Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

Toads in Rocks and Other Bizarre Entombed Animals

Some of the mysteries of the paranormal world really go out beyond the edges of the weird to truly baffle and confound with their sheer bizarreness. These are the mysteries that leave us scratching our heads, wondering just how any of this could possibly happen. These phenomena occupy their own little corner of the world of the weird, a whole other category of the strange unto themselves, defying understanding and dodging any easy answers. One such oddity certainly has to be the many cases throughout history of living animals occasionally found completely enveloped by stone, wood, or concrete, lying there completely intact and full of life even after extreme amounts of time without air, food, or water.

These cases, usually referred to collectively as “entombed animals,” almost always take the form of toads, lizards, or other small animals discovered encased within solid stone, often dated as being up to millions of years old, where they seem to have somehow remained alive. Such tales are numerous, many going back hundreds of years, and one of the earliest reports of this truly bizarre phenomenon comes from 1733, at a quarry near the village of Wamlingebo, in Sweden. In May of that year, two quarry workers named Anders Halfwarder and Olof Sigräfwer claimed that they had been cutting blocks of pure, solid sandstone when one of them spotted a frog just sitting there within a small depression inside a boulder that had just been broken open.

It was a decidedly odd find, as the rock itself was around 400 million years old and there seemed to be absolutely no way the frog could have crawled into the solid stone. When inspected the frog was found to be quite alive, with a curious yellow membrane of some sort over its mouth. The two men promptly told of their strange discovery to their supervisor, Johan Gråberg, who poked and prodded the poor creature before killing it with a shovel and sending the body to be examined by a naturalist by the name of Dr. Johan Phil, who deduced that the frog had somehow managed to get into the rock as a tadpole, and then had gone on to develop there within the boulder.

He wrote of this eyebrow-raising theory in a paper for the Swedish Academy of Sciences, and it was mostly ridiculed by the scientific community. The body of the anomalous frog apparently went on to become part of the museum collection of Count Carl Gustaf Tessin at Akerö Castle, after which it sort of vanished into the mists of time. A similar discovery was made in 1761 by Ambroise Pare, who was a physician to Henry III of France. The doctor would write of the incident:

Being at my seat near the village of Meudon, and overlooking a quarryman whom I had sent to break some very large and hard stones, in the middle of one we found a huge toad, full of life and without any visible aperture by which it could get there. The laborer told me it was not the first time he had met with a toad and the like creatures within huge blocks of stone.

There are numerous other reports of such oddities throughout the 1700s. In 1719 there was a report released by the French Academy of Sciences, which told of a thick tree that was chopped down, only to reveal within it “a live toad, middle-sized but lean and filling up the whole vacant space.” In 1770 there was also a live toad found tightly ensconced within the wall of a castle that was being demolished, and there were numerous other stories of this sort and even exhibitions of live frogs, toads, and others supposedly found within stones, boulders, trees, and walls.

This weird phenomenon continued on into the 1800s, an era where we can find many well-known cases. An 1803 report published in the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, told of a live mouse that was found inside a rock, from which it leapt in quite a lively fashion to run off and disappear. Another fantastic report was put forward in 1818, when a mineralogist named E.D. Clarke purportedly oddly found three living salamanders encased within ancient stone, like prehistoric insects suspended in amber. It was claimed that not only were the salamanders alive, but that they were of a species that had been extinct for millions of years. It is unknown just what happened to these amazing specimens after that, furthering the mystery of it all. Just a few years later, in 1821, a report in Tilloch’s Philosophical Magazine described the fantastic discovery made by a stone mason named David Virture, who found a lizard disgorged from within a solid lump of limestone dredged up from deep underground. The report would describe the lizard as follows:

It was coiled up in a round cavity of its own form, being an exact impression of the animal. It was about an inch and a quarter long, of a brownish-yellow color, and had a round head, with bright sparkling projecting eyes. It was apparently dead, but after being about five minutes exposed to the air it showed signs of life. It soon ran about with much celerity. This stone is naturally a little damp; and about half an inch around the lizard was soft sand, the same color as the animal. The stone had no fissure, was quite hard, and one of the best to be got from the quarry.

In 1828 there was a live toad found within the stonework of Flambard’s Bridge, in England, and another was found that same year when lumber workers sawed down a tree at Blyth and found a living toad peering out from within, probably just as surprised as the workers. This was around the time when this phenomenon was gaining a lot of news coverage and generating all manner of wild theories, such as that they were planted there by the Devil or were the result of the spontaneous formation of life. At the time is was a mysterious, magical wonder of the world, and these accounts always drew a lot of attention and debate, yet for the most part none of it was taken very seriously by the scientific community.

In 1825 one of the first and only attempts to actually scientifically determine the nature of these oddities was carried out by a Professor William Buckland, who sealed 24 toads within a block of limestone and another of sandstone, after which he buried these blocks for a full year. When the blocks were opened it was found that the toads that had been encased in the porous sandstone block had died, whereas some of those in the limestone were amazingly not only still alive, but some had actually gained weight. Unfortunately, it was found that the seals on the block had been broken, corrupting the results. Buckland redid the experiment, this time making sure the seals remained intact, and this time not a single toad survived the process. Despite these damning results, the phenomenon showed no signs of stopping, and indeed in some cases got even more outlandish, such as was with an 1856 case reported in the Illustrated London News, which relayed the bizarre tale of railway tunnel workers who claimed to have been drilling through limestone when they came across an actual living dinosaur that had apparently been dislodged from within a split boulder. The article would say:

Workmen were digging a railway tunnel through a layer of Jurassic limestone when they were startled to find a large creature stumbling out of a recently split boulder, flapping what looked like wings, and croaking. It died immediately. The creature was identified as a pterodactyl by a local paleontology student who recognized the characteristic features of the extinct reptile. The stone in which it was found was consistent with the time period in which pterodactyls lived and formed an exact mold of the creature’s body.

The dramatic and spectacular nature of this account makes it most likely a sensationalist piece of fake news in an era when toads in stone were popular, but other reports are not as easy to dismiss. A renowned case comes to us from April 7, 1865, when workers on an excavation at Hartlepool, England, broke open a solid slab of magnesium limestone to find a living toad within it. This was odd since the stone itself had come from 25 feet under the ground and had no way for the toad to have gotten into it on its own. The account was written of in the Hartlepool Free Press, which described the bizarre discovery:

The cavity was no larger than its body, and presented the appearance of being cast for it. The toad’s eyes shone with unusual brilliancy, and it was full of vivacity on its liberation. It appeared when first discovered, desirous to perform the process of respiration, but evidently experienced some difficulty, and the only sign of success consisted of a ‘barking’ noise, which it continues to make invariably at present on being touched. The toad is in the possession of Mr. S. Horner, the president of the Natural Historical Society, and continues in as lively a state as when found. On a minute examination of its mouth it is found to be completely closed, and the barking noise it makes proceeds from its nostrils. The claws of its fore feet are turned inwards, and its hind ones are of extraordinary length and unlike the present English toad.

Reports like this came in from all over the world, such as one from South Africa’s Uitenhage Times in 1876. The article claimed that lumber workers had been sawing a 16-foot-long tree into planks when they found a depression within that was described as being about the size of a wine glass. Sitting in the hole were a total of 69 miniature frogs each about the size of a small grape, which seemed to be perfectly active and none the worse for wear after their ordeal of apparently being imprisoned within the tree for so long. The report describes the odd little creatures thus:

They were of a light brown, almost yellow color, and perfectly happy, hopping about and away as if nothing had happened. All about them was solid yellow wood, with nothing to indicate how they could have got there, how long they had been there, or how they could have lived without food, drink or air.

These oddities continued being reported into the 20th century, beginning with a 1901 report from two workmen in Lewes, Sussex, who opened an ancient flint nodule to find a live frog inside. Pictures of this frog and its resting place were widely distributed at the time, and it was endorsed as a genuine miracle of biology by naturalist Charles Dawson. The frog was eventually displayed prominently at the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton. A very odd account from the 20th century was also reported by a gas fitter named Eric G.Mackley, who was in the process of moving gas meters in Devonshire, England, when he and his partner discovered 23 frogs encased within the concrete of the walls. Mackley would write of his experience in a letter to the eminent biologist Sir Julian Huxley, in which he said:

The meter-houses were brick-walled but rather massively concrete-floored, and the concrete had to be broken up to allow me to get at the pipes for extension. My mate was at work with a sledge hammer when he dropped it suddenly and said, “That looks like a frog’s leg.” We both bent down and there was the frog. The sledge was set aside and I cut the rest of the block carefully. We released 23 perfectly formed but minute frogs which all hopped away to the flower garden.

In 1928, a Texas courthouse was being renovated when a live horned toad was found buried in the concrete block, where it must have been languishing for the past 33 years, when the courthouse was constructed. Nicknamed Old Rip, the creature has been displayed ever since and was quite a sensation at the time of its discovery. These accounts were even coming in during World War II, such as a case written on in Jerome Clark’s book Unexplained, in which a British soldier claimed that in 1943 he had been stationed in Algeria quarrying stone for road construction when he had found both a toad and a lizard still alive within the rock. He said of this weird discovery:

In Algeria in the early part of 1943, I was working with a team whose job it was to quarry stone that was then used for making roads and filling bomb craters. The method was used to set small charges of explosives into the rock face and crack open the rock, which we then prised away and broke down before it was used. One morning, we had set off the charges as usual and I started to prise away the rock away from the quarry face when I saw in a pocket in the rock a large toad, and beside it a lizard at least nine inches long. Both these animals were alive, and the amazing thing was that the cavity they were in was at least 20 feet from the top of the quarry face. Try as we might, we couldn’t find how it was possible for the two creatures to be where they were — there were no inlets, cracks or fissures leading to the cavity. In fact, it was quite a topic of conversation among us all for some days.

Old Rip, the horned toad

Further proving that these are not just obscure reports from a dark era of misunderstandings of how the natural world works, in as recently as 1975 there was the account of construction workers in Fort Worth, Texas, who were startled to find a live green turtle within solid concrete, with the impression of its body perfectly visible around it. It was estimated as having been there in its dark prison for at least a year, and although it was quite healthy when found, it quickly died after being freed. These have been only a few of the many cases of these entombed animals being discovered, with more than 200 reports of this phenomenon from all over the world. We are left to wonder just what could possibly be going on here. How could these animals manage to get so firmly entrenched and entrapped and ensconced within their solid stone and wood tombs? Perhaps more puzzling, how could they remain there in their prisons alive for years, centuries, millennia, or even millions of years without air, food, or water, indeed without anything conducive to life as we know it? It boggles the mind, goes against common sense, and theories over the ages have ranged far and wide.

In earlier eras this was some sort of magic or the work of the devil. In later years it was often speculated that they somehow managed to get through some crack or fissure when they were small, only to grow within the rock or wood, although how they would manage to displace such sturdy materials as they increased in size is unknown, and there is also the idea that they were trapped there when the rock or wood enveloped them, managing to survive through some little understood dormant state of suspended animation. Considering the completely baffling nature of this phenomenon, it is perhaps even more likely that these cases are the result of misunderstandings, misidentification, or even hoaxes, all made even more confusing by the fact that there is no real physical evidence for it all. In the end we will probably never know where the answers lie, and the phenomenon of entombed animals will probably remain a curious little corner of the paranormal world.