French Toad Showers in the 1700s and 1800s

For years people reported on French toad showers. These seemed to occur most frequently in the months of August and September. In fact, in the 1800s, in the northern provinces of France, it was claimed toad showers were not “unfrequent.”

French Toad Showers - Frog (top) Versus Toad (Bottom), Public Domain

Frog (top) versus toad (bottom). Public domain.

One man wrote about a toad shower he remembered from his youth. He noted that he “saw the Place de la Ville [in the little town of Ham] covered with small toads. Astonished at their appearance, he stretched out his hand and received the shock of many of these animals.”[1] Another man who was temporarily residing in France was also surprised by a toad shower:

“[Once] after taking an evening walk in some of these prairies’ … did I return home with the brim of my hat swarming with many of these little animals, which were hopping about, and appeared as merry as grigs? They could not have climbed up my body, crawled upon my face, and by some ‘soubresaut‘ (summerset) alighted on my hat, and all this unknown to me. Therefore I had the best reason possible to suppose that they had positively ‘dropped, as other adventurers, from the clouds.’ I am aware that there is a class or family of small frogs, which ascend the stems of trees and lodge in the branches, but I had passed under no tree whatever; therefore this explanation of the fact could not be admissible.”[2]

Frog and toad on a cigarette card. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The man was intensely curious about what French inhabitants thought of their toad showers. He asked them and one Frenchman answered:

“Providence knowing how fond the French are of frogs, had ordered it so … and … as there [were] … showers of quails in the desert for the Israelites, thus frogs descended in tribes from the skies in the evening to supply Frenchmen with a wished-for supper.”[3]

French toad showers were also reported near Toulouse, a spot in southern France where the world’s first human cannonball, Zazel or Rossa Matilda Richter, appeared in the late 1800s. The toad shower reported happened in August 1834 when a professor from Cahors, named M. Pontus, was traveling with colleagues from Alby to Toulouse in a large coach known as a diligence. When Pontus left Alby, the weather was fine and clear. That all changed about four in the afternoon when “three leagues from Toulouse, a dense fog suddenly covered the horizon and loud peals of thunder were heard.”[4] Soon, two horsemen appeared, having ridden through the toad storm. They greeted Pontus and his colleagues with consternation and related their experience. They claimed they had just put on their great coats when they were “assailed by a shower of Toads.”[5] Pontus asserted small toads were still visible and clinging to the men’s cloaks, and he also reported:

“When the diligence reached the spot where the fog had burst, we beheld the road, and the fields on both sides, [were] covered with Toads, of which the smallest was at least an inch in length, and the largest about two inches, which led me to suppose they were one or two months old. There were three or four layers super-imposed one above the other. The feet of the horses and carriage wheels crushed many thousands [and] on the road thus covered we travelled at least a quarter of an hour, at the usual pace.”[6]

There were numerous other reports of other French toad showers. A Monsieur Huard also reported in June of 1834 that while at church at Jouy, “he saw toads fall from the sky and received them upon his umbrella.”[7] He further claimed that “the ground for a considerable space was covered with a prodigious quantity of little toads, which hopped about in all directions.”[8]

“A Meeting of Umbrellas” by James Gillray 1782. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A shower of toads also happened in July 1837 and was reported by the Pilote stating:

“Explain it, comment on it, deny it as you will, we affirm that on Sunday, the 9th … at eleven o’clock in the morning, during a heavy shower of rain, the avenues of the Chateau de Beaucoudry were suddenly covered with a innumerable quantity of small toads that fell along with the rain. these animals covered the ground as completely as sand usually covers the walks of a garden newly sanded.”[9]

Colonel Marmier stated in August that he saw, in the northern department of the Seine and Oise, a portion of the road covered with an innumerable quantity of little toads. The toads were “about as large as a French bean, although a quarter of an hour before he had not seen one in the same spot.”[10] A woman of “high attainments” reported that one day she was driving with her husband in a park near Senlis. Suddenly the clouds darkened, thunder growled, and “a thunderbolt of extraordinary force burst the cloud which poured upon us a torrent of toads mixed with a little rain.”[11]

Another story of toad showers happened during the French Revolution. At the time, a company of soldiers were marching to the north of France and when they were in open country, they were suddenly assailed by a vigorous toad shower.

“Astonished at such an unwonted attack, and desirous of satisfying themselves as to whether this living shower came from above, the soldiers spread out their handkerchiefs on a level with their heads, and found they were covered directly. After the storm, the astonishment was general when the soldiers saw this unexpected brood leaping about in the folds of their cocked hats.”[12]

French toad showers

Fly-Eating toad. Author’s collection.

Years later a Monsieur Duparque claimed to have also been involved in a toad shower in the village of Frèmard, near Amiens. This shower happened after weeks of drought and heat. At the time Duparque was with the curè of the parish. They were walking from the church to the parsonage-house when both suddenly became drenched.

“What surprised me most was to receive upon my person a number of little frogs. ‘It rains toads,’ said the venerable curè, … [noting] my astonishment; ‘but this is not the first time that I have seen the like.’ A great number of these reptiles were leaping on the ground; and on gaining the parsonage-house, we found the floor inundated with water and frogs, for the window facing the storm had been left open.”[13]

In 1834 a scientific meeting was held in France and those attending eventually reached a conclusion related to the toad showers. They thought it was strange that “prejudice remain[ed] amongst men of general good information, who go so far as to say that they have themselves seen these showers of frogs.”[14] They argued that it could not be and noted that people were obstinate and clung with tenacity to things they believed even if they were wrong. They also concluded the toad showers occurred for the following reasons:

“First, the time of the year in which these presumed showers of frogs make their appearance corresponds with the season in which they put off their tadpole condition, and scatter themselves often in myriads over the fields, and the lane and roads adjacent to the waters in which they were bred. Secondly, in June, July, and August, especially on the continent, there is often a continuance of drought … But let a sudden storm of rain come on, and instantly the ground seems alive with them. Refreshed and invigorated, they hop about in every direction … Thirdly, a genial shower without a storm produces the same phenomenon as was … once in the environs of Amiens. In the latter instance, the reptiles were little tree-frogs … It is thus that we account for the phenomena. The reptiles are not showered down along with the rain-drops but are called forth from their concealment by the rain.”[15]

 

French toad showers

Bull frogs. Public domain.

References:

  • [1] The Friend, Volume 29, 1856, p. 189.
  • [2] Sporting Magazine, Vol. 8, 1821, p. 273.
  • [3] Ibid. p. 273.
  • [4] The Analyst, Vol. 5, 1836, p. 165.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] The Friend, p. 189.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] “A Shower of Toads,” Chester Chronicle, 28 July 1837, p. 2.
  • [10] The Friend, p. 189.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Pouchet, F.A., The Universe, or, the Wonders of Creation, 1883, p. 320-321.
  • [13] The Analyst, p. 189.
  • [14] Ibid., p. 190.
  • [15] Ibid., p. 189.

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