Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“Why does it rain fish in Honduras every year?”

worker using a broom to push fish to the side of the road

Worker cleaning up after the latest rain of fish. (Photo via Iyeey)

June 2021 Update: It’s been six years since I first published this post, and new information has a pesky habit of popping up over time. Too much has turned up to simply update this post. The answer I provide in this post is no longer the correct answer (as far as I can tell), so if you’re reading this, I invite you to come read what I think the answer ought to be now (and how I found it) here: “Update to a Past Caterpickles: Why does it rain fish in Honduras every year?

It’s May, which means any day now a massive thunderstorm will form in Yoro, Honduras, pelting the region with heavy rain for hours. By the time the rain’s over, the ground will be covered in small, blind, silver fish.

It happens every year in May or June, at least once, and sometimes twice. It’s been going on for over a century now. Locals call it the Lluvia de Peces (rain of fish).

But why?

Theory #1: It rains fish in Honduras every year because that’s God’s way of providing food for the poor.

Rain of Fish by Olaus Magnus (Via Historical Mysteries)
Rain of Fish by Olaus Magnus (Via Historical Mysteries)

Local legend has it the fish are a blessing from Spanish missionary Father Jose Manuel Subirana. Father Subirana was so heartbroken by the poverty and hunger he witnessed in Yoro in the 1860s that he asked God to provide them with food.

This theory is bolstered by the fact that the fish aren’t native to the region’s rivers and streams, so clearly come from somewhere else, like maybe the Atlantic Ocean.

Theory #2: The rain of fish is actually caused by waterspouts, which scoop up fish from the Atlantic and carry them 125 miles to Yoro.

When tornadoes and other powerful storms move over water, they can form waterspouts or powerful updrafts that suck up small fish and other aquatic life and dump them onshore elsewhere.

The problem is that once those waterspouts encounter land, they lose power very quickly. It doesn’t seem very likely that a waterspout would be capable of carrying fish 125 miles over land from the Atlantic Ocean to Yoro. If waterspouts were the explanation, it seems far more likely the fish would be appearing somewhere much closer to their home, like anywhere in Atlantida.

(Map of Honduras via the Discover Central America blog)
(Map of Honduras via the Discover Central America blog)

Also, what are the odds that a waterspout would form directly over a giant school of fish every spring for more than 100 years?

Even if you are willing to accept those odds, you’ll still have to explain away the fact that according to a crack team of National Geographic explorers who witnessed the event in the 1970s, the fish are freshwater, not saltwater fish.

So if the fish aren’t coming from the Atlantic Ocean, and they aren’t coming from the local rivers and streams, where are they coming from?

Theory #3: The fish live underground and are forced up by the rain.

(Photo via Atlas Obscura)
The blind fish of Yoro. (Photo via Atlas Obscura)

Back in the 1970s, the National Geographic team noticed that the washed-up fish were completely blind. That led them to conclude that the fish lived in an underground river. Based on that, they decided that the most likely explanation for the annual fish-basting of Yoro was that the heavy rains forced the subterranean fish above ground.

This is the most likely explanation, but it has its own issues.

Let’s face it: Fish flushed out of their homes like earthworms after a heavy rain just aren’t as interesting as fish raining down from the sky.

Also, apparently no one has found an egress point for this proposed underground river teeming with fish. Still, the National Geographic’s theory remains the most likely explanation.

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