This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
What pops into your head when you hear the prompt: What is the greatest mystery?
Those are all damn good mysteries, my friends, but they would not be the greatest. The greatest mystery of all time is how a goddamn frog was found alive in a whole pepper.
The new GOAT mystery comes to us from Saguenay, Quebec, courtesy of Nicole Gagnon and Gérard Blackburn. Over the weekend, Gagnon was preparing a meal that included the lovely tastes of bell pepper. When she sliced open the green pepper that she had recently bought from her local grocery store and looked inside, nothing made sense anymore.
“Gérard!” she exclaimed in French. “There’s a frog in the pepper!”
Sure enough, there was a little green tree frog in the pepper, just kinda chilling.
The couple put the lil‘ guy in a terrarium and reported it to Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ). Speaking to the CBC, Gagnon acknowledged her role in bringing this mystery to the masses.
“It‘s like the Caramilk secret. How the frog ended up in the pepper, I have no idea,” Gagnon told CBC.
MAPAQ would eventually kill the frog to run tests on it because if there is anything bureaucracies hate it‘s fun mysteries.
Gagnon’s son Jonathan Blackburn confirmed that the pepper was whole when his mother cut into it. He said the pepper cost $1.99 and was believed to have come into Canada from Honduras. As for the mystery, it stumped him as well.
Blackburn told VICE he didn’t know how the frog got inside, but posited, “Maybe an insect carried an egg inside. That’s my only idea. The pepper was whole.”
You can watch a very charming CBC video of Nicole and Gérard speaking about what happened (in French).
Inspired by Blackburn’s theory, I’ve racked my brain for how a frog could end up inside a pepper. Alive. Here’s the best I could come up with.
It’s a Holy Frog
Well, for starters, we can go the immaculate conception route. That this pepper was empty and then, poof, some sort of greater power impregnated this pepper with a frog to, uh, teach us some sort of lesson. We must then assume that this frog is in some way connected to our lord and savior. Remember that the Judeo-Christian God used frogs to prove their existence—I’m talking about the second plague, y’all. However, this would mean that an almighty decided to finally, once and for all, prove his existence in Saguenay, Quebec, and I refuse to accept that.
If you watched the video above and saw Nicole and Gérard, I’m sure you would join me in refusing to believe that this couple are A) lying and B) lying about finding a freakin’ frog in a fully formed bell pepper.
If anything they just didn‘t notice it. That brings us to our next explanation.
The frog ate its way in and there was a small hole but they just didn't notice it because 'who inspects a pepper that closely'
This is brought to us by our good friends over at Motherboard—the smart folks of VICE. It makes sense but it is not fun at all, so boooooooooooooooooo.
A pissed-off illusionist?
Ok enough of that nerd shit, let’s get magical. Now, what kind of people would have the expertise to transport a live frog into a fully formed bell pepper? That’s right, magicians! Those dudes are always making stuff appear inside other stuff. To learn more I got in touch with Edwin Broomfield and Daniel Kranstz, two illusionists who do animal-based illusions in their show Unleashed. The duo told me that they could totally make a frog disappear and then reappear in a pepper, and, in fact, they have a similar trick they do already with a lemon and a dollar bill. Krantz briefly outlined how the trick was done (it involves a fake thumb!) and it does seem possible—but because I’m not an asshole I’m not going to ruin their trick for you. Kranstz said some adjustments would have to be made but with some “sleight of frog” they could totally pull it off.
All that in mind, though, while we may have a method here we do not have a motive. Unless the couple somehow angered an illusionist who has remarkably convoluted revenge plots, I don’t believe this is the answer.
The scientific explanation (before I contacted an actual scientist)
The frog got in there when the pepper was forming and it, uhh, just existed in there as the pepper closed around it, and it survived in the womb on the sweet green meat and moisture that would collect in there. I’m no bell pepper expert but I did watch a pretty darn good time-lapse bell pepper growing several times. In the video, I noticed that at the beginning of the growth of the pepper, there seems to exist a small hole in the bottom that doesn’t fully close for a bit. This hole certainly seems large enough for an enterprising young frog to climb into.
The scientific explanation (after I contacted an actual plant scientist)
So, it turns out I’m pretty dang dumb when it comes to pepper physiology.
Professor Barry Micallef, a plant physiologist at the University of Guelph, thinks the pepper may have cracked early on in its life and a frog or a tadpole grew up inside. “If it was a young enough pepper a crack could have healed over after,” he said.
Micallef said that for his theory to work the pepper must have been grown in a field, not in a greenhouse, and that early early on in its growth cycle it was hit with heavy rain.
“It may have cracked with the rain,” said Micallef. “Peppers are prone to cracking and splitting because they‘re thin-walled and hollow inside unlike most fruit. So what I think happened is either a frog or tadpole got into the pepper and then it developed inside.”
Micallef said that peppers typically take 20 to 25 days to fully mature and, because they’re hollow, could have stored water inside after the rain.
The length of time for a tadpole to metamorphosize can vary significantly, from weeks to years, depending on the species of frog. All that said, maybe if the tadpole were at the end of its developmental cycle all the conditions for a frog to develop inside a pepper could have been present.
“It might have just been like a little cocoon in there, a good enough environment that this little tadpole might have developed,” said Micallef. “If it wanted food after it could have always eaten the pepper.”
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, while frogs are typically carnivores that shy away from vegetation, tadpoles exist on a vegetarian diet. Furthermore, the pepper is from Honduras, which means it likely grew in a field. So two points for Micallef here!
Honestly, Micallef might have blown this case wide open.
The scientific explanation (after I contacted an actual frog scientist)
It turns out I‘m just as bad at frog physiology as I am pepper physiology.
The day after speaking to Micallef I awoke to find an email that shattered the comfortable reality I had created surrounding the frog and pepper question. Patrick Moldowan, the Director at Large at the Canadian Herpetological Society, first told me that the amphibian in question, based on the “white lip stripe, horizontal pupil, and body proportions,” looks like a green tree frog that is strangely colored possibly due to a stress response.
Then he pulled the rug out from under me.
“It almost certainly did not come to be a sizable adult frog by developing as a tadpole,” Moldowan wrote. “For example, the egg development time, process of metamorphosis, and post-maturity growth (to reach adult size) are well beyond the time it takes a green pepper to grow.”
At the end of the email, Moldowan seemed to throw his hat in with the nerds over at Motherboard. Booooooooo!
“As to how it got into the pepper, that‘s a complete mystery,” he said. “Maybe it crawled in through a rupture in the pepper skin/wall?”
My theory after talking to these people
If my theorizing has taught me anything it‘s that we shouldn‘t trust my theories when it comes to science, but go with me here.
So maybe the pepper was at the furthest stage of its growth where it could still fuse back and fell to the ground during a large rainfall near a stream or a body of water that was flooding. It had a small crack or hole that was open when it was on the ground and a frog snuck in to take refuge from the torrents. But during the frog‘s time in there, the pepper shifted, making the hole not big enough for the frog to get out and, over time, the hole sealed up completely. The pepper was picked, transported to Canada, sold, and cut into by Nicole Gagnon—with the frog (which would eventually be murdered by the government) inside.
I reached out to the Canadian Herpetological Society and, guess what? It may actually be possible.
“I would think it‘s not outside the realm of possibility for a frog to survive a few weeks inside a pepper, considering it‘s probably pretty humid in there, so it wouldn't dry out,” said Dr. Amanda Bennett, the secretary of the Canadian Herpetological Society. “It would be quite cool given refrigeration, so its metabolism would be slowed down by the low temperature. Ectotherms (cold-blooded animals) in general can survive longer without feeding than endotherms (warm-blooded animals).”
Hell yeah, score one for Mack.
At the end of the day though…
We'll never truly know
Despite all my pseudo-intellectual flailings and help from actual scientists, perhaps we‘ll never know. Isn‘t that the best answer? All great mysteries should never be fully solved. Let us leave the frog and the pepper question for generations to come. Let the smartest among Gen Z and Gen Alpha debate this quandary.
Let us forever wonder how the frog got inside the bell pepper.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.