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Raining animals is a rare meteorological phenomenon, although occurrences have been reported from many countries throughout history. One hypothesis that has been offered to explain this phenomenon is that strong winds travelling over water sometimes pick up creatures such as fish or frogs, and carry them for up to several miles. However, this primary aspect of the phenomenon has never been witnessed or scientifically tested.

The animals most likely to drop from the sky in a rainfall are fish and frogs, with birds coming third. Sometimes the animals survive the fall, especially fish, suggesting the animals are dropped shortly after extraction. Several witnesses of raining frogs describe the animals as startled, though healthy, and exhibiting relatively normal behavior shortly after the event. In some incidents, however, 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. Some cases occur just after storms having strong winds, especially during tornadoes.

However, there have been many unconfirmed cases in which rainfalls of animals have occurred in fair weather and in the absence of strong winds or waterspouts.

Rains of animals (as well as rains of blood or blood-like material, and similar anomalies) play a central role in the epistemological writing of Charles Fort, especially in his first book, The Book of the Damned. Fort collected stories of these events and used them both as evidence and as a metaphor in challenging the claims of scientific explanation.

The English language idiom "it is raining cats and dogs", referring to a heavy downpour, is of uncertain etymology, and there is no evidence that it has any connection to the "raining animals" phenomenon.


Tornadoes may suck up animals into the air and deposit them miles away.

French physicist André-Marie Ampère was among the first scientists to take seriously accounts of raining animals. He tried to explain rains of frogs with a hypothesis that was eventually refined by other scientists. Speaking in front of the Society of Natural Sciences, Ampère suggested that at times frogs and toads roam the countryside in large numbers, and that the action of violent winds can pick them up and carry them great distances.

More recently, a scientific explanation for the phenomenon has been developed that involves waterspouts. Waterspouts are capable of capturing objects and animals and lifting them into the air. Under this theory, waterspouts or tornados transport animals to relatively high altitudes, carrying them over large distances. The winds are capable of carrying the animals over a relatively wide area and allow them to fall in a concentrated fashion in a localized area. More specifically, some tornadoes can completely suck up a pond, letting the water and animals fall some distance away in the form of a rain of animals.

This hypothesis appears supported by the type of animals in these rains: small and light, usually aquatic. It is also supported by the fact that the rain of animals is often preceded by a storm. However the theory does not account for how all the animals involved in each individual incident would be from only one species, and not a group of similarly-sized animals from a single area.

Doppler Image from Texas showing the collision of a thunderstorm with a group of bats in flight.
The color red indicates the animals flying into the storm.
In the case of birds, storms may overcome a flock in flight, especially in times of migration. The image to the right shows an example where a group of bats is overtaken by a thunderstorm.. The image shows how the phenomenon could take place in some cases. In the image, the bats are in the red zone, which corresponds to winds moving away from the radar station, and enter into a mesocyclone associated with a tornado (in green). These events may occur easily with birds in flight. In contrast, it is harder to find a plausible explanation for rains of terrestrial animals; the enigma persists despite scientific studies.

Sometimes, scientists have been incredulous of extraordinary claims of rains of fish. For example, in the case of a rain of fish in Singapore in 1861, French naturalist Francis de Laporte de Castelnau explained that the supposed rain took place during a migration of walking catfish, which are capable of dragging themselves over the land from one puddle to another. Thus, he argued that the appearance of fish on the ground immediately after a rain was easily explained, as these animals usually move over soft ground or after a rain.


The following list is a selection of examples.


1555 engraving of rain of fish

Frogs and toads


In literature and popular culture

  • The Judeo Christian Bible, in the book of Exodus, lists raining frogs as one of the plagues sent by God to encourage the Pharaoh to release the slaves of Egypt.
  • Raining animals are relatively common in Terry Pratchett's Discworld. The explanation given is magical weather. One small village in the mountainous, landlocked Ramtops operates a successful fish cannery due to regular rains of fish. The Ommnian religion includes several accounts of religious figures being saved by miraculous rains of animals, one being an elephant. Other items include bedsteads, cake and tinned sardine.
  • Fish fell from the sky in Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode Confidence and Paranoia, fish rain in Lister's sleeping quarters.
  • Raining frogs are shown in the 1999 New Line Cinema movie, Magnolia. Frogs, and a gun, raining down causing havoc on drivers and commuters alike.
  • In the role-playing game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the player can do an optional quest given by Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, which involves playing a prank on a small, peaceful-yet-superstitious village. The player is told to perform certain actions that will fulfill a prophecy within the village that is believed to herald the end of the world, thus causing all of the villagers to panic. The final event foretold in the prophecy is flaming dogs raining from the sky, which, unlike the other events of the prophecy, is achieved by the Daedra Lord himself and his powers.
  • A sperm whale and a bowl of petunias were called into existence above the alien planet Magrathea in Douglas Adams' novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The whale had only moments to come to terms with its new identity and purpose during the ultimately fatal plummet to Magrathea's surface. The bowl of petunias had been in similar situations before.
  • The character Cris Johnson in the film Next relates as fact that fish eggs were re-hydrated after being evaporated from the ocean near Denmark, resulting in a rain of fish.

"Raining cats and dogs"

A 19th-century English cartoon illustrating the phrase "it is raining cats and dogs" (and "pitchforks" too)

The English idiom "it is raining cats and dogs", used to describe an especially heavy rain, is of unknown etymology, and is not necessarily related to the "raining animals" phenomenon. The phrase (with "polecat" instead of "cats") was used at least since the 17th century. A number of improbable folk etymologies have been put forward to explain the phrase, for example:

  • An "explanation" widely circulated by email claimed that in 16th-century Europe when peasant homes were commonly thatched, animals could crawl into the thatch and find shelter from the elements, and would fall out during heavy rain. However, there seems to be no evidence in support of either assertion.
  • Drainage systems on buildings in 17th century Europe were poor, and may have disgorged their contents during heavy showers, including the corpses of any animals that had accumulated in them. This occurrence is documented in Johnathan Swift's 1710 poem 'Description of a City Shower', in which he describes "Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,/Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood."
  • "Cats and dogs" may be a corruption of the Greek word Katadoupoi, referring to the waterfalls on the Nile,, possibly through the old French word catadupe ("waterfall").
  • The Greek phrase "kata doksa", which means "contrary to expectation" is often applied to heavy rain, but there is no evidence to support the theory that it was borrowed by English speakers.

There may not be a logical explanation; the phrase may have been used just for its nonsensical humor value, like other equivalent English expressions ("it is raining pitchforks", "hammer handles", etc.). Other languages have equally bizarre expressions for heavy rain:

  • French: il pleut des hallebardes ("it is raining halberds"), clous ("nail"), or cordes ("ropes")
  • Afrikaans: ou vrouens met knopkieries reen ("old women with clubs")
  • Czech: padají trakaře ("wheelbarrows")
  • Danish: det regner skomagerdrenge ("shoemakers' apprentices")
  • Dutch: het regent pijpestelen ("pipe stems")
  • Greek: βρέχει καρεκλοπόδαρα ("chair legs")
  • Irish Gaelic: tá sé ag caitheamh sceana gréasaí ("cobbler knives")
  • Norwegian: det regner trollkjerringer ("she-trolls")
  • Polish: pada żabami ("frogs")
  • Portuguese: está chovendo canivetes ("penknives")
  • Spanish: está lloviendo chuzos ("shortpikes")
  • Serbian: padaju sekire ("axes")
  • Bosnian: padaju ćuskije ("crowbar").
  • Welsh: mae hi'n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn ("old ladies and sticks")

See also


External references


  • The Fortean Times.

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