La Lluvia de Peces
In early June, at the beginning of the rainy season, residents of the poor rural department of Yoro, in north-central Honduras, watch the skies for a peculiar raincloud which has made an annual appearance in the area for over a century and a half. When the dark form of this curious cumulus finally appears on the horizon, locals abandon their activities, head indoors, equip themselves with straw baskets, and wait with eager anticipation as the cloud slowly drifts towards them. As this swollen raincloud sweeps over the region’s towns and villages, disgorging its watery contents onto the streets and fields to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning, something incredible happens. As if by magic, the pavement and dirt roads which crisscross the area’s settlements suddenly burst into life, filling with thousands of flopping silver fish which locals believe fall from the sky. These miraculous rainstorms are typically so torrential that few ever venture outside to actually witness the fish descend from the heavens. Nevertheless, some of those who have waited out such tempests indoors claim that, at the height of the storm, the familiar drumming of the rain on the adobe tiles above their heads is punctuated by meaty thumps which prove the celestial origin of this most unusual precipitation.
Once the storm abates, locals emerge from their homes and shelters and fill their baskets with the heavenly seafood, scrambling to catch the most vigorous fish before they escape into the rivulets of fresh rainwater which course through the ditches and gutters. The small silvery animals, which are not native to the region, are said to be delicious when fried, and their annual appearance brings much-needed relief to some of the poorer and hungrier residents of Yoro.
Honduran legend has it that this piscine precipitation, called La Lluvia de Peces, or the “Rain of Fish,” can be attributed to the prayers of Manuel de Jesus Subirana, a Spanish Catholic missionary who came to the Yoro region in 1858 to minister to the spiritual needs of the local Xicaque Indians. Pitying his hungry and impoverished flock, Subirana is said to have spent three days and three nights praying on his knees, asking God to perform a miracle by which to feed his sheep. On the third day, the very first Lluvia de Peces rained down on Yoro, initiating a beloved annual tradition that persists to this very day.
Unsatisfied with the explanation provided by local folklore, science has proposed three theories to account for this baffling meteoric phenomenon, each more outlandish than the last. One theory proposes that the tasty sardine-like fish are, in fact, blind cavefish which do not fall from the sky, but rather swim up from some underground lake or river which lies beneath Yoro. Proponents of this theory believe that the heavy rain which invariably precedes La Lluvia de Peces floods this subterranean habitat, somehow forcing its fishy inmates up to the surface. Potential problems with this hypothesis are that the fish of La Lluvia de Peces clearly have eyes, unlike every known species of cavefish, and that, to the best of this author’s knowledge, there are no known underground lakes or rivers which run beneath Yoro.
Another notion, arguably more absurd than the previous, contends that the fish of La Lluvia de Peces, despite appearances, are actually walking or air-breathing amphibians, like mudskippers or lungfish. Champions of this theory argue that these creatures, for reasons unknown, leave their watery abodes en masse at the commencement of the rainy season and migrate overland to the Yoro region, somehow evading human detection throughout the course of their cross-country odyssey until the first major thunderstorm of the year.
The third and most popular theory, on which scientists have ruminated for over a century, proposes that the fish which rain on Yoro every June are picked up by waterspouts somewhere in the Gulf of Honduras, a waterspout being a cyclonic column of water vapour which typically forms over large bodies of water. These aqueous cyclones, theorists propose, launch the fish with tremendous violence high into the sky. Once airborne, the fish travel dozens of miles through the atmosphere before falling on north-central Honduras, miraculously failing to explode into fishy mist upon impact. While it is undoubtedly the most commonly cited of the three, some scientists have argued that the waterspout theory holds as much water as waterspouts do fish, which is none at all. As science writer Brian Dunning put it in the September 8th, 2009 episode of his podcast, Skeptoid, “waterspouts simply do not have any mechanism by which they might reach down into the water, collect objects, and then transport them upward into the sky… Never do objects ascend the inner column, because there is simply no mechanism inside for doing that. It’s not an elevator…”
Animal Rain in Canada
Yoro, Honduras, is not the only locality in which small non-flying animals are said to mysteriously fall from the sky. This strange phenomenon has been reported in countries all over the world, and Canada is no exception. Most articles to comment upon animal rain in the Great White North seem to draw from a list compiled by David Phillips, a senior climatologist for a federal government department called Environment Canada, which was first published in 2013, in Volume 2 of Maclean Magazine’s Book of Lists. Many of these freak weather events have also featured on Phillips’ Canadian Weather Trivia calendars, which were published annually from 1984 until 2019. Some of these incidents have proven difficult to independently verify, and so this author has attempted to compile a list of his own drawn from Canadian newspapers and an old magazine article from the archives of Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra. What follows are the stories of some of the strangest creatures to fall from the sky in Canada.
Raining Frogs and Toads
On August 6th, 1896, a bizarre article appeared in Kingston, Ontario’s Weekly British Whig under the straightforward headline, “Gathering up the Frogs: A Shower of Them is Said to Have Come Down.” This piece detailed all manner of minutia associated with the easterly community of Gananoque, Ontario, the co-called Gateway to the 1000 Islands, naming certain young ladies who were scheduled to return from college for the summer holidays, and describing the features of a new searchlight which a local resident purchased for his boat. Sandwiched between an announcement that a generator had been brought to town for the purpose of furnishing residents with electric lights and an introduction to a particular pharmacist who planned to move to town in the coming weeks were three cryptic sentences:
“Chief Ryan last night distinguished himself as a frog catcher as well as thief catcher. Apparently it rained frogs as the town is full of little froggies about the size of a man’s thumb. A number of parties who wished to use them for bait in fishing organized a brigade and captured a pail full in a short time last night.”
Those three strange sentences constitute what is perhaps the first excerpt of a Canadian newspaper to hint at the phenomenon of frog rain, an unusual type of precipitation supposed to have struck Canadian soil with casual frequency throughout the 20th Century. Most stories of frog rain in Canada describe the sudden appearance of thousands of tiny frogs during a severe rainstorm, the latter often being accompanied by thunder and lightning. The August 5th, 1921 issue of the Calgary Herald, for example, described how, during a rainstorm on the night of August 4th, powerful winds picked up thousands of tiny frogs, perhaps from a wetland near Calgary, Alberta, and hurled them without ceremony onto Calgary’s 11th Avenue. The following morning, Calgarians emerged from their homes to see thousands of amphibian corpses littering the pavement. Coffees in hand, they watched neighbourhood cats pick their way through the carnage, hunting down any survivors they could lay their paws on. “That is one of my favourite all-time stories,” said the aforementioned David Phillips in a commentary on the incident in the October 18th, 2002 issue of the Calgary Herald. “Normally things falling from the sky are flukes, but this is an authentic story…”
Another article described the appearance of thousands of tiny frogs at Cowichan Lake, Vancouver Island, during a rainstorm in September 1931. A witness named R. Graham, who came upon the scene in his vehicle, said, “The gravel on the road appeared to be hopping about; the ground seemed to be moving as though shaken by an earthquake… There were at least ten or twelve frogs to the square foot.” Similar incidents are reported to have occurred in November 1937 at Clark’s Harbor, Nova Scotia; in May 1938 at Lake Simcoe, Ontario; and in October 1939 at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Science has provided a compelling explanation for events like these, in which frogs simply appear in astonishing quantities without any witnesses actually seeing them fall from the sky. In attempting to explain the 1931 Cowichan Lake incident, for example, field naturalist G.O. Day proposed that rain showers, particularly when accompanied by lighting, could impel entire populations of frogs to abandon their ancestral swamps and seek greener wetlands. Their sudden appearance at the height of a rainstorm, coupled with their vigorous hopping, could give witnesses the impression that they fell from the sky. As a cartoon in the February 20th, 1926 issue of Windsor, Ontario’s Border Cities Star put it in an attempt to explain the related phenomenon of raining toads, “It is when the myriads of toadlets are leaving their childhood home in wet weather that we may see them by hundreds, and so many people once thought that it rained toads.”
More difficult to explain are incidents in which tiny frogs are said to have actually fallen on people’s heads, vehicles, and buildings during rainstorms. Such an event is said to have occurred sometime in the 1830s or ‘40s, when a man named Duncan Ferguson carried mail on horseback between the villages of Richmond and Perth, southwest of Ottawa. During one of his runs, Ferguson rode into a heavy thunderstorm outside the village of Franktown, Ontario, smack in the middle of his route. No sooner had the rain begun to fall than Ferguson was pelted by thousands tiny frogs which plummeted from the sky like hail. The little amphibians did not appear to be injured by the fall, as most of them hopped away in a northwesterly direction as soon as they hit the ground.
About a hundred years later, in late August, 1930, the tiny maritime village of Bathurst, New Brunswick, received a large dump of froggy rain which transformed the surrounding countryside into what one newspaper article called “a dark animated blanket”. Those unfortunate enough to be caught in the downpour were completely covered by tiny pond creatures measuring less than an inch in length, which clung to clothing with the tenacity of “drowning men” and wriggled their ways into trouser pockets, “resulting in some disagreeable surprises hours later.”
Interestingly, on November 13th, 1943, the little town of Gananoque, Ontario- the setting of our first documented Canadian frog rain- may have been visited by the peculiar phenomenon a second time. That day, a proprietor of a downtown business found several frogs in his building’s eaves trough, and blamed the incident on frog rain.
Tiny frogs, as implied earlier, are not the only diminutive amphibians known to fall from the sky in Canada; every once in a while, little toads are said to plummet from the heavens as well. Perhaps the most detailed description of a toad shower in Canada is that which appeared in the May 1958 issue of the magazine Fate. The author, one Grace Weir of Watsonville, California, claimed that the incident in question took place when she was thirteen years old.
“My sister and brothers and I went to our beautiful lake to bathe,” she began. “It was not too far from home in a small cove with soft golden sand and a background of spruce timberland near a primitive little hamlet called Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia.
“We noticed it was going to rain but were used to showers and liked them as the water always seemed warmer afterwards.
“This particular shower was different. The heavens opened up and down poured little toads no larger than a blow fly and as golden as the sands they bounced upon. They fell like hailstones and the bouncing didn’t seem to hurt them.
“They bounced on the water all around us, on our heads and shoulders. We even held out our hands and caught some.
“So these toads came direct from the skies and not from under our feet.
“We kids had never seen anything like that in our young lives and naturally we were excited. We ran for the shore to gather some up; I recall I counted 18 baby toads that I held without crowding them or injuring them…’
Is it possible that tiny frogs, through some natural mechanism of which Man is currently ignorant, have the ability to take to the skies and become trapped in the clouds, only to return to earth with the rain? Or are all cases of verified frog rain, like that which characterized the Calgary storm of 1921, attributable to violent winds which pick up the tiny subjects of our inquiry and hurl them through the air? One imaginative alternative was proposed in the March 17th, 1938 issue of the Vancouver Sun. After reiterating the waterspout hypothesis, the anonymous journalist wrote, “…there are frogs which lay their eggs in water standing in the cups of leaves in trees. When these eggs hatch, the tadpoles swim about in the little cup until they are transformed into frogs. If a windstorm strikes the tree these little frogs may be blown out and ‘rain down’ upon the ground.” Whether this third explanation could account for the sheer quantity of frogs said to fall from the sky during typical frog showers is a question perhaps best left for the experts.
One of the unusual meteorological episodes mentioned in David Phillips’s list was a rain of lizards which fell on the city of Montreal, Quebec, in December 1857. Unless the same strange event occurred in two different locales during the same month, it seems possible that Mr. Phillips may have confused his locations, assuming his source was the following paragraph which appeared in the December 28th, 1857 issue of the Montreal Weekly Gazette:
“The Leroy Gazette says that, during the heavy rain of Sunday night last, live lizards, some of them measuring four inches in length, fell from the clouds like manna, though not as plentiful, nor half so welcome [manna being the mysterious food which, according to the Book of Exodus, fell from heaven to sustain the Israelites during their forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert]. They were found crawling on the side walks and in the streets, like infantile fugitive alligators in places far removed from localities where they inhabit.”
In his 1870 book Odd Showers, Sir George Duncan Gibb, Baronet of Falkland and of Carriber, identified the “Leroy” mentioned in this article as the village of Le Roy, New York, located southwest of the city of Rochester. It seems possible that Mr. Phillips, perhaps justifiably confused by the grammatical error in the December 28th article, may have assumed that the “Leroy Gazette” was a misspelling of the Montreal Gazette, and changed the location of the story accordingly. If so, he was not the first weird weather afficionado to make this mistake; the American researcher Charles Fort, who popularized the study of unexplained phenomena, committed the same error in his 1919 book The Book of the Damned. Incidentally, the 1857 rain of lizards is not the only strange event to rock the town of Le Roy. In the spring of 2012, eighteen teenage residents of this Upstate New York community, many of them members the Le Roy Junior Senior High School cheerleading team, suddenly developed a mysterious and debilitating nervous condition which has been blamed on everything from neurological damage caused by environmental toxins to mass hysteria.
Whether or not aerial lizards truly fell on Montreal in December 1857, reptilian rain is reported to have occurred in Canada on at least one other occasion. In an article published in the March 29th, 1945 issue of Regina, Saskatchewan’s Leader Post, a retired Indian trader named John Colquhoun recalled just such an event taking place on a Cree Indian reserve in southeastern Saskatchewan. “I remember one night it rained lizards when I was out trading on a reserve,” he said. “It seems fantastic, and I suppose there’s a scientific explanation for it, but I can swear to it. After the storm subsided we could see hundreds of them crawling down the tent.”
According to David Phillips’ list, other flightless creatures reported to have fallen from the sky in Canada include earthworms, black ants, and small fish. While this author has failed to unearth any contemporary accounts describing the first two varieties of animal showers, newspapers across Canada are sprinkled with stories of raining fish. The earliest of such tales to appear in Phillips’ list is an incident which took place in the prairie city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1903. According to newspapers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, history repeated itself on April 23rd, 1948, when small fish fell on Moose Jaw a second time. “During a heavy thunderstorm in the afternoon,” explained one article which was reprinted in various newspapers across the Prairie Provinces, “dozens of live fish ranging in size from one to three inches rained down from the skies in the vicinity of the Robin Hood Flour Mills. George Vaudin, and employee at the mill, scooped up some of the creatures and today they were still sloshing about happily in a pail of water.” The article went on to hypothesize that the fish came from a small slough in the area, and were somehow picked up by strong winds during the storm and deposited in the streets.
A remarkably similar incident took place near the remote rural settlement of Wadena, Saskatchewan, located about 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Saskatoon. As an article in the September 11th, 1954 issue of Saskatoon’s Star-Phoenix explained, “It’s been raining frequently in this district for the last four or five months but, for the first time a story has reached here that it was beginning to rain fish.
“Ernie Vellacott, who lives five miles northeast of Clair, reported that he was inspecting his wheat field the other day when he came upon an old truck track full of water. He investigated what appeared to be some action in the water and to his amazement he saw small fish.
“To substantiate his fish story he caught 36 of the little fellows, some of them about two inches long.
“Since there was no stream running in or out of the field, and since the closest lake, small Salt Lake, was about seven miles distant, he could not account for the presence of the fish.”
Another purported fish rain, which appears on Phillips’ list, occurred in the community of Dundas, on the outskirts of Hamilton, Ontario, on February 25th, 1926. A long-established Fortean expert who goes by the name Mr. X, who specializes in unexplained phenomena in Canada, made a special study of this case, and published his findings on his website Resologist.net.
In his article, Mr. X described how Charles Fort- the aforementioned godfather and namesake of ‘Fortean’, the study of unexplained phenomena- not only collected data on weird anomalies, but also made an effort to personally investigate many of the strange stories he came across. One of these stories was the fish rain of Dundas, Ontario, to which he was introduced via an article in the February 27th, 1926 issue of the Toronto Daily Star.
“In common with many other centres,” the 1926 article began, “rain fell here yesterday afternoon, and several hours later residents were astonished to observe small fish, about the size of baiting minnows, near the vicinity of Victoria and Market streets. The small fish, it is said, did not come from the sewers, nor were they washed from the creek, which passed through town.
“James W. Dickson, a resident of the town, believes that the fish fell with the rain from the sky. He procured specimens and intends to seek scientific opinion for the phenomenon.
“Professor B.A. Bensley of the University of Toronto declares that it is unlikely that the fish fell from the sky. ‘My opinion is that some small boy got hold of these fish in some way and dumped them on the street,’ he said.”
Eager to learn whether there had been a sequel to the story, Charles Fort sent an inquiry to the editor of the Toronto Daily Star, prompting that paper to publish an article completely demystifying the incident on March 16th, 1926. “Mr. Robert Manning of Dundas,” the article explained, “had planned to go fishing through holes in the ice. He had meant to go fishing on the Thursday of the heavy rainstorm, and so on the previous day he went to the sluice gate near the Hydro canal and netted a pail of minnows. The heavy rain of the next day caused him to postpone his trip, and as the minnows would not keep, he dumped the pail into the torrent of water rushing along the street. Later on a prominent citizen, seeing dead fish in a rain pool that had just fallen from the sky, natural concluded that he was local eye witness to a marvel.”
Of all the theories addressing the mystery of animal rain, the Daily Star’s explanation for the Dundas minnows is by far the easiest to swallow. For other more mysterious cases of raining fish, frogs, or lizards, science has left us with feeble explanations involving waterspouts, subterranean aquifers, or arboreal nests, leaving the phenomenon of animal rain- in this author’s opinion, at least- firmly in the camp of the unexplained.
- “The Day it Rained Frogs,” by the Editors of Fate, in the May 1958 issue of Fate
- “The Day it Rained Frogs in Calgary,” by Paul Dunphy in the August 4th, 2018 issue of Global News
- “9 Weird Things That Fell From the Sky Over Canada,” in the August 7th, 2014 issue of Maclean’s
- “Rains Fish in Moose Jaw,” in the April 27th, 1948 issue of The Albertan (Calgary, Alberta)
- “Raining Fish?” in the September 11th, 1954 issue of the Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
- “Raining Fish,” in the September 24th, 1954 issue of the Sault Star (Sault St. Marie, Ontario)
- “Fish Falling from Sky Part of Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar,” in the August 29th, 2020 issue of the Canadian Press
- “The Scouting Trail,” by David Day in the September 20th, 1960 issue of the Daily News (St. John’s, Newfoundland)
- “It’s Raining Frogs and Fish,” by Brian Dunning in the September 8th, 2009 issue of Skeptoid
- “Gathering Up the Frogs: A Shower of Them Said to Have Come Down,” in the July 30th, 1896 issue of The Daily British Whig (Kingston, Ontario)
- “It Was a Dark and Froggy Night,” by Sean Myers in the October 18th, 2002 issue of the Calgary Herald
- Article in the September 17th, 1931 issue of the Edmonton Bulletin
- “Strange Deposit,” in the November 27th, 1937 issue of the Kingston Whig-Standard
- “Rainstorm of Frogs,” in the May 23rd, 1938 issue of the Ottawa Citizen
- Article in the October 23rd, 1939 issue of the Sault Star (Sault St. Marie, Ontario)
- “Wrong Again,” in the March 17th, 1938 issue of the Vancouver Sun
- “Rained Frogs,” in the December 27th, 1930 issue of the Ottawa Citizen
- “Rained Frogs in Maritime Village: Thousands are Reported to Have Come Down in Storm,” in the August 28th, 1930 issue of the Expositor (Brantford, Ontario)
- “Frogs in Rain,” in the November 13th, 1943 issue of the Sun Times (Owen Sound, Ontario)
- “But Shower of Frogs Not Cats and Dogs,” in the July 15th, 1948 issue of the Windsor Star
- “‘Telling Tommy’ by Pim,” in the February 20th, 1926 issue of the Border Cities Star (Windsor, Ontario)
- “Interesting Prairie People: John Colquhoun Traded With the Indians,” in the March 29th, 1945 issue of the Leader Post (Regina, Saskatchewan)
- Odd Showers: Or An Explanation of the Rain of Insects, Fishes, and Lizards; Soot, Sand, and Ashes; Red Rain and Snow; Meteoric Stones; and Other Bodies (1870), by Sir George Duncan Gibb, Baronet of Falkland and of Carriber
- “The Dundas Incident: Charles Fort Investigates a Fish Fall,” by Mr. X on Resologist.net