That’s what I was taught as a child. In fact, that’s what it says in the 1967 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, which graced the walls of my living room when I was a kid. And if the World Book said it, then it had to be correct.
But it’s not. In truth, lemmings do migrate occasionally, and during this mass migration, some may accidentally fall off cliffs. Others may swim across a lake, where they may accidentally drown. Perhaps that is where this weird idea started.
Photo by photo.andersson.es
To the filmmakers credit, they did not actually state that the lemmings committed suicide, but rather that they thought the sea was a lake, and they set out to cross it, only to drown. However, the dramatic (albeit faked) movie scene simply reinforced the lemming suicide legend. I was shocked to discover that it was not true.
When I made this discovery, I shared it with my 16-year-old daughter. “What?” she replied. “You mean there really is such an animal as a lemming?” She only knew of lemmings as part of a computer game she used to play. (The game is still available in PC, PlayStation, or PSP format.)