What Causes Animals to Rain from the Sky?

As Norwegian biology teacher Karstein Erstad skied through the mountains of southern Norway last week, he came across an extraordinary sight: thousands of earthworms littering the snow before him. Where had they come from? Were they alive?

At first, he thought they weren’t. “When I found them on the snow they seemed to be dead,” he told The Local, “but when I put them in my hand I found that they were alive.”

That answers one question.

This planet has a storied history of mysterious rains of animals. More often than not, they’ll be fish, like in Madhesh, Nepal in 1900 or Chilaw, Sri Lanka about a year ago, on May 6, 2014. They may also be birds, a situation that freaked a few people out back in the early days of 2012 (although that may be more easily explained).

Then, you enter into stranger territory, and come across rains of frogs, toads, jellyfish, maggots, and my personal favorite: spiders. What better way to start your day than with a spontaneous eruption of spiders dropping onto your face? I can think of none. I also feel like including the red rains of India in this list; that may have been algae.

Sidenote: There’s a video of an alleged “spider rain” that occurred in Brazil on February 3, 2013 (although, according to Wikipedia, they may have simply fallen from a “mass web.” Still weird).

Image: screencap from YouTube video
Image: screencap from YouTube video

A Rain Of Mysteries

So what causes this wide variety of animals to just plop out of the sky? Why were earthworms covering the snow in Norway? How were they alive, resting on the top of snow that was reportedly almost a meter deep?

In this case, scientists remain “puzzled.” The most popular, and likely sound, hypotheses involve weather. According to The Independent, a “violent air pocket” may be responsible for the out-of-place earthworms, exploding them upward into the air and displacing them miles away to the area where Erstad had been skiing. Or, perhaps, it was something like a tornado. And you can imagine how that might move things around.

As far back as the early 1800s, French physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère took a crack at solving this bizarre mystery, and his conclusions were similar to those we’ve drawn today. He suggested that, sometimes, large numbers of smaller animals – say, frogs – congregate together in the countryside and, as fate would have it, get swept up in violent winds that hurl them over great distances to unexpected places. If they survive the fall, maybe their trip wasn’t that far. On the other hand, sometimes things play out a bit differently:

“Several witnesses of raining frogs describe the animals as startled, though healthy, and exhibiting relatively normal behavior shortly after the event. In some incidents, the animals are frozen to death or even completely encased in ice. There are examples where the product of the rain is not intact animals, but shredded body parts.”

As for aquatic animals like fish, there’s a similar idea: something called tornadic waterspouts, which are basically just tornadoes that begin on land and cross over water, or just form over water.

There are, of course, problems with these ideas. Sometimes, a rain of animals occurs without any sign of stormy weather. And strangely, for whatever reason, they usually involve only a single species of animal and not a mixture. There’s also the curious fact that no one has ever actually seen it happen, as far as I know; we’ve seen the results, the pile of earthworms lying in the snow, but as far as recorded instances are concerned, we’ve never seen the wind pick them up. And there’s another issue, here…

The First Question

In every reported case of an animal rain, we take it at face value that, well, the animals actually rained from the sky or otherwise appeared mysteriously. But this doesn’t always have to be the case.

Brian Dunning of Skeptoid asks the simplest question in regards to “raining” animals, the one that should always be asked first: did this really happen the way they say it happened? Of course, you could ask this about anything reported in the media these days, but it’s a salient point.

After the 1861 “rain” of fish in Singapore, for example, French naturalist Francis de Laporte de Castelnau pointed out that it occurred during a known migration of walking catfish. They could have easily found their own way across land.

The same can happen with frogs (I know of at least one personal story involving a car, a road, and what appeared to be hundreds upon hundreds of frogs blocking the way as they attempted to cross). Point being, large gatherings of animals in one place aren’t necessarily out of the ordinary.

This may not explain every case of “raining animals,” but given that we’re often dealing with anecdotal evidence, it’s something to think about.

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.