Lemmings are small rodents with long, soft, colorful fur and short tails that live in the Arctic tundra. They reproduce rapidly, and their population varies dramatically, usually over a four-year cycle. Scientists have studied the variation in lemming populations for many years, but they don’t entirely understand it. However, the lemming suicide myth is not an explanation.
Contrary to popular stories, lemmings do not commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs into the sea to drown. False lemming legends are not new. In the sixteenth century, because of their rapid population increases, a story was started that they fall out of the sky when it rains. That idea was proven to be false.
The story of the mass suicide has been depicted in songs, movies, video games, stories, and a 1985 Apple TV commercial until most people accept it as true. The worst case of deception was in the 1958 Disney movie “White Wilderness.” The film won an Academy Award for best documentary, but it spread false information with a staged lemming suicide jump. It was later revealed that the lemmings were forced off the cliff by the camera crew.
When their population density becomes too high, lemmings migrate to find food. Since they can swim, they sometimes migrate across bodies of water. Occasionally some may drown in the crossing, but it’s not mass suicide. In 1980, Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” comic showed a group of lemmings jumping into the water. The last lemming in line was wearing a life preserver. Following the principle of natural selection, that lemming would have been the one to survive and reproduce. We would presume that its offspring would inherit the caution and be smart enough not to follow the crowd. Then we would assume that lemmings would evolve into creatures who would no longer take the plunge. It’s a matter of survival of the fittest, or perhaps the smartest.
The lemming suicide myth is persistent, but false, like the myth that we use only ten percent of our brains. The bottom line is, God didn’t create lemmings to be suicidal. He also didn’t create humans to be gullible.
–Roland Earnst © 2018