…already unfairly maligned as suicidal, and now hit hard by climate change. The BBC reports on a new study that finds wetter winters in southern Norway, “a bleak prospect for the region’s lemmings.” Scientists think that the snow is no longer stable enough to provide the animals with winter shelter.
And the suicide myth?
Rather than hibernating, lemmings spend the winter living in the space between the ground and a stable layer of snow above. Dry winters would allow large numbers to survive until spring, resulting in a population explosion. On occasions, there were so many that snowploughs were deployed to clear squashed animals from roads. These years often saw Norwegian lemmings (Lemmus lemmus) having to compete hard for food. The desperate search led some to jump off high ground into water, leading to the popular – but wrong – assumption that they were prone to commit collective suicide.
Disney didn’t help the cause either when, back in 1958, it forced a number of hapless lemmings off a cliff in order to get footage for the so-called documentary “White Wilderness.”
I wil think twice before I use another lemming metaphor, not that I often do.