Friday, September 16, 2011

Lemmings Deserve some Respect

Lemmings have a long-standing reputation as unintelligent animals. Video games and urban legends are based around these arctic rodents mindlessly jumping off cliffs and drowning for no apparent reason during migration.
These myths primarily stem from a 1958 nature documentary called White Wilderness. In the film, a migrating mass of lemmings are shown leaping to their deaths into the Arctic Ocean. In reality, these lemmings were actually pushed over a cliff by a rotating platform off-camera to create drama. Most experts agree that the species of lemming shown in this scene doesn’t even migrate at all.

The only lemmings that regularly migrate are Scandinavian species, and they only do so when absolutely necessary. The reason for these migrations has to do available food supplies for the population, which can run low quickly. The Norway lemming reaches sexual maturity at one month old and can produce a litter of six to eight young every three weeks year round if weather is good. This can lead to a larger lemming population than the area can support.
When the area can no longer support a population, some species of Scandinavian lemmings will scatter in all directions in search of food and shelter. These mass migrations may cause the death of many lemmings from falls or drowning in bodies of water that are too large to swim across. This behavior has lead to the myth that lemmings are suicidal, when in fact they are merely searching for habitat and trying to survive.

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