Pick from the Past
Natural History, November-December 1921

Rains of Fishes

O fishes fall in rain from the sky? To this question both the layman and the scientist are well-nigh unanimous in giving a negative answer. Recently a level-headed business man and experienced angler grew almost indignant at being asked such an absurd question, and at least one scientific man of my acquaintance has expressed himself equally strongly.

My attention was first called to this subject about eleven years ago on reading De Kay’s account [elsewhere in] this article. It was again forcibly called thereto on my perusing McAtee’s excellent article [also quoted here], in which a considerable number of falls of fishes is recorded. And lastly, my work during the last two and a half years as associate editor with Dr. Bashford Dean of Volume III of the Bibliography of Fishes, now being brought out by the American Museum of Natural History, has, with the completion of the latter part of the synoptic index, brought to my hand all the known literature on the subject. This is herein set forth in the form of chronological excerpts, that the reader may have the evidence before him.

The Accounts

“On Wednesday before Easter, Anno 1666, a pasture field at Cranstead in Kent, which is far from any part of the sea or branch of it, and a place where there are no fish ponds, but a scarcity of water, was all overspread with little fishes.”

Our first and oldest account of a rain of fishes is found in The Deipnosophists or Banquet of the Learned of Athenæus of Naucratis in Egypt, who flourished at the end of the second and the beginning of the third centuries, A. D. This learned work, first published in 1524, is a compilation of extracts from more than eight hundred classical authors, most of whose works are no longer extant and would be forever lost but for the book of the Deipnosophists. It is written in the form of a dialogue, and in Volume II of Yonge’s translation, in a chapter entitled “De Pluvia piscium,” we read on p. 226:

“I know also that it has rained fishes. At all events Phœnias, in the second book of his Eresian Magistrates, says that in the Chersonesus it once rained fishes uninterruptedly for three days, and Phylarchus, in his fourth book, says the people had often seen it raining fish.”

The next account is contained in a letter from Robert Conny published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1698. Conny did not see the phenomenon nor specimens of the fishes, but had his account from a person who seems to have had his confidence. The account in question is as follows:

“On Wednesday before Easter, Anno 1666, a pasture field at Cranstead near Wrotham in Kent, about two acres, which is far from any part of the sea or branch of it, and a place where are no fish ponds, but a scarcity of water, was all overspread with little fishes, conceived to be rained down, there having been at that time a great tempest of thunder and rain; the fishes were about the length of a man’s little finger, and judged by all that saw them to be whitings, many of them were taken up and shewed to several persons; the field belonged to one Ware a Yeoman, who was at that Easter-Sessions one of the Grand Inquest, and carried some of them to the Sessions at Maidstone in Kent, and he shewed them, among others, to Mr. Lake, a bencher of the Middle Temple, who had one of them and brought it to London, the truth of it was averred by many that saw the fishes lie scattered all over that field, and none in other the fields thereto adjoining: The quantity of them was estimated to be about a bushel, being all together.”

In Volume V of Hasted’s History of Kent, published in 1798, just one hundred years after the preceding, is found the following account of the same fall:

“About Easter, in the year 1666, a pasture field in this parish, which is a considerable distance from the sea or any branch of it, and a place where there are no fish ponds but a scarcity of water, was scattered over with small fish, in quantity about a bushel, supposed to have been rained down from a cloud, there having been at that time a great tempest of thunder, hail, wind, etc. These fish were about the size of a man’s little finger; some were like small whitings, others like sprats, and some smaller like smelts. Several of these fish were shown publicly at Maidstone and Dartford.”

Raphael Eglini, in the Wittenbergischen Wochenblatt for 1771, reports an alleged rain at Cotbus on the midnight of September 2-3, during a heavy thunderstorm. He did not see it, but a number of the fishes, 5-6 inches long, which were said to have fallen, were sent to him. Although the account was attested by various friends, Eglini was doubtful. He suggested that these fish, if identical with those found in the neighboring streams, might have been carried to Cotbus by a waterspout or an overflow. Here, in the third recorded account of a fall of fishes, it may be noted that the correct explanation of the cause of the phenomenon is alleged.

In a later number of the same journal for the same year, Eglini discusses the accounts of this same Fischregen supplied by other correspondents. One of these had collected some of the fish at Luckau, a near-by point, which he sent to Eglini. These Eglini found to be specimens of a trout found in the Mark and in Schleisen (but by inference not very near Cotbus); whereupon he at once pronounced the matter as incredible, especially as he had a letter from another gentleman who was out in that very storm and saw no fishes fall with the rain.

John Harriott in 1809 recounts, presumably from his own observation, the following phenomenon:

“In a heavy shower of rain, while our army was on the march, a short distance from Pondicherry, a quantity of small fish fell with the rain, to the astonishment of all. Many of them lodged on the men’s hats; when General Smith, who commanded, desired them to be collected, and afterwards, when we came to our [camping] ground, they were dressed, making a small dish that was served up and eaten at the general’s table. These were not flying fish, they were dead, and falling from the common well-known effect of gravity; but how they ascended, or where they existed, I do not pretend to account. I merely relate the simple fact.”

In the Annals of Philosophy for 1816 is found the following account, in a section presumably from the pen of the editor, Thomas Thompson:

“I have been told that the same thing happens in Bengal. These fishes must come down with the rain. It is a matter of some curiosity to be able to explain the source from which these animals are derived.”

“In Prince of Wales Island, in the East Indies, the inhabitants usually catch the rain-water in tanks placed on the tops of their houses. Frequently these tanks are completely dry for weeks together. When the rainy season comes, they are speedily filled with water. Some fishes are found swimming about in this water, which gradually increase, and acquire the length of several inches. I have been told that the same thing happens in Bengal. These fishes must come down with the rain. It is a matter of some curiosity to be able to explain the source from which these animals are derived. . . . My information was obtained from an East India Captain, who assured me that he had seen the fishes frequently, though he was ignorant of their name, and could not describe their appearance with sufficient precision to enable us to make out the species.”

In Rees’s Cyclopœdia, Volume XXX, 1819, under the heading, “Rains—Preternatural,” it is stated that after a very heavy storm, which blew down trees, houses, etc., the streets of a town near Paris were found covered with fish of various sizes up to five or six inches long. Everyone agreed that they had fallen from the clouds brought in by heavy winds. It was noted later that fish ponds in the neighborhood were empty of all but large fish, the small ones having presumably been carried out over the city.

We next come to the classical account given in 1823 by Alexander von Humboldt of the eruption of Mt. Carguairazo, north of Chimborazo, which in 1698 covered the surrounding country to the extent of about forty-three square miles with mud and fishes. Furthermore, he tells us that seven years before the event referred to, the volcano Imbaburu had thrown out so many fishes that these on decomposing caused a fever which devastated the town of Ibarra. The fish in question was a singular catfish to which was given the name Pimelodus cyclopum. The causes active here were, however, entirely different from those producing the other rains of fishes referred to in this article, the agencies being earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which hurled the waters of lakes with their fishes high into the air.

In the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal for 1826 are found several accounts of falls of fishes in Scotland. The first is a reference to Andrew Symson’s “Large Description of Galloway,” which was written in 1684 but not published until 1823. Symson says that a shower of herring was seen to fall in Galloway some sixteen miles from the sea but not far from the water of Munnach. He did not see this himself, but says that it was reported by credible witnesses and that some of the fish were said to have been carried to the residence of the Earl of Galloway and exhibited to him.

Next are the accounts, by the Rev. Colin Smith, of Appin, of falls in Argyllshire, Scotland, which read as follows:

“. . . the testimony of many has enabled me to ascertain that a shower of herring fell in Lorn, about the year 1796, yet I have not met anyone who could inform me of the particulars concerning it.

“In the same district, and near the same place, on a small eminence above Melford House, a shower of herring fell in 1821, in every respect so large and good, that the tenants by whom they were found were induced to send some of them to their landlord, then residing in Edinburgh. In regard to the state of the weather, I could learn no more than that it was exceedingly boisterous; while the hill on which they were found is exposed to the southwest wind, which blows along Loch Milford, an arm of the sea in which herrings are frequently found.

“In the month of March, 1817, strong gales of wind from the north were experienced in Appin. Upon the evening of the second day of their continuance, rain fell in abundance; and next day being very warm and sultry, some children observed a large quantity of herring-fry scattered over a moss a little to the northeast of the ferry of Shien. There might have been about three barrels or more of these, and measuring from 1½ to 3 inches in length. Now, the place in which they were found is only 300 yards north of Loch Creran, an arm of the sea running east and west, from which several supposed the fry must have been raised. The wind, however, being from the north, renders this a seeming impossibility; and it may, perhaps, be more safely concluded that they must have been ejected from the Linnhe Loch, another arm of the sea, extending southwest and northeast, about 3 miles north of the place in which they were found. A range of moorland, about 300 feet above the level of the sea, intervenes; but it is easier to suppose the cause which originally elevated these fry to be so powerful as to carry them this height and distance, than that they should obtain a course contrary to the general body of air. They exhibited no appearance of being bruised by the fall.”

The last account in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal for 1826 is from a man named Arnot, who told the editor, Robert Jameson, that in 1825 a shower of herring fell near Loch Leven in Kinross-shire, the wind at the time blowing strongly from the Firth of Forth. Hence it was concluded that they were blown out of the Firth, carried by the wind across Fifeshire, and let fall in the vicinity of Loch Leven.

There is also said to be an account of a rain of fishes in the Inverness Courier of April, 1828, but it has been impossible to verify this. In 1828, a short account was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of a rain in Ross-shire, Scotland. The full account follows:

“As Major Forbes Mackenzie of Fodderty, in Strathpeffer, Co. Ross, was traversing a field on this farm, he was surprised to find a considerable portion of the ground covered with herring fry.”

“As Major Forbes Mackenzie of Fodderty, in Strathpeffer, Co. Ross, was traversing a field on this farm, he was surprised to find a considerable portion of the ground covered with herring fry, of from three to four inches each in length. The fish were fresh and entire, and had no appearance of being dropped by birds, a medium by which they must have been bruised and mutilated. The only rational conjecture that can be formed of the circumstance is, that the fish were transported thither by a waterspout—a phenomenon that has before occurred in this county, and which is by no means uncommon in tropical climates. The Frith of Dingwell lies at a distance of three miles from the place in question, but no obstruction occurs between the field and the sea—the whole is a level stretch or plain—and waterspouts have been known to carry even farther than this. Major Mackenzie has forwarded a small quantity of the fish to the secretary of the Northern Institution.”

Chronologically the next account is from America, namely Cambridge, Maryland. J. E. Muse tells in 1829 of a ditch dug one mile from the river and in land ten feet above water. This had no connection with any body of water and for ten days after being finished remained dry. Then came a week or ten days of heavy rain which filled the ditch and in the ditch were found hundreds of small sun perch and jack perch from four to seven inches long. The author has no explanation, but it would seem that a “rain of fishes” is the most reasonable supposition and hence the account is included here.

The next account takes us to the South Sea Islands, and is recorded in the Polynesian Researches of that keenest-sighted of all the missionary observers of natural history in the South Seas, William Ellis. In the first edition of his invaluable work (1830), in Volume II, p. 285, is the following account of an observation made at some one of the Society Islands, probably Tahiti itself:

“Connected with the fresh-water fish, a phenomenon is often observed for which the natives are puzzled to account. In the hollows of the rocks and in other places, to which they suppose that the sea and the river never gain access, and where the water collected is entirely what falls from the clouds, small but regularly formed fish are sometimes found. The people have frequently express their surprise at finding them, and appeared to wonder how they ever came there. They call them topataua, literally, rain-drop, supposing that they must have fallen from the clouds with the rain.”

There are now to be recorded a number of accounts from India, where it would seem this phenomenon is not unusual. The first, published in 1833, is from the pen of James Prinsep, long the secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and a scientist of the utmost credibility.

He states that concerning the phenomenon of fish falling from the sky, he was absolutely incredulous until “I once found a small fish, which had apparently been alive when it first fell, in the brass funnel of my pluviometer at Benares, which stood on an isolated stone pillar, raised five feet above the ground in my garden.” He then records a similar happening on a much larger scale, which was communicated by a Mr. Cameron, who took the pains to have the depositions of ten native witnesses taken and attested before a magistrate. The shower of fish referred to took place on February 19, 1830, near the Nokulhatty factory, Zillah Dacca, Jelalpur, India. All agree as to the place, month, day, and hour; the discrepancies in the individual recitals are such as are to be expected from ten witnesses who were not in collusion. These accounts, omitting all irrelevant statements, will now be given seriatim. Two of the ten witnesses reported jointly, their statement being embodied under 1:

  1. “That on Friday, in the month of Phalgun [on the ninth day], at 12 o’clock P.M., the sky being cloudy, there was a slight rain, and a number of fish of different kinds and sizes fell from heaven; we took some of these fish and retired home.”

  2. “. . . I perceived a boduli fish, large about one cubit, fall before me from the sky; after which I went further and found another fish of the same size, lying upon the ground. I picked up these two fish and proceeded forward; and as soon as I arrived at home, I found, to my great surprise, that many persons had likewise collected fish, and carried along with them.”

  3. “. . . the clouds gathered together, began to rain, and a little after, many fish, large and small, began to fall from the sky. I picked up some of them and carried to my house, but I did not like to taste any of them.”

  4. “. . . while I was sitting in the front part of my cottage, I observed a mirgal, and some other fish, bodulis, etc., ...of different size, fall from the sky. I picked up about five or six of these fish to satisfy my curiosity, but afterwards threw them away, and did not eat them at all.”

  5. “I had been doing my work at a meadow, where I perceived at the hour of 12 o’clock, the sky gather clouds, and began to rain slightly, then a large fish touching my back by its head fell on the ground. Being surprised, I looked about, and behold a number of fish likewise fell from heaven! They were saul, sale, guzal, mirgal and boduli. I took 10 or 11 fish in number, and I saw many other persons take many—then I returned home, I looked at heaven, and I saw like a flock of birds flying up, but these my perceptions were not clear enough. Amongst these fish, many were found rotten, without heads, and others fresh and perfect; and amongst the number which I had got, five were fresh and the rest stinking and headless.”

  6. “While I was sitting in my own house, I perceived a number of fish fall from the sky, some of them on the roof of my cottage; one of them was large, about one cubit, and three seers in weight.” (A seer, or ser, is a little over two pounds.)

  7. “When I was at work in a field, I perceived the sky darkened with clouds, began to rain a little, and a large fish fell from the sky. I was confounded at the sight, and soon entered my small cottage, which I had there, but I came out again as soon as the rain had ceased, and found every part of my hut scattered with fish, they were boduli, mirgal, and nouchi, and amounted to 25 in number.”

  8. “. . . as I was coming from the fields, I saw a number of fish spread on the bank of a nálá. I picked up six of them, viz. two boduli, two mirgal, and two nouchi, besides these there were many other fish of numerous kinds, and they were witnessed by many persons who were there. Some of these fish were fresh, but others were rotten and without heads.”

  9. “I sat down near the door of a workman’s cottage; it was then precisely 12 o’clock, when a drizzling rain began to fall; and at the same time, two boduli fish fell down from heaven. I soon got up and marched on, and in midst of the road, saw several other fish fallen before me. I picked up some of these fish—but one named Banchha Ram Chung forbade me, saying, ‘Do not touch these fish; you do not know what fish they are, and how they have fallen here.’ Listening to him, I threw away all the fish, and went away.”

In the following year a writer signing himself “S” records in these words a fall of fish at Futtehpur, India, on May 16 or 17:

“At noon. . . a blast of high wind, accompanied with much dust, . . . came on; the blast appeared to extend in breadth about 400 yards. . . . When the storm had passed over, they [the zemindars and others, who reported it to him] found the ground, south of the village, to the extent of two bighas [a bigha is about one-third of an acre], strewed with fish, in number not less than three or four thousand. The fish were all of the Chalwa species (Clupea cultrata) a span or less in length, and from one to one and one-half a seer in weight; when found, they were all dead and dry. Chalwa fish are found in the tanks and rivers in the neighborhood. The nearest tank in which there is water is about half a mile south of the village. The Jumna runs about three miles south of the village, the Ganges 14 miles north by east.”

The next account is found in the “Extracts from the Minute-Book of the Linnæan Society” of London. The account was read before the Society on June 15, 1830, but was printed in 1833, in Volume XVI of the Transactions. Verbatim it reads:

“[There was] Read an extract of a letter from Mrs. Smith, dated Moradabad, July 20th, 1829, to a gentleman in Somersetshire, giving an account of a quantity of Fishes that fell in a shower of rain at that place. Many were observed by Mrs. Smith from the window of her residence, springing about on the grass immediately after the storm. The letter was accompanied by a drawing taken on the spot, which represents a small species of Cyprinus, two inches and a quarter in length, green above, silvery white below, with a broad lateral band of bright red.”

At the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1840, Colonel Sykes read a letter from a Captain Ashton located at Kattywar, government of Bombay, India, referring to the fall of fishes recorded by Harriott in 1809.

There is now to be given the brief account written by De Kay in 1842 which first interested me in the phenomenon of the rain of fishes and which ultimately led to the writing of this paper. De Kay says that “in the summer of 1824, a number of these fish [Batrachus, now Opsanus tau] were found in the streets of New York after a heavy shower.” He adds that these little fish are carried up by whirlwinds or waterspouts, and that they are very tenacious of life.

In 1849, Thompson mentions a number falls previously referred to in this article and then records, without citing his source of information, that in Argyllshire, Scotland, in the little island of Ula, after a heavy rain there were found scattered over the fields a number of small herrings, all perfectly fresh, and some scarcely dead; furthermore, that a fish, ten inches long, together with smaller ones, fell at Boston, Massachusetts, on June 30, 1841, and that in July of that year a shower of fish and hail occurred at Derby, England; that in 1829 at Moradabad, India, numbers of a species of Cyprinus fell; that on September 20, 1839, a number of living fish about three inches long rained down at a place twenty miles south of Calcutta.

Dr. Buist in the Bombay Times of the year 1856, after discussing rains of fishes in various parts of the world says that in 1824 fishes fell at Meerut on the men of Her Majesty’s 14th Regiment, then out at drill, and were caught in numbers. At Allahabad in 1835, there was a fall of fish during a heavy storm. No particulars were given, but it could not have been a case of æstivation or migration, since the fish were found dead and dry after the passage of the storm. Again at the Sunderbunds, about twenty miles south of Calcutta, on September 20, 1839, there fell in a heavy squall a number of small, live fish about three inches long. These were not scattered over the country but were found in a long, narrow, and fairly straight row.

“This brought with it so many fish that the ground was literally covered, and some were even found on the tops of haystacks.”

Buist records two other significant falls. In 1850, on July 25, there was at Kattywar, a tremendous deluge of rain: thirty-five inches fell in twenty-six hours; twenty-seven inches in twenty-four hours, and seven and one-half inches in one and one-half hours. This brought with it so many fish that the ground was literally covered, some were even found on the tops of haystacks. And two years later at Poonah, after a heavy rainfall, multitudes of fishes were picked up on the cantonment grounds, which were situated a full half-mile from the nearest stream. All these falls noted by Buist are alleged to have been accompanied by heavy wind and rainstorms.

Boll in 1858 quotes a newspaper account of a heavy storm very like a waterspout that broke over Lake Plauer in Mecklenburg and the neighboring country. This storm tore great holes in the hills and filled these with water in which were found on the following day numerous small, living fishes and crustaceans. Boll also quotes the Monatsschrift von und für Mecklenburg of 1795 (p.310) to the effect that a similar heavy storm in the year 1795 passed over Lake Müritz, scattering fishes on the pasture and cultivated land adjoining. I have not been able to find the Monatsschrift in America and have not been able, therefore, to verify the citation.

In the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History for 1859, Volume VI, there is noted a letter from Prof. O. P. Hubbard, of Dartmouth College, in which he gave an account of a fall of fish at a town in Vermont, that occurred during a sudden squall of wind accompanied by rain, and he furthermore stated that this was but the last of a number of similar instances which had come to his notice.

Tennent in his Natural History of Ceylon, published in 1861, records a number of instances of falls of fishes in India and Ceylon. Some of these have been noted already. Broadly speaking, he says that in Ceylon it is the general belief that heavy bursts of the monsoon bring falls of fishes, since fishes of small size are frequently found in hollows along the roads and in depressions previously dry and sunbaked. Speaking specifically, he states that on one occasion he saw a violent shower fall on the road just ahead of him, and that when he got there, he “found a multitude of small silvery fish one and one-half to two inches in length leaping on the gravel of the high road, numbers of which I collected and brought away. . . . The spot was half a mile from the sea and entirely unconnected with any water course or pool.” Such evidence as this from so eminent a student of natural history as Sir J. E. Tennent is absolutely incontrovertible.

Next he quotes a Mr. Whiting of Trincomalee, who claimed that he had often been told by natives of such rains of fishes and that on one occasion he was taken to a field “which was dry when I passed over it in the morning, but which had been covered in two hours by a sudden rain to the depth of three inches, in which there were seen a quantity of small fish. The water had no connection with any pond or stream whatever.” On another occasion a Mr. Cripps, of Galle, wrote him that he had seen fishes taken from hollows in the land which in the dry season were completely devoid of moisture. Since there was neither running water nor tank near by, Mr. Cripps was convinced that “either the fish or the spawn from which they were produced must of necessity have fallen with the rain.” As these fish were found immediately after the rain, it could not be claimed that either the fish themselves or their ova had been imbedded in the earth and had awakened from æstivation, moreover, the earth to a depth of from twelve to eighteen inches is ordinarily baked as hard as a brick, precluding the possibility of their being imbedded.

Perhaps the most widely known and, because of the standing of its recorder as an ichthyologist, the most authentic case, is that made known by the Count de Castelnau in 1861. A careful translation of his account is given below. There was an earthquake followed by a tremendous rain at Singapore on February 20, 21, and 26, 1861. To this de Castelnau makes allusion and then continues:

“When the sun came out again I saw members of Malays and Chinese filling their baskets with fish contained in the pools formed by the rain. They told me the fish has ’fallen from heaven,’ and three days later, when the pools were all dried up, there were still many dead fish lying about. I found them to belong to the Clarias batrachus, which can live a considerable time out of water, and even move to some distance on dry land. As they lay in my courtyard, which is surrounded by a wall, they could not have been brought in by the overflowing of a torrent, nor is there any considerable one in the neighborhood. The space covered by these fishes might be about fifty acres. They were very lively and seemed to be in good health. I have particularly remarked the singular occurrence of the fish, having already, during my stay at the Cape of Good Hope, had occasion to mention to the Academy the fact of several new species of fish being found after an earthquake. Is it permissible to suppose that a waterspout, in passing over some large river of Sumatra, had drawn up the fish and carried them over? It is not without diffidence that I venture this hypothesis.”

An account of this phenomenon also appeared in the Zoölogist, 1861, Volume LI, and P. Harting gives the same data in Album Natuur, 1861. Both of these credit the data to Castelnau, but not so the anonymous writer in Das Ausland, 1861, 24. Jahrgang.

In his book published in 1864, Charles Tomlinson recounts a number of instances of falls of fishes. He gives at greater length the account of a fall near Calcutta in 1839, previously referred to by Buist. This is so circumstantial that it is reprinted in full.

“About two o’clock P.M., of the 20th inst. (September, 1839), we had a very smart shower of rain, and with it descended a quantity of live fish, about three inches in length, and all of one kind only. They fell in a straight line on the road from my house to the tank, which is about 40 or 50 yards distant. Those which fell on the hard ground were, as a matter of course, killed from the fall, but those which fell where there was grass sustained no injury; and I picked up a large quantity of them, ‘alive and kicking,’ and let them go into my tank. The most strange thing that every stuck me in connection with this event, was, that the fish did not fall helter-skelter, everywhere, or ‘here and there’; but they fell in a straight line, not more than a cubit in breadth.”

Tomlinson also gives without indication of source a detailed account of a fall of fishes in Scotland, which is reproduced in full.

“Still more recently a fish shower happened near Aberdare. The following passage purport to be the evidence of John Lewis, a sawyer in Messrs. Nixon & Co.’s yard, as taken down by the Rev. John Griffith, vicar of Aberdare and rural dean:—‘On Wednesday, February 9th, I was getting out a piece of timber for the purpose of setting it for the saw, when I was startled by something falling all over me, down my neck, on my head, and on my back. On putting my hand down my neck, I was surprised to find they were little fish. By this time I saw the whole ground covered with them. I took off my hat, the brim of which was full of them. They were jumping all about. They covered the ground in a long strip of about 80 yards by 12 yards, as we measured afterwards. That shed (pointing to a very large workshop) was covered with them, and the shoots were quite full of them. My mates and I might have gathered buckets full of them, scraping with our hands. We did gather a great many—about a bucket-full—and threw them into the rain pool, where some of them now are. There were two showers, with an interval of about ten minutes, and each shower lasted about two minutes, or thereabouts. The time was eleven A M. The morning up-train to Aberdare was just then passing. It was not blowing very hard, but uncommon wet; just about the same wind as there is to-day (blowing rather stiff), and it came from this quarter (pointing to the S. of W.). They came down with the rain in a body like.’

“The Rev. Mr. Griffith adds, that ’such is the evidence. I have taken it for the purpose of having it laid before Professor Owen, to whom, also, I shall send to-morrow, at the request of a friend of his, eighteen or twenty of the little fish. Three of them are large, and very stout, measuring about 4 inches. The rest are small. There were some, but they are since dead, fully 5 inches long. They are very lively.’ A number of these fishes were exhibited for several weeks in the Aquaria house of the Zoological Society’s Gardens, in the Regent’s Park, London.”

Boll records (1868) the following instances of fish falling at certain points in Mecklenburg: at Steuer on July 25, 1795; at Kratzburg, on May 28, 1828; and near Dölitz, Pomerania, June 9, 1868. He says that in each case numbers of small fishes were found, and in one case fairly large ones, and that in the first two instances the rain was accompanied by a waterspout.

A similar occurrence is reported in 1873 by Franz Buchenau in the following words:

“Bremen, May 24. About five o’clock day before yesterday afternoon in the vicinity of Eystrup a great number of fishes fell on and beside the railroad embankment during a storm. They were little so-called whitefish. The appearance of these unaccustomed guests is connected with a waterspout, which, as was later reported to the railway directors here, arose apparently at the same time from the Steinhuder See about four miles distant.”

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.

The Credibility of These Accounts

Omitting Humboldt’s account of the fall of Pimelodus cyclopum in hot water ejected from volcanoes in South America, since that fall has an entirely different origin and causation, there are herein enumerated forty-four distinct accounts of rains of fishes. These phenomena, when grouped under the countries where they occurred, show the following distribution: United States, 7; Canada, 1; England, 1; Scotland, 9; Germany, 8; France, 1; Greece, 1; India, 10; Ceylon, 3; Malaysia, 2; South Sea Islands, 1. Surely such a large array of accounts from eleven different regions of the earth, ranging from the eastern part of North America, across western and southern Europe, touching southern and southeastern Asia, and ending in the South Sea Islands, should be credible on the bare setting forth of the facts.

Another circumstance tending to establish the credibility of these accounts is the fact that they are published in books and journals differing greatly in character. The books include works on meteorology, travel, history, and natural history; the journals are mainly devoted to natural history, but published in widely separated parts of the world, and while some of them are well known, others are comparatively obscure. A perusal of the accounts given above (most of them verbatim excerpts) must convince the reader that those who made efforts to review the literature,—Thompson, 1849; Tennent, 1861; Tomlinson, 1864; and McAtee, 1917,—had only limited knowledge of the considerable literature devoted to this subject. This is plainly due to the fact that the accounts were published in widely scattered and little known books and journals and that even as late as McAtee’s paper no complete bibliography of the literature of fishes was available for any one desiring to weigh all the facts.

“Now it cannot be maintained that all the accounts noted are of equal credibility. Some are here hearsay, some are hearsay pretty well attested and some are recorded by scientific men, who in certain instances apparently saw the fishes fall.”

Now it cannot be maintained that all the accounts noted are of equal credibility. Some are mere hearsay, some are hearsay pretty well attested (i.e., matters of general knowledge in the community) and some are recorded by scientific men, who in certain instances apparently saw the fishes fall, in other instances found them immediately after a hard rain covering ground ordinarily dry,—that is ground far removed from swamps and streams. To proclaim disbelief in the phenomenon of rains of fishes, to refuse credence to accounts so widespread in time and space, so throughly corroborative, would in the mind of the writer be indicative of an inability properly to evaluate evidence.

As a matter of fact but two authors have endeavored to deny the credibility of such phenomena. The first of these is Eglini (1771), who in his first account seems to have doubts, but on the whole accepts the fact on the assumption that it is the action of a waterspout. In his second account, written in the same year, he quotes a “scholar in Luckau who saw it,” and who sent him specimens of the fish. However, because these fish apparently were not such as occur in the neighboring streams, and because he received a negative report from a “learned gentleman of Lausitz,” he brands the reputed fall as a deception. The “learned man” in question was out on the evening of the storm until eleven o’clock (the storm occurred at midnight), sat at an open window almost all night, and finally was again in the open early in the morning, without seeing the least trace of fishes. “Therefore I may affirm with certainty that the whole proceeding said to have occurred with this storm is a lie.” However, he omits to say whether or not he explored the whole area of the track of the storm, and apparently he declares the matter a lie because he found no fishes in the vicinity of his own home.

The only author who has endeavored to controvert some of the numerous accounts given is W. Sharpe (1875). After quoting Tennent’s personal experience given above, he endeavors to explain it away by alleging that the fishes are left stranded from an overflow, or are caught migrating from one point to another. He says that no scientific man has ever seen a rain of fishes, nor have fishes ever been caught in rain barrels, and finally that they are always found alive whereas, if rained down, the fall would kill them.

In answer to this it may be said no scientific man has ever had a rain of fishes fall on him, nevertheless the testimony of Tennent, Castelnau, and others cannot be explained away. As to the second point, let us recall that Prinsep found a fish in his pluviometer standing on a pedestal five feet above ground, and that Mrs. Caudell found one in the hollow of a chopping block at least eighteen inches above the ground. As to the fact that fishes are commonly alive and are not killed by the fall, as Sharpe thinks they should be, the retort may be made that all fishermen know that fishes generally succumb slowly to falls and blows, and that if the fish fell on grassy lands, the shock would be much decreased. However numbers of those found were actually dead.

The Explanation

Omitting Humboldt’s account of the fall of catfish in South America, for which an explanation has already been indicated, four explanations offer themselves for the appearance of fishes accompanying heavy rains. The first of these is that the fishes might have been migrating overland from one stream or pond to another. Now migratory fishes are of but few kinds, and are found only in a few countries. Of the countries noted above such an occurrence might take place only in India, Ceylon, or Malaysia. But the accounts of the falls of Indian fishes are so definite and circumstantial as to rule out this possibility. Again, many of the falls have taken place in northern countries, where there are no migratory fish, and finally many of the fish rained down are marine forms.

Furthermore, the fishes might have been left behind by overflows as alleged by Eglini, but there is nothing in the accounts given to lead one to such a conclusion. More plausible is the conjecture that the fish may have been æstivating and have been awakened by the coming of the rain. This might apply to Ceylon, India, and Malaysia, where there is a prolonged dry season, but during the dry season the earth becomes thoroughly baked, and even in swamps and tanks is hardened to the consistency of sun-dried bricks to a depth of from fifteen to eighteen inches. In view of this fact a mere thunderstorm or even a heavy downpour would not soften the ground sufficiently to release the imprisoned fishes. Then again many of the falls recorded have been on high and dry fields, upon the sand of parade grounds of military cantonments, and upon the enclosed compounds of residences. A careful perusal of the reported rains of fishes in Ceylon, India, and Malaysia, will eliminate the explanation based on the awakening of fishes from summer sleep due to the falling of heavy showers.

There is left to us but one other explanation,—the action of heavy winds, whirlwinds, and waterspouts. Practically all those who have described rains of fishes have noticed that these were the accompaniments of thunderstorms or monsoon rains with their heavy winds, or of waterspouts. One who has witnessed the activities of a whirlwind or who has seen the wreckage left in its path will have no difficulty in believing that such a whirlwind or even the heavy winds accompanying a hard storm could pick up and transport to some distance objects of such light weight as small fishes. Furthermore, anyone who has witnessed the tremendous power of waterspouts, such as are common for instance in southern Florida, will agree that such a spout passing over shallow water, would certainly pick up the small fishes swimming therein and, drawing them up into the clouds, would carry them over the country to drop them some distance away. This is the only explanation that can account for the Indian fall as a result of which fishes were found in a comparatively straight path only a few inches wide, extending over a considerable stretch of country. These fishes must have fallen from the whirling lower end of a funnel-shaped spout after the pillar had broken in two, as is often the case. Again, no other explanation can account for a fall concentrated on a comparatively small area, as was that noted by Castelnau at Singapore.

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