Day 7: What are Species?

Charles Darwin’s work on evolution was not a sudden departure from creationism, but rather an important step in a long process of understanding species and change within biology.  Transmutation and evolution were discussed in the eighteenth century and were entangled in debates on the structure of society and religion even then.  In this class we will study the concept of the species.  What is a species, how did it come into being, can it change, and can it cease to exist?


  • Begin reading H.G. Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau
  • Read the “Introduction” to Darwin’s Origin of Species.  
  • In the “Introduction,” Darwin mentions a Mr. Wallace.  In the comments below add two facts about Mr. Wallace without repeating the prior comments.  As a class, I hope you will figure out who Mr. Wallace was, when he lived, what he believed, how he motivated the publication of the Origin of Species, and what he thought about it.

14 thoughts on “Day 7: What are Species?”

  1. In 1996 Wallace became the seventh person whose name is enshrined at the Monument to Human Spiritual Rights at the Red Rock Consecrated Sanctuary in Nevada.
    Wallace received several awards, including the Royal Society of London’s Royal Medal (1868), Darwin Medal (1890; for his independent origination of the origin of species by natural selection), Copley Medal (1908), and Order of Merit (1908); the Linnean Society of London’s Gold Medal (1892) and Darwin-Wallace Medal (1908); and the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal (1892). He was also awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Dublin (1882) and Oxford (1889) and won election to the Royal Society (1893).

  2. Wallace believed in the transmutation of species, aka one species mutating into another over time, which is what eventually lead to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

    Wallace was a traveling naturalist and while on the Malay Peninsula he discovered a species of frog called Rhacophorus nigropalmatus (Wallace’s flying frog/Abah River flying frog)

  3. Wallace identified the faunal divide (which separates the Indonesian archipelago) and it is now known as the Wallace Line.

    He was also considered one of the 19th century’s top experts on the distribution of species, for which he is sometimes called the “father of biogeography”.

  4. Wallace believed in the ideas and supported spiritualism, socialism, and the rights of the ordinary man.

    He also thought that the theory of evolution was incomplete and the guidance of a higher power was needed to explain nature.

  5. In 1904 he wrote a book called Man’s place in the universe. It was among the first books to discuss the likelihood of life on other planets. It concluded that we are alone in our solar system and that most stars probably do not have planets associated with them.

  6. There is a medallion in Westminster Abbey as a tribute to his work on the ideas of evolution. Friends and colleagues had wanted him buried at the abbey, but his wife followed his wishes instead. (

    Much of his greatest field work, while studying the Rio Negro, was lost when a fire ravaged the ship he was abourd. He was only able to save a few drawings, very little of the actual collection.(

  7. Wallace attended the Collegiate School in Leicester, where he was appointed drawing-master, and was introduced to botany by a fellow teacher: Henry Walter Bates.

    Wallace once went out on a four-year expedition to the jungles of Brazil, and upon his return, his ship caught fire in a storm and he ended up losing most of his notes and his collection.

  8. Although Wallace believed in evolution, when he died he still held the belief that human intelligence has a supernatural origin.

    Wallace noted a marked difference between plants and animals of Southeast Asia and Australia and was the first to decide that their physical separation prevented competition between species.

  9. Wallace was the first to suggest “warning coloration” which are prey’s adaptations to indicate that it would be unfavorable to eat them.

    Wallace was a prominent social activist who advocated for the end of discrimination based on class, women’s suffrage and opposing eugenics.

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