Of "Blood" and Butterflies

Naturalist Philip Henry Gosse described a case that occurred in the year 1553, in which hedges, trees, stones, and people's clothes, were sprinkled with "drops of red fluid, which was supposed to be blood, til some observant person noticed the coincident appearance of unusual swarms of butterflies, and marked that the colored drops proceeded from them." Gosse described this in his book The Romance of Natural History (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1866; vol. II, Second series, pp. 98-99).

An "extensive shower" of blood in July, 1608, in Aix la Chappelle, France was traced to butterflies by Mr. Peirese, an Aix-based naturalist. Before the blood rain, Peirese had found a chrysalis and--intending to later identify it--he put it into a box. The naturalist heard a sound from the box several days later and discovered that a butterfly had emerged from the chrysalis and that this beautiful creature had left a large red stain at the bottom of the box. Peirese noted that the red deposit in the box matched the characteristics of the "blood drops" outdoors. He also noticed that there were an unusually large number of this type of butterfly around, and figured that he had determined the cause of the recent red rain.

There were several facts that tended to confirm Peirese's theory: the supposed drops of blood were not found on the town's streets or on rooftops, where they would have been had they fallen from the sky. Also, the drops were rarely found on "exposed parts of stones, walls [etc.]; but rather under the protection of angles, and in slight cavities--which agrees well with the habits of the insect in question" (Gosse, p. 99). Gosse felt that the color of the insect deposit was not that of blood--"especially dried blood." Rather, he says, it was much more crimson. Also, there was a deposit resembling chalk that was in evidence after the liquid evaporated.

In Frank Cowan's Curious Facts in the History of Insects, (Lippincott & Co., 1865), the topic of butterflies and other insects causing some blood rains is discussed. Cowan points out that the Aquitane blood shower of 1017 was associated with butterflies, and that a blood rain in 1780 was blamed on bees.

Waldo L. McAtee, in his classic article "Showers of Organic Matter," (Monthly Weather Review, #45 May 1917, pp. 217-224) agrees that some blood-red rains are the "meconial fluid" ejected by swarms of butterflies. He distinguishes between blood rain, though, which he considers spurious, and "red rain," which he says actually does occur and is scientifically explicable.


İMark Chorvinsky, 1995