Friday, January 28, 2011

Do Lemmings Commit Suicide?

True or False: Lemmings periodically commit suicide by throwing themselves into the sea.

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
 The myth was perpetuated by 1958 Disney film called White Wilderness, which  showed footage of lemmings jumping off a cliff into the sea. In truth, the scene was faked. Filmmakers threw a few lemmings into the water to create the effect of hundreds of lemmings throwing themselves into the sea.

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.)


  1. I know nothing about lemmings either...except what I learned in your blog. And now I know a lot about lemmings. Next trivia game maybe they will ask and I will know the answer! Thanks.

  2. thank you for posting such articles in your blog. you help a lot by giving an information like this to those people like me.

    Tealight Candles | Osprey Viewcast


    I found this...true..animation

  4. I like your writing style . it's amde the subject matter more interesting... thanks


  5. Nice research! From a distance it does appear the little furry guys are killing themselves, but the leaps follow a slip!

  6. it's really interesting!!! what a mysterious world of animals!