Lemming

Lemming Facts
Size 2.3-6 inch (6-15 cm)
Speed Up to 3 mph (5 km/h)
Weight 1-3.8 oz (30-110 g)
Lifespan 1-3 years
Food Moss, grasses, berries, herbs
Predators Owls, foxes, wolves, weasels, ermines
Habitat Northern Europe, Asia, North America
Order Rodents
Family Cricetidae
Scientific name Lemmus
Characteristics Dense fur

Lemmings are small rodents living mainly in the colder regions of the earth.

The Life Cycle of Lemmings
or "Why so Many Lemmings Die Every 4 Years"

1. Exhausting Migration

Norway lemmings in Sweden and Norway reproduce very quickly every four years. The little rodents then live together in crowded conditions and get on each other’s nerves, because they are actually loners at heart. It does not take long till the first few lemmings get on their way to find more food and a less crowded place to live.

Thousands of the little creatures are marching across the tundra then. This is very exhausting for them and the reason why many die from hunger on their way. Sometimes they encounter an obstacle, eg. a lake.

Lemmings can swim, but sometimes the lake is just too big or the river unexpectedly wild, which is why many drown. Arrived in the new home, the remaining animals then reproduce quickly again.

Lemming Lemming - Photo: BMJ/Shutterstock

2. The "Evil" Ermine

The collared lemmings in Greenland also reproduce quickly every 4 years. Although they do not migrate, they suffer the same fate as the norway lemming. Why? You could say it's a cycle between balance and imbalance.

If there are many lemmings, the predators have plenty to eat and reproduce quickly. But then there are not enough lemmings for everyone. The predators die from hunger and the lemmings can reproduce again.

Mainly the ermine is the one to blame for the dying of so many lemmings. During the Arctic summer, arctic foxes, snowy owls and long-tailed jaegers hunt for the rodents.

During the winter, the lemmings reproduce again, but then the ermine comes into play: He hunts for the animals even in winter. However, as the ermine reproduces slowly, it takes four years until there are so many hungry stoats that the number of lemmings drops extremely and suddenly.

Lemming Lemming - Illustration: Silke/tierchenwelt.de

The Persistent Rumor

It is said that lemmings would jump from cliffs in their thousands in order to commit suicide. Based on the motto: Yesterday we stood at the edge of the abyss, but today we have taken a giant step forward.

This myth is funny somehow and even inspired the creation of a videogame, but it is complete nonsense. It all started with the Disney movie “White Wilderness”, in which the filmmakers faked the suicide.

According to rumors, the scene was not only wrongly described in the narrator’s script, but also staged in most shots of the feigned mass suicide.

Lemming Lemming - Photo: Shandarov Arkadii/Shutterstock

Reproduction

Baby lemmings are born after a gestation period of about 3 weeks. At the beginning they stay in the warm burrow in order to survive the cold Arctic winter.

Lemmings as Pets

If people talk about pet lemmings, they usually have the steppe lemming in mind. This is no real lemming, but – just like the genuine lemming – a kind of vole. Of course, both species are closely related to each other.

Lemming Lemming - Photo: Martin Hejzlar/Shutterstock

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