Lemming Suicide Is a Myth That Was Perpetuated by Disney
We’ve all heard that lemmings jump into the sea every year, drowning themselves because they are just following the herd. Except they don’t. That’s actually a myth invented for a Disney wildlife documentary, and it has blinded us to the truth about the weird lives of lemmings for decades.
Lemmings are small, fluffy rodents that live mostly in the Arctic, thriving on the snowy tundra in places like Norway, northern Alaska, and Siberia. One of the great mysteries of lemmings is their odd population cycle. Like many rodents, their population expands every few years. But among lemmings, this explosion is dramatic — every few years, their population grows 100 to 1000 times larger in just one winter season.
These events are often called lemming outbreaks because the rodents will migrate all over the place looking for food, even swimming across rivers and lakes to find plants and mosses to eat. Occasionally, they fall off rocks or cliffs as they scramble to find sustenance. Then, just as abruptly, their population crashes into near-extinction.