Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A frog placed in water that is brought to a boil through gradual temperature increase will make no attempt to escape.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1998]
Origins: The "boiled frog" story is indeed a kind of "old folk warning," an all-purpose didactic anecdote particularly favored by business types to illustrate the point that moving too recklessly and aggressively
The fable is also used by moralists as a cautionary tale warning against the folly of letting smaller wrongs just slip by or of falling into a pattern of small and seemingly harmless sin rather than disturb one's complacency enough to address these issues, thereby allowing evil to grow into a powerful force. When used in this fashion, those being regaled with the anecdote are being cautioned against their moral inactivity or laxity leading to their someday finding themselves to be the frog engulfed in a deadly situation.
The explanation usually given why a slowly-boiled frog will complacently remain in a pan of water, even to his death, while a quickly-boiled one will try to escape, is something like the following:
I am told the above instructions work because frogs are cold-blooded. This means its body temperature is the same as the surroundings, unlike us human beings. We are warm-blooded, meaning our body temperature is kept more or less constant, and does not follow that of our surroundings. We shiver in cold weather to keep up our body temperature. We sweat in warm weather to cool ourselves down.Like a fable, the "boiled frog" anecdote serves its purpose whether or not it's based upon something that is literally true. But it is literally true? Not according to
The frog’s body temperature follows its surroundings. If you put the frog directly in boiling water, it will sense the heat immediately and jump out. But when you heat the water slowly, the frog keeps adjusting to the rising temperature. When the heat is too much for the frog to take, it is too late. The frog collapses and dies.
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
Last updated: 12 January 2009
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