Wallace lived miserably in a small cottage in Britain, and there he met Henry Walter Bates, a beetle collector. He and Wallace shared similar interests, but Wallace seemed to be more fascinated in exploring places except Britain. He decided that the two should go and take a ship to Brazil and collect insects and birds. It was an impossible idea, for two twenty-year-old scientists who haven't been anywhere besides their home country. It was about equal to someone going to Mars who hadn't had any experience with space.
They did go to Brazil, but a few years later, decided to go their own ways. Wallace was still interested in collecting animals, but wanted to expand his knowledge by catching mammals and fish. He decided to ride a boat to the Amazon forest by himself, trying to collect animals and insects. Wallace decided that he would walk into a giant Science organization with a toucan perched onto his arm. So of course, he would have to catch a toucan.
But halfway back to Britain, his boat caught fire. It was burning very quickly, but luckily Wallace got onto an escape boat. He watched all his collections burn. Everything. Parrots, spider monkeys, egrets and even his toucan that he was going to do all that with. Of course, he was devastated. The animals, his pets, that he nearly died for, were all going to burn. He was rescued, but thought all about what he had seen.
Apparently, he took a boat to Southeast Asia and collected even more animals. But this time, he'd research the existence about the insects he collected. Since it was Southeast Asia, of course there were loads of bugs and birds. He caught over 6,000 specimens, and about 1,000 were new to science. He would be catching mosquitoes infected with malaria, and a lot of the insects were stolen by wild dogs. When he came back, he was thinking about the distribution between plants and animals. The idea was that the species would change through time into a similar thing. He realized that there was constant death and struggle through the natural animal world.
Wallace sent a manuscript to Charles Darwin, who at the time was also researching evolution. Darwin received the letter, and was amazed, but thought that he had read his notes, so he published a book based on Wallace's manuscript. Wallace read about the book, and was angry that Darwin took his idea and made it his. He thought he could write a book just as good, maybe even better.
Scientist like Wallace and Darwin were truly amazing. Maybe they didn't release it all to public, but they say that it is the idea that counts.
The New York Times has made an animated life of A.R. Wallace. It really is cool. Below is a video with me explaining this story.