great reviews...and some bad reviews😁). I had decided that it was getting late for me to realize my dream of being a writer. So I went for it. You seem to have such a wealth of information. You have a love for it. I can't imagine what the obstacles may be, but when the clock strikes midnight (it will for all of us), you want to look back and know you climbed the mountain that called to you.

I hope it is possible for you. I'd love to hear about it if it does happen 🍀

That's awesome you fulfilled your dream to be a published author! What did you write?

I have always wanted to do that too, so thanks for being an inspiration... I have 14 years to match you!

I think my problem is the money and time needed for a degree. Do I really believe in it that much? Do I want a paid career out of it - no. Because if it's just passion, fascination, interest - then I can just keep reading and learning bits and pieces.

But give me a time machine to 1990 with no return ticket... Well that'd be a different story.

Well, you have to think about your dream then in different ways. I think what you are doing here is on the path to your dream. You are informing people like me about plants and herbs, things I never paid attention to. Between you and @borjan, my eyes have been opened in a way that they never were before. I actually think fungi are beautiful now :)

My book was written after many years of illness that had not been treated properly. That time is past, but I thought I'd share what I learned with others who were dealing with the same issues. When I read the book now, I see edits I would make, but that's history and I've moved on. That was the beginning of my writing career.

If you're curious, here it is: These Are the Faces of Lupus

If you read my book (I'm not recommending that unless you have lupus 😇), you'll know more about me than I typically share here. I am very private. But the rest of the world knows, so why not you?

I am so much older than you. It's easy to be philosophical, and measured. Really, there isn't much choice anymore 😄. I tell my daughter (who doesn't always feel fulfilled in her job), make sure every single day you do something that brings you joy. Every day. No matter what else happens, in that day, grab a little piece for yourself.

You seem to be so creative, and giving. I think it must be easy for you to take that advice🌼