There are several varieties of lemmings, including:
Lemmus, the true lemming; Synaptomus, the bog
lemming; Dicrostonyx, the collared or Arctic lemming; and
Myopus, the red-backed or wood lemming. Lemmings can be
tan, gray, or brown and are about 13 cm (5 in.) long, including
the tail. They are small rodents, something like mice or
Lemmings eat vegetation and live near water. They dig soil to
build their nests, which they line with hair, grass, moss, and
lichen. Lemmings are gregarious animals and are usually found
in colonies. They live in vast arctic tundras. The gestation
period for lemmings is 20 days, and up to nine can be produced
The word "lemming" or "Lemmus" comes from a Norwegian word
that means "destroying." This refers to the ravages on the
landscape that can occur during a lemming migration. Humans have
long attempted to explain lemming migrations. The Eskimos said
that migrating lemmings spiraled down from heaven during a
snowstorm. Early scientists believed that the lemmings were
looking for their ancient home Atlantis, which was supposedly
submerged in the Atlantic Ocean.
Lemmings are widely ridiculed for their apparent need to run off
cliffs and quite illogically kill themselves. A game has even
been created based on this legend. Obviously, this website
perpetuates the rumor, but what is the truth?
According to several sources, lemming suicide is a myth.
Overpopulation leads to scarcity of food and overcrowding, in
turn causing the animals to migrate in search of food. The
lemmings embark on their single-minded quest, swimming lakes and
rivers, crossing mountains, eating all vegetation in their path.
When they reach the sea, they try to swim it as they would a
river and drown in the attempt. This occurs infrequently, even
though population fluctuations occur every 3 or 4 years.
The story that lemmings habitually commit suicide may even have
been perpetuated by Walt Disney himself. It has been reported
that lemmings were herded over a cliff during the production of
a Disney film in order to obtain footage of this bizarre (and
uncommon) behavior. Visit the
Urban Legends Reference Page, or this
article from Outside Online to learn more.