Frog and Boiling Water

: A frog placed in water that is gradually heated will not attempt to escape.


This myth claims “that if a frog were dropped into a pan of boiling water it would immediately jump out to save its life. However, if that same frog were placed in a pan of cold water and the heat was gradually turned up, the frog would stay put until cooked.[1]

This myth has been promoted in the LDS community since at least 1982 when it was referenced by Elder Royden G. Derrick, then a member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy.[2] Since that time, this myth has been repeated by Quinn G. McKay,[3] Elders Marion G. Romney[4] and James E. Faust[5] as well as the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual.[6]

This myth finds its roots in nineteenth-century physiological literature. A 1897 publication referenced an 1882 experiment done at Johns Hopkins University as evidence that "a live frog can actually be boiled without a movement if the water is heated slowly enough; in one experiment the temperature was raised at a rate of 0.002°C. per second, and the frog was found dead at the end of 2½ hours without having moved.[7]

This myth has been challenged by recent experiments, but supporters of this myth argue that in these more recent experiments the water was heated at a rate roughly ten times faster than the 1882 experiment (the temperature increased at a rate of 2°F, 0.019°C. per second as opposed to 0.002°C. per second.)[8]

Harvard University biology professor, Doug Melton,stated, "If you put a frog in boiling water, it won't jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot -- they don't sit still for you.[9]

According to Dr. Victor Hutchison, Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology:

The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.[10]

Admittedly, it appears that no modern biologists have attempted to reproduce the 1882 experiment exactly as it was originally done. So, it is possible that water heated at a much slower speed than two degrees per minute could result in a boiled frog. Sadly, or possibly gratefully, I don’t have the heart to attempt this experiment on my own, so I’ll leave it to the experts, who claim this myth is exactly that: A myth.

[1] Quinn G. McKay, “All That Glitters Isn’t Celestial,” Tambuli, Mar 1988, p.7
[2] Royden G. Derrick, “To Be in Control,” New Era, Sep 1982, p.4
[3] Quinn G. McKay, “All That Glitters Isn’t Celestial,” Tambuli, Mar 1988, p.7
[4] Marion G. Romney, “Converting Knowledge into Wisdom,” Tambuli, Oct 1983, p.1
[5] James E. Faust, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost—A Sure Compass,” Ensign, Apr 1996, p.2
[6] Lesson 10: “He Inviteth All to Come unto Him”, Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999), p.42
[7] Edward Scripture, The New Psychology (1897): page 300. The original 1882 experiment was cited as: Sedgwick, "On the Variation of Reflex Excitability in the Frog induced by changes of Temperature," Stud. Biol. Lab. Johns Hopkins University (1882): 385. Referenced in Boiling Frog, Retrieved February 9, 2009
[8] "The legend of the boiling frog is just a legend" by Whit Gibbons, Ecoviews, November 18, 2002, retrieved January 6, 2008. Referenced in Boiling Frog, Retrieved February 9, 2009
[9] "Next Time, What Say We Boil a Consultant", Retrieved on 2006-03-10. Referenced in Boiling Frog, Retrieved February 9, 2009
[10], January 12, 2009, Retrieved February 9, 2009

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