Oz Frogs In Rocks

Stories of frogs found alive and well encased within solid rock are a Fortean classic. It’s a phenomenon that I love because it is so completely outrageous. No living creature could withstand the pressure, heat and time involved in the formation of solid rock. Despite these facts, there are plenty of interesting cases in the Fortean literature.

Accounts of entombed frogs were relatively common in the scientific journals of Europe during the 19th century. The preferred explanation has always been that tiny cracks and crevices in rocks enabled eggs or tadpoles to enter and grow through moisture and the occasional trapped insect. When the rock is exposed during mining or excavation, out hops the frog. It’s true that only in a very few instances were the encasing rocks subject to serious scrutiny to determine if there were any tell-tale fissures or cracks.

A 1733 drawing of a frog found embedded in rock at the Nybro quarry near the village of Wamlingebo, Sweden.

A search of the Australian digital newspaper archives reveals many examples of entombed frogs. Let’s revisit a few of the more interesting Australian cases. The first comes from the coal mines at Lambton, near Newcastle, New South Wales in May1875.

Source: Evening News (Sydney) 20 May 1875.

The next report comes from the small village of Hartley Vale, around 150km west of Sydney, in 1890:

Source: Australian Star (Sydney), 5 December 1890.

Many of reports clearly omit any real details as to whether the cavity the frog was discovered in was actually sealed. This is also true of the following case from Coleraine, Victoria in 1907:

‘AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY. LIVE FROG IN SOLID ROCK.
Coleraine, Thursday.

A few days ago, whilst Messrs J. Steff, Jacobson, and Nesbitt, were obtaining bluestone from Mr James’s quarry in the township, they came across a rock with an apparently waterworn surface, and being too heavy to lift into the dray, it was broken, when, to their surprise, they found, nine niches from the exterior, a cavity filled with transparent liquid, and a live frog, the latter about 3 inches long. The place where the stone was obtained is over 60 feet from the top, and approximately about 50 feet or 60 feet from the original side of the hill before the quarry was opened up.’

Source: Ballarat Star (Vic), Friday 1 November 1907.

In the following case from Bega, NSW, the cavity was significantly larger than the trapped frog:

‘FROG IN A ROCK.

Shire employees working on Brown Mountain, near Bega, a few days ago, burst open a huge solid rock by the roadside, and found a live frog in a smooth round cavity, about a foot wide in its centre. The frog hopped about for a little time, but died when exposed to the sunshine.’

Source: Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser (NSW), 8 August 1908.

The next case from Queensland in 1935 contains a lot more detail,  with the witness claiming there was no crack or fissure in the surrounding rock.

‘RIP VAN WINKLE FROG.

Existing in a state of enforced seclusion for probably hundreds of years, a frog, which had been discovered in solid sandstone rock at a depth of 18 feet, has been brought into Warwick. Although its actions after having its long trance disturbed were somewhat frenzied, it now appears resigned to captivity in a jar. Mr. R. G. Hutton, who is gold mining on the Malakoff line of reef near Pratten, reached a depth of 18 feet in heavy sandstone in the Sunny South mine. He noticed as he left the shaft that the bottom was almost as level as a floor. During the night a light shower of rain fell. When he descended in the morning he noticed a slight rise in the floor at one spot, and, when he bent down to examine it, found a small crack. Working at it with a spike, he removed a small slab of sandstone, about an inch and a half thick, and underneath he found the frog. Mr. Hutton says that when he reached out to remove the frog, it suddenly swelled to the size of a man’s hand, but just as quickly went back to normal, and he was able to capture it and put it in a glass jar. The rock was solid throughout, with no crack or fissure leading to where the frog was found. The frog, Mr. Hutton believes, became lodged there in a protoplasmic state when the sandstone deposits were first collected. Through the moisture absorbed by the sandstone, it was able to grow to a certain stage and was then prevented from developing owing to the restrictions of its sandstone prison, and it has existed in a state of torpor ever since. The shaft had reached within a few inches of its prison, and the rain probably penetrated through the sandstone, and caused the frog to attempt to push its way upward. The frog is black or dark brown with pale yellow markings.’

Source: Daily Examiner (NSW) 8 October 1935.

It is an interesting element of many of these cases that the frogs discovered are totally blind, not unexpected if the creatures grew inside a sealed-off rock cavity.

Perhaps the most interesting of all of the Australian reports appeared in Wild Life magazine for March 1946. The report included photographs of the allegedly entombed amphibian. The case had been reported by a Northcote, Victoria man who had found it during quarrying work. Northcote is an inner suburb of Melbourne and there had been a large brickworks and quarry operating there up until the late 1970’s:

‘FROG IN ROCK

No shame need be felt by those who believe they have seen a frog leap out of a hole in solid rock; the story crops up repeatedly, and has from early times. But exhaustive experiments, notably by Frank Buckland last century, have shown that it is impossible for a frog to live in such a position for more than a few months unless there is some communication with the open air. The matter is dealt with in a note in “Along the Track” this month. The example shown here was found during quarrying operations by Mr W. R. Carmody, of Northcote (V.) who brought rock and all to this office.

The Northcote Frog.

In addition to ordinary photographs, a cinema film was taken to show the brightly colored frog emerging.’

The Northcote film.

Source: Wild Life Magazine (Australia) March 1946.

So are frogs in rock fact or folklore? I think the idea that frogs can grow in isolated cavities reasonable, although the fact that many of the reports involve spaces that reportedly precisely match the frog is intriguing. My suspicion is that cracks and fissures in the rock would often be invisible to the naked eye.

Reports of frogs in rock seem to have dwindled towards the later half of the twentieth century. Given the switch from human to machine-based mining and excavation, its not surprising. Perhaps in mines and quarries across the world entombed frogs are still being excavated, but there’s no humans around to see them, only machines.

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