Rains of Fishes

A compilation of the evidence that fishes occasionally fall from the sky

The following account of an alleged fall of fish scales is given here because it is allied somewhat to the present subject, and because its omission might seem somewhat serious in view of the title of the article. The account and the disposal of it are given in Professor S. F. Baird’s own words (1875).

"It is stated that during a heavy thunder-storm near Lake Providence, Louisiana, a number of small bodies were found on the ground, immediately after the shower, scattered along the shore of the Mississippi River for a distance of forty miles above the lake; as many as half a bushel being collected around one house. These, on being submitted to critical examination, proved to be the scales of the common gar-fish of the South (Lepidosteus). The species inhabits the shallow, muddy waters of the South and sometimes attains a length of five or six feet, and is especially characterized by being enclosed in an almost impenetrable coat of mail (the scales in question), so compact as almost to resist the penetration of a bullet."

“It is very difficult to give credence to this story; as the gar-fish are not particularly abundant, and the method of aggregation of so large a number of detached scales would be a problem extremely difficult of solution. Perfectly authentic instances are on record of small fish, shells, etc., being taken up in storms and scattered over the earth; but when it comes to special portions of fishes which weigh from 5 to 50 lbs. each, the draft upon one’s faith is rather too severe.”

An anonymous writer in Das Ausland for 1878 records, on the authority of the Toronto (Canada) Globe, a fall of fishes which is said to have taken place in Canada through the action of a tornado. The account was vouched for by a teacher, who reported that living young herring were found scattered over dry ground for a space of three-quarters of a mile.

The next account, comparatively recent in date and very clear in statement, is by Thomas R. Baker, (1893).

“During a recent thunder-storm at Winter Park, Fla., a number of fish fell with the rain. They were sunfish from two to four inches long. It is supposed that they were taken up by a waterspout from Lake Virginia, and carried westward by the strong wind that was blowing at the time. The distance from the lake to the place where they fell is about a mile.”

Perhaps the most extraordinary case of all is that related by one Hermann Landois, whose narrative was written in 1896:

“During yesterday’s hail storm there fell a hailstone the size of a hen’s egg, in which an enclosed fish was found frozen.”

“Herr Joseph Grimberg in Essen on the Ruhr wrote me on July 27 as follows:—‘During yesterday’s hail storm there fell a hailstone the size of a hen’s egg, in which an enclosed fish was found frozen. The storm lasted about ten minutes. . . . The fish was picked up in my presence so that there can be no doubt of the fact. The fish is a crucian carp. . . ’ about 40 mm. Long. This fish has up to this time been observed in Westphalia only in enclosed waters. The fish must have been lifted up from a pond or pool into the clouds by a whirling storm and there frozen into a hailstone.”

The Monthly Weather Review for June, 1901, contains the interesting account from Mr. J. W. Gardner, volunteer weather observer at Tiller’s Ferry, South Carolina, U.S.A., that “during a heavy local rain about June 27, there fell hundreds of little fish (cat, perch, trout, etc.) that were afterwards found swimming in the pools between the cotton rows in [an adjacent] field.”

The last account but one to come to hand was given before the Berlin Society of Naturalists on July 20, 1841, but was not published until 1912. It is very detailed and is here given practically in full.

“Herr August gave an account of a rain of fishes which occurred during a heavy thunderstorm on the night of June 29-30, 1841, in Uckermark on the estate of Herr von Holtzendorff-Jagow. . . . Suddenly at two o’clock in the night (30th of June), a heavy rain began to fall, and continued so violently for the best part of an hour that the place was flooded deeper than the oldest inhabitants could remember [ever having seen it]. On the evening of June 30 the shepherds brought back with them to their huts collections of small fishes to feed their ducks with. They said that a high, fallow field which was used for a sheep pasture was entirely covered with these fishes. [They said that] during the day more than sixty storks and an innumerable number of crows had eaten their fill there and that the new-formed rain pools were filled with large numbers of these fishes. The owner of the estate, who did not hear of this until July 1st, was not able to go to the place and see for himself until July 2nd. He found that there were still a great many fishes in the places indicated. The largest of these were five inches long. The little pools in which the fishes were happily swimming about, had apparently been formed during the storm and had no connection whatever with any other body of water that contained fishes. The extent of the surface on which the fishes were found covered a length of two hundred paces and was fifty paces wide. The length agreed with the conjectured course of the thunderstorm.

“All investigations indicated that without any doubt these fishes were brought to this spot through the air. It is remarkable that such a whirling waterspout did not leave any other traces of damage done by the wind, especially as no particularly strong wind was noticed in the night; on the contrary, rain fell perfectly quietly, but in enormous quantity. In other low-lying places which were much more deeply covered with water and with meadow brooklets which connected them with ponds and lakes, no traces of fishes were to be found.

“The fishes, for the most part young, which were sent in by Herr Holtzendorff at the same time that this account was written were of varieties often found in our country, such as: pike (Esox lucius), perch (Perca fluviatilis), Plötze (Cyprinus rutilus), and stickleback (Gasterosteus pungitius).”

The last account, a brief notice, is from McAtee’s paper previously referred to. He quotes Mr. A.N. Caudell of the United States Bureau of Entomology, that on one occasion after a hard shower Mr. Caudell’s mother at her home in Indiana had found a live minnow in the rain water held in the hollow of a chopping-block at the wood pile.

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