rain, animals, worms, spider, frogs, fish, Australia, Norway, blood rain, Africa | The Old Farmer's Almanac

It's Raining Critters

James J. Garriss
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I’ve recently blogged about “blood rain” and have blogged about raining “cats and dogs”. Now it’s time to look at the weirdest rain of all—critter rain.

A 1557 woodcut showing a rain of frogs in Scandinavia. Public domain

Rainfalls of animals have been recorded for centuries, with some of the oldest records dating from 77 AD by the Roman Pliny the Elder. While these stories of falling fish, frogs and bugs are strange, over the past two centuries scientists have confirmed that they do occur. The most common explanation is that updrafts, particularly tornadoes or tornadic waterspouts, suck the critters up into the sky. When the wind weakens the animals fall. (We see a similar explanation for the recent “blood” rain, where updrafts picked up red dust from the Sahara.)

Last April, Norway had a rain of worms. Source: lacounty.gov

Certainly this was what seemed to cause last April’s rain of worms in Norway. Biologist Karsten Erstad reported thousands of live earthworms scattered across the surface of the snow when he was out skiing. This is the time of year that worms start to emerge from the ground, so scientists speculate that the worms were swept up by the strong winds common in the mountainous areas of Norway and carried to snowy slopes.

There was a different explanation for the May 19 rain of millions of spiders in Goulburn, Australia. (Shudder!) As anyone who loved the children’s book Charlotte’s Web knows, many species of baby spiders “balloon” They weave parachute webs that catch the breeze and spread the youngsters throughout the territory. Apparently, the population was going through a spell of fertility.

In May, Australia had a rain of spiders. Source: Wikipedia

As creepy as the recent wormy and spider rains may be, they are pleasant compared to the “germ rains”. Dust from Africa’s Sahara Desert is carried by trade winds across the Atlantic. While this is a valuable source of minerals for downwind vegetation, it also appears that germs and microbes hitch a ride. Scientists have not correlated any human outbreaks (other than asthma in the Caribbean) but they have traced coral disease to heavy dust storms.

Germs, spiders, worms! It's enough to make a person buy an iron-plated umbrella.