Saturday, April 13, 2013

L Is For Lemming

Anyone ever had this conversation at work by the water cooler?

You: What are you going to do this weekend?

Colleague: I think me and the wife might take a nice trip to the coast, get out of the car and jump off a 200 foot cliff.

You: Sounds like a good idea. Think I'll jump off a cliff too.

Colleague: Actually my cousins are visiting. They'll certainly want to jump off a cliff this weekend.



So might go the typical work water cooler conversation of a lemming, one of the most curious of rodents.

Lemmings are small rodents that live in tundra biomes near the Arctic. They are most famous for their acts of mass suicide, although it's not clear if this is down to suffering SAD due to the lack of light in the Norwegian winters, or just for the hell of it.

Lemmings see wild population fluctuations. The Norway lemming and the brown lemming reproduce so rapidly they suffer sudden populations fluctuations, going from population explosions to near extinction.

The near extinction problem is not helped by the mass suicides, although there's some evidence this is an urban, or rather a treeless wilderness myth.

Those good old lemming misconceptions date back to the 1530s when the Swiss geographer Zeigler of Strasbourg proposed the theory the lemmings fell from the sky in stormy weather. By all accounts he would stroke his long beard and proclaim: "It's raining cats, dogs and lemmings."

A similar theory was proposed in the folklore of the Inupiat/Yupik at Norton Sound. Later this theory was modified to that of mass suicide. When one lemming jumped off a cliff, the others follow, the theory went. However, the reality is more about mass migration than depression.

When the lemming population goes nuts there's a major urge to get out of Dodge City. During these crazed migrations they may attempt to swim across water that's too wide and drown en masse in the process.


Disney is much to blame for the mass suicide myth. The 1955 adventure comic "The Lemming with the Locket" showed the creature jumping in large numbers off cliffs in Norway, while the 1958 film White Wilderness  features staged footage of lemmings jumping off cliffs. It turns out they were being flicked into the air via a turntable by the kindly lemming lovers at Disney.

Lemming behavior is now associated with people who go along unquestioning with a dumb decision or idea which is detrimental to them. 


Useless Fact About the Lemming

Although they are depicted as being passive the brightly colored lemmings can behave aggressively toward predators and even humans.


What Not to Say to a Lemming

Fancy a Cliff bar?

31 comments:

  1. How about jumping out of an aeroplane?, count me in!

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  2. I have used the lemming comparison many times. I never knew why I was saying it. I love education!

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    1. all for educashion Deborah - it has entered folklore

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  3. I don't think your useless fact is so useless. Do you really want a bunch of small, enraged animals flying at your face? LOL

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    1. good point Patricia am thinking I don't

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  4. Nice post, much enjoyed. Fascinating. I laughed aloud when I got to "Fancy a Cliff bar?" Priceless!

    Cynthia Reed, living in Malaysia and writing historical fiction set in the Crimean War era.

    http://cynthia-reed.blogspot.com/

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    1. thanks Cynthia - an bit behind re commenting but will certainly check your blog out.

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  5. Feeling rather a lot like a lemming myself David! Do you hear what I'm saying?!

    Crazy, bonkers animal.

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    1. um yes I do Juliette - must read your next episode to find out quite how bonkers :)

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  6. I used to love the lemmings game on my old school game boy.

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    1. ah sigh - those were the days Rowena..

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  7. Crazy little rats! I never realized they were multi-colored like that before. Great post!

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    1. thanks Daisy - we do love multicolored rats/

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  8. Hello, David! I used to have a computer game called Lemmings. It was so much fun! This was it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemmings_(video_game) I wish I still had it!

    Happy A to Z-ing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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    1. wow Laura - you are the second person to mention - thanks for the visit - will check out Wavy Lines

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  9. Enjoyed the read
    From Yvonne A-zing.

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  10. Awww so cute! Poor widdle things. Aaaaand now I have the line 'packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes, contestants in a suicidal race' stuck in my head.

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  11. I recently saw the thing that the lemming suicide thing was a myth. I certainly hope it is.

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    1. yep seems to be Liz - thanks for the visit..

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  12. Hahaha I love the water cooler conversation. I hope Liz is right about the suicide being a myth, such a bizarre thing.

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  13. Maybe lemmings just enjoy cliff diving but aren't very good at the sport. Really though, if my home were horribly overpopulated, I'd probably rush into a raging river too.

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    1. like living in the East End of London really Jean

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  14. The water cooler episode is really cool - I wish some of my colleagues had some of those cousins visiting for a nice jump ;-)

    Marcie @ Marcie's Postbox

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    1. ha ha Marcie - glad to see you are loving your work environment

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  15. What a great post, and a cute creature. Glad to know the mass suicide idea isn't exactly true.

    Carol's Notebook

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  16. Until very recently, I thought a lemming was a kind of bird, similar to an emu or something. I dunno why the hell I thought that, except there must be something bird-sounding to me about the word "lemming." Also, I'm ignorant. :-)
    Some Dark Romantic

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