Jun
12
2009

Friday Lie Extravaganza: It’s raining men! Wait… not men, frogs.

Rains of cats, dogs and pitchforks, however: Are so rare that we choose not to mention them.
Rains of cats, dogs and pitchforks, however: Are so rare that we choose not to mention them.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Originally I was going to write a post today called, “Hey, kids, you’ve been lied to!” The first story was going to be this science news item. Remember how people always tell you that your fingerprints are there (on your fingers) to help you hold on to all of the slippery smooth items we humans have adapted to use? Even if you don’t remember, someone for sure told you this. Something like, “Good thing you have fingerprints, child, because you need them to hold on to that pencil of yours!” Presumably, without fingerprints we’d be walking around dropping water glasses, remote controls, fancy pens, and greased pets, until all of these things were stuck, permanently, on the ground.

It turns out that this isn’t true! You’ve been lied to, kids! It seems that some clever scientists were surprised to find lots of time on their hands. As we all well know, time is our smoothest dimension, and, if you think about it, it’s sort of amazing that we’re able to hold onto it at all. So, think these scientists, is it the itty bitty ridges on our slender fingers that have allowed us to keep so much time on our hands? And experimentation commenced.

These cleverboots devised a scientific finger grip contraption that could measure the resistance of a finger being rubbed across a smooth, glassy surface. Short story shorter, the scientists found that the area of fingerprint in contact with the glassy stuff didn’t increase grip as much as it should have. Instead, the fingertips behaved more or less like rubber, with resistance increasing proportionately with the area of flesh touching the smooth material. This means that, if anything, instead of acting as grip-enhancers, fingerprints reduce your ability to grip smooth objects, because all of those tiny ridges actually decrease the amount of finger surface area in contact with an object by as much as a third. Maybe fingerprints evolved to help us grip rough surfaces, like tree bark, or to help our skin stretch without damaging, or to allow moisture to drain more effectively from out fingertips. But they don’t help us grip all these smooth little things we like to grip so much. Lies!

And that was my first thought. Then, I came across this article on a rain of tadpoles in Japan. This is the sort of thing we don’t think much about, because it doesn’t ever really rain tadpoles, fish, or frogs, does it? Wrong! It does! If someone in your life has ever told you that it doesn’t rain animals, or implied this simply by not talking about it, you have been lied to! It rains animals all the time!

Well, maybe not all the time, because I’m pretty sure I’ve been out in the rain a few times this year, and I haven’t yet been hit in the head by an animal. (From above, anyway. I’ve been hit in the side of the head by animals several times already.) But, as weird as it sounds, lots of animals do fall from the sky from time to time. And one of those times was just now, in Nanao, Japan. Tadpoles. Everywhere. From the sky!

What if one fell in your open mouth?

Wikipedia has a list, of course, of rains of animals. Fish, frogs and toads feature prominently in the bizarre precipitation, although the occasional rain of blood (or something bloodlike), flesh, or turtles pops up now and again. And check it out: there was a rain of frogs and toads in the summer of 1901 in our own back yard, Minneapolis! Here’s a quote from the relevant news item:

“When the storm was at its highest... there appeared as if descending directly from the sky a huge green mass. Then followed a peculiar patter, unlike that of rain or hail. When the storm abated the people found, three inches deep and covering an area of more than four blocks, a collection of a most striking variety of frogs... so thick in some places [that] travel was impossible.”

Sweet, huh? Also, apparently s rain of fresh fish occurs so regularly each summer near the city of Yoro, Honduras, that they hold a festival for it every year.

What gives? Why is there an extravaganza of falling (sometimes living) meat every year, all over the place, which people lie about by not mentioning everyday because it’s awesome?

Here’s the satisfying answer: Wizards do it. Wizards and demons. Wizards, demons, wizard demons, and demon wizards gift us with rains of animals, for our amusement and theirs.

Here’s the less-satisfying answer: Because scientists don’t believe in wizards, demons, etc, the explanation here has to be related to an observed weather phenomena. The favorite is waterspouts. Waterspouts are caused by tornadoes over water, or by tornado-junior things over water. Either way, what’s happening during a waterspout is that a big thunderstorm has a rotating column of air with a strong updraft that moves over a body of water. Water gets sucked up into the air, and it’s awesome to see. What happens when a waterspout goes over a school of fish or a frog pond, scientists ask? You might get a bunch of damp and surprised animals up in the air, ready to rain down wherever the storm takes them. That the animals occasionally arrive frozen makes sense too—it can be cold up there. Rains of blood and chunks can probably be explained away by a little too much ice and action up in the clouds, or by flocks of birds caught in a violent storm. Clouds of bats have even been seen (on weather radar) being consumed by storm systems and disappearing. The hundreds or thousands of bats involved would presumably return to the earth at some point. In some form or other. Probably all guts and little pieces of bat wings, I mean.

But who would have thought, you know? I’ve never had guts or animals rain on me, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. I’ve never had red hot pyroclastic rock rain down on me either, but it happens to some people. And my parents never once sat me down and told me about the rains of fish and frogs. No doubt you have likewise missed the experience. We have been lied to, Buzzketeers!

UPDATE 6/18:
Apparently there have been multiple rains of animals in this area recently. Two small towns got tadpoles, and a third got tiny fish. There are photographs on this site. Japanese coverage of the bizarre weather mentions the waterspout theory, but meteorologists in the area point out that no waterspouts have been observed, and local weather has not been favorable to their formation anyhow. They're mystified. Witness reports of the "rain" say that, during at least one of the events, there was a strange sound outside, but no rain or wind. Neat-o.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

curious's picture
curious says:

so IF there was a small group of men/kids swimming in a body of water. and let's just say for experimental purposes they don't get out when they see the storm coming because they thought the storm would create a huge natural jacuzzi OR they are blind/deaf/and mute?

the waterspout phenomenon occurs; they all get lifted up into the air. Then it could rain men/kids?!

hmm...or is their a maximun mass/weight limit on the creatures waterspouts can carry.

posted on Mon, 06/15/2009 - 6:04pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Yeah, I think the theory is that it's generally only animals with pretty small individual weights that get sucked up. I didn't mention it, but there have also been cases of rains of... goo. People think that the goo may have actually been some kind of fish eggs, or, in some cases, jellyfish. Both would fit with the low-weight aquatic organism profile.

So maybe it could rain kids, but probably not men.

It makes me wonder if there are any terrestrial animals that could get sucked up by small tornadoes, or something like that, and then "rain." But what terrestrial animals are small and travel around in large, dense groups (like a school of fish, or a pond of frogs, or a bunch of fish eggs, etc)? Like... lemmings? Do lemmings really do that? Or what about insects? Would it work if a similar weather phenomenon passed over an army of mormon crickets? A petting zoo? Could there be a rain of baby goats? We hope so.

posted on Tue, 06/16/2009 - 11:15am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Interesting updates in the rain-of-tadpoles story. Check out the end of the original post for a link to pictures of the area post-tadpole fall.

posted on Thu, 06/18/2009 - 1:58pm
curious's picture
curious says:

oooh! now this is just more interesting. no storm or waterspout weather and yet raining [small] aquatic animals. i wonder if those towns are near any bodies of waters; or if the tadpoles/fish are native to the area. hmm...very mysterious and interesting, now must go do some more research [web surfing]. this is strange, because i saw an amazingly quiet and slightly creepy-feely lightening show last night...what's with all the weather mysteries! ah! it's a sign!?

posted on Thu, 06/18/2009 - 6:35pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

That looks horrible!!

posted on Fri, 04/09/2010 - 6:39pm

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