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Raining Frogs and Fish?

The popular explanation for frogs and fish falling out of the sky is that waterspouts deposit them. How true is this?

Even today, it occasionally pops up in the news: fish fell out of the sky onto a village in India or a golf course in Florida. How can such a thing be?! The news tells us that, too: waterspouts from a storm at sea, suck fish up out of the water, carry them inland on strong, high-altitude winds, and drop them inland, far away from the storm.

And, for some reason, people have been believing this.

Here's the real story. The fish DON'T fall from the sky, and waterspouts DON'T have any ability to lift anything, and there is no magical horizontal conveyor belt in the upper atmosphere for fish or anything else.

The visible column of a tornadic waterspout is not an upward-flowing elevator of water. Even the ultimate suction of a pure vacuum can only lift water about 10 meters, and it requires a solid-walled tube to do so. The waterspout's column is simply water vapor which collects in the center because it's less dense than air. The winds in a waterspout move around horizontally, not vertically. Below the surface of the water, nothing is disturbed. People snorkeling have had waterspouts travel right over them, and not even been aware that anything happened. Nothing reached down into the water, lifted them, and hoisted them aloft.

There's always been a simpler explanation, one for which plenty of hard evidence has always been abundant. The fish were already on the ground, and seeing them out of place, a person assumed they had to have fallen out of the sky.

Many fish, surprisingly, do travel over dry ground. There are several species of walking catfish, native to Southeast Asia but now an invasive species worldwide including the United States. It crosses dry land to find food or better habitats. There are 32 species of mudskippers worldwide, that come out of the water to feed and court. But the kings of fish fall reports are the 34 species of climbing perch found throughout Asia and Africa; they have a small chamber that acts like a lung and they walk using their gill plates.

Most people haven't heard of these; and when you come upon a group of catfish or perch in the middle of a field, the next thing you know is that someone has called the newspapers to report fish falling out of the sky.

Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning

References & Further Reading

Camero, H. "A Big Night for viewing frogs and salamanders." Wicked Local Bolton. GateHouse Media, Inc., 28 Mar. 2008. Web. 26 Jan. 2010. <http://www.wickedlocal.com/bolton/homepage/x1681298480>

Fort, C. The Book of the Damned: The Collected Works of Charles Fort. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008. 42-50, 81-99, 299-305.

Graham, J. Air-breathing fishes: evolution, diversity, and adaptation. San Diego: Academic Press, 1997. 54-56.

Gudger, E. "Rains of Fishes." Natural History. Natural History Magazine, 1 Nov. 1921. Web. 8 Sep. 2009. <http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/picks-from-the-past/271577/rains-of-fishes>

King, F. "Thank goodness for hurricanes: Heavy Florida rains lead to toad, frog population explosion." Science Stories. Florida Museum of Natural History, 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 8 Sep. 2009. <http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/sciencestories/2005/TGFhurricanes.htm>

Schneider, T. "The Vernal Pool A Place of Wonder." Wild Ones Journal. 1 Mar. 2006, Volume 18, Number 2.

 

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