For many years the myth persisted that Lemmus lemmus, known to you and I as the lemming, would inexplicably hurl itself into the abyss during their annual migration. Or is it a myth? Researchers in Norway have recently observed some alarming behaviour in a particular lemming population that may substantiate the tales of kamikaze rodents.
The misconception of lemming “mass suicide” is long-standing and has been popularized by a number of factors. It was well enough known to be mentioned in The Marching Morons, a 1951 short story by Cyril M. Kornbluth. In 1955, Disney Studio illustrator Carl Barks drew an Uncle Scrooge adventure comic with the title “The Lemming with the Locket”. This comic, which was inspired by a 1953 American Mercury article, showed massive numbers of lemmings jumping over Norwegian cliffs. Even more influential was the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, in which staged footage was shown with lemmings jumping into certain death after faked scenes of mass migration. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Cruel Camera, found the lemmings used for White Wilderness were flown from Hudson Bay to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they did not jump off the cliff, but were in fact forced off the cliff by the camera crew. Because of the limited number of lemmings at their disposal, which in any case were the wrong sub-species, the migration scenes were simulated using tight camera angles and a large, snow-covered turntable.
These stories have for some time been considered far from the truth … until now.
Norwegian lemming expert, Hilarius Furbøl and his wife Annita, also a research scientist, recently visted Penzance, Cornwall, to observe some curious behaviour displayed by the Norwegian lemming’s British cousins. “It was most unbelievable,” laughed Furbøl, “the British lemming seems totally unaware of the danger of cliffs. We filmed them in their millions running bouncy-bouncy up to the edge of the precipice … and they just kept going. It was terrible.”
“A Norwegian lemming would never do such a crazy thing. Our lemmings long to move away from such dangerous places as the benefit is not as high as the cost. These do not know the terrible suffering they will endure.”
“We attached GPS transmitters to many lemmings and logged the results. The madness began at o7:00 and continued at a crazy pace until 22:00. Of our sample of over 33 million adorable lemmings, nearly 52% rushed blindly over the edge, dragging the rest with them. We do not know how many survived as we lost the signal when the devices smashed on the rocks or sank to the bottom of your English Fjord.”
The Furbøl’s findings are already causing concern among international investors in Cornish lemming farms, who have withdrawn over £65bn in assets since the revelation. The price of lemming dairy products is expected to skyrocket in the coming weeks, and many UK supermarkets have already announced shortages. A spokesman for Waitrose said “This has been a terrible week for us. As if panic buiying of French delicattessen products and the firey demise of our main outlet in Rochdale were not bad enough, we are now facing the nigh-on impossible task of sourcing lemming curd from whatever country will trade with us.”
Sir David Attenborough is 90.