Toad showers were literally that, a shower of toads. They fell “from the clouds with [the] rain” sometimes landing on people’s coats, hats, and umbrellas and covering the ground often inches deep. However, it may have been more accurate to call them frog showers as frogs like moister environments than toads.
Whether they were toads or frogs, these showers were considered a remarkable phenomenon and were noted to have occurred as early as the first century. They also occurred during the summer months — in June, July, or August — and occasionally in September. They were also reported to occur in almost every city and country across the globe, from the United Kingdom to Rome to France to the port city of Portobelo in South America and to the steppes of Southern Russia.
In some places the toad showers were so common it was said it could not be a supernatural or miraculous event. Many of the stories about the number of toads were similar. For instance, a Mr. Louden visiting in Rouen in 1828 claimed, “during a very heavy thunder shower … [an] innumerable multitude of young frogs fell,” and Mr. Kohl, who visited Russia, noted the toads “display[ed] their ugly forms in every direction … [and sometimes showed] themselves in such numbers, that it [was] difficult to walk a dozen paces without becoming the involuntary instrument of destruction to several of them.”
Some of the first reports of toad showers occurred in Rome and the British Isles. Rome was claimed to be the “favorite dumping ground for aerial frogs,” and Roman author Claudius Aelianus (c. 175–c. 235) mentioned toad showers on several occasions. He noted that he “himself once encountered … a [toad shower] phenomenon near Naples.” He also said, “[Once] a violent rain of frogs … forced [an entire tribe, the Mysians,] to emigrate!” Toad showers were also recorded in the British Isles as early as the first century. Moreover, years later, in the 1600s, in the English county of Staffordshire, there were so many reports of toad showers occurring at Lord Aston’s bowling-green, it was thought the “‘frog rains’ ought not to be thought supernatural.”
Stories of toad showers also were reported in the South American port city of Portobelo when the Spanish explorer Francisco de Ulloa visited in the 1500s. When it began raining toads, it caused people to “imagine, that every drop of water becomes a toad.” Some of those drops would have been extremely large because these toads measured six inches in length and suddenly appeared in the morning after an intense night rain.
Portobelo residences complained streets and squares were thick with warty toads. In fact, the toads were so thick residents could not step “without treading on them.” An observer claimed
“[They produced] troublesome bites; for besides, their poison, they are large enough for their teeth to be severely felt. Some we have already observed to be six inches long, and this is their general measure; and there are such numbers of them, that nothing can be imagined more dismal than their [incessant] croakings during the night, in all parts of the town, woods,and caverns of the mountains.”
Toad showers were also prevalent in the 1800s. For instance, on 9 August 1869, the Birmingham Daily Post published an article about a shower of frogs at Henwick where “for a quarter of a mile the road is said to have been covered with myriads of small frogs, varying in size from sixpence to a shilling, and some a little larger.” Birmingham also experienced an unusual toad shower on 30 June 1892, but this time the unexplained and unexpected shower consisted of white toads that fell from the skies.
There was also another interesting story about toad showers that occurred in the steppes of Southern Russia in the 1830s. At the time a Mr. Kohl was astonished to learn that “toad showers” existed and that during the months of June, July and August, heavy rain showers occurred and resulted in the ground being saturated with “myriads of small toads.” According to Mr. Kohl:
No one could say whence they came … Millions and millions … covering the ground, like an army of locusts. It is … disgusting to walk among them, for … a man may crush forty or fifty of them at once. One man told me his stomach had fairly turned on beholding a Russian run bare-footed through the unsightly mass, with the crushed bodies and the mangled limbs of the dying reptiles adhering to his feet. The wheels … [of carts were also] saturated with the juices of the dead toads, and incrusted [sic] with their loathsome bodies.
Immediately after this shower, the toads disappeared. Kohl then claimed that on “the following day not a trace [was found] nor…observed…[and] the number of toads by which the rivers and ponds are peopled … [never] materially increased.”
There was great conjecture as to why the toad showers occurred. People also wondered where the toads came from, how they arrived, and to where they disappeared. “Theophrastus of old had given a reasonable explanation of the appearance of frogs after [the] rain; but as it was not half mysterious enough for people steeped in superstition, nobody cared to remember it.” The explorer Francisco de Ulloa also gave a credible explanation after he visited Portobelo:
“From my own observations … this part of the country, being remarkably moist, is very well adapted to nourish the breed of those creatures, which love watery places, and therefore avoid those parts of the ground exposed to the rays of the sun, [the toads seek] … where the earth is soft, and there form themselves cavities in the ground, to enjoy the moisture; and as the surface over them is generally dry, the toads are not perceived; but no sooner does it begin to rain, than they leave their retreats … and thus fill the streets and open places.”
Another person claimed something similar. “The amphibians are more at home in water … than they are on dry land, and any person with half an eye has noticed that, in dry weather particularly, a shower of rain brings out every toad and frog in the neighborhood.”
Most people did not want to believe they did not fall from the sky. One inquirer concluded the tiny toad eggs floated as if a “gossamer-hope … upon the surface of undisturbed ponds and other stagnant waters.” He continued:
“[For] when the sun rises … [it] pumps up part of the moisture of these damp places and assumes with it the imperceptible progency which it contains; the spawn being lighter than the exhalation themselves. That wonderful steam-engine is at work the earliest part of the day; the unconscious breed is lifted up into the clouds, and there, fostered and hatched, it ‘warps’ about as the wind directs; and in the evening, their bulks becoming comparatively too heavy, they fall down by the same principle … There is nothing extraordinary in all this; the whole agrees with the common laws of nature … and gravitation … [and] after an aerostatic jaunt at the beginning of their lives, descend, and condescend to dwell humbly with us upon earth. It was as it ought to be … the workings of nature are the same at all times — and it is our ignorance of primary causes which makes us call them ‘phenomena.'”
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