New blog! A Schooner of Science debunks the myths about lemmings

by Stephanie Chasteen on June 8, 2009

I came across a new science blog recently — A Schooner of Science — and really enjoyed Sarah’s fresh and funny writing style about all sorts of things that this blog doesn’t tend to cover — namely, biology and chemistry.  (I write about them when I can, but, well, it does all come down to physics, after all, right?  Right?).

Sarah cheerfully agreed to cross-post one of her recent articles in lemmings (yay lemmings!) and whether it’s really true that lemmings throw themselves off cliffs to reduce their population.  Enjoy, and check out a Schooner for more stuff (most recent posts — 5 most remarkable animal penises!).


Nothing like going retro and playing a game or fifty of LEMMINGS!!! I squandered many an evening in my youth curled over a computer screen, thinking of ways to keep those suicidal wanderers alive while they walked carelessly towards cliffs.
Some of the levels were so bizzarro I’d wonder “how did they get themselves INTO this mess? Do they WANT to die? Cute little green-haired munchkins!” For fun, here’s a real lemming – still cute but in a more hamsterish way:
At some point I was introduced to the idea that yes, lemmings DID want to die because of a brilliant population-control technique ingrained in their DNA. I’ve had many a teacher who have lamented the human desire to be fruitful and mulitply, crying that we were destroying the planet out of sheer numbers. Whether we would continue to survive would depend on whether we realised that space was running out and slowed down… otherwise we’d bang ourselves straight into extinction. Are we an r-selected species, or a K-selected species, is our growth rate exponential, or are we just midway up an S-curve? Whenever I read that the suicide rate was increasing, I would think to myself – maybe we ARE like the lemmings. Maybe this is all some genetic grand-scheme to thin out our numbers.
I don’t think that anymore, doesn’t it sound a bit ridiculous that you can have so many animals around that they disappear? It sounds a bit like Jimbo Kern from Southpark – “We’ve got to kill more animals so they won’t die!”
And the lemming thing – it’s all a LIE!!! Those lemmings didn’t kill themselves. The poor little rodents were chased off a cliff for a Disney movie. This Disney movie in fact, White Wilderness.

Hell, these lemmings weren’t even migrating and accidentally fell into the sea, or thought there was something worth swimming to on the other side of the ocean. Nope, they were pushed off the edge by film makers just to get the right shot. Lemmings aren’t even native to Alberta, Canada, where the footage was taken – they bought them from Inuit kids! So consider this myth debunked. It wouldn’t be the last time television pushed animals into killing themselves either – consider Happy Tree Friends.

If you want to play the game again and relive the lemmings good times, do it here 🙂 Love the hair.


Originally posted on a Schooner of Science here.  See more of the Captain’s scientific musings over on her Schooner.

{ 1 comment }

Ben June 9, 2009 at 4:05 am

Now I’m starting to wonder if Ol’ Yeller was just acting.

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