John Hunter’s two-tailed lizard

John Hunter, Mrs Morgan's Florilegium, Natalie Waddell, transit of Venus,

The two-tailed lizard John Hunter bagged on Belle Île after British troops had captured the island on 22 April 1761 and which is these days on display in the Hunterian Museum in London.

The young surgeon, who sailed with the soldiers on the hospital ship Betty during the Seven Years War, became fascinated with lizards, in particular the way in which they could regenerate their tails.

But this two-tailed specimen caught his attention all the more because it deviated from the norm, firing his thoughts about the development of life on earth and feeding into a future treatise in which he would write: “Every species has a disposition to deviate from nature in a manner peculiar to itself.”

This was in 1779 – seventy years before the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

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