Posted by: Sarah | October 16, 2011

Do Lemmings Really Commit Mass Suicide?

You’re probably wondering what Lemmings have to do with this blog about Norway.  Yesterday I attended a choir seminar and whilst attempting the high notes of Handel’s Messiah my friend Liv and I struggled big time.  She said she sang the notes much like a Norwegian Lemming.  Now, I’ve always associated Lemmings with a cute little video game in the early 90’s but yesterday I discovered that Norway is host to thousands of these little critters – perhaps hundreds of thousands depending on the breeding conditions!

Lemmings tend to live in arctic climates and are small rodents – bigger than a hamster but smaller than a guinea pig.  It’s very possible to see them when out walking in the mountains during the Autumn but don’t be fooled by their cute appearance – they’re angry!  I’m told that they’re not scared of humans and rather than scuttle away to safety they will quite happily square up to you and start hissing their disapproval at your presence.


So do they commit mass suicide?  In short, the answer is no but many do die every year.  The Norway Lemming (lemen in Norwegian) will live in the mountains all through the year feeding off grasses, grubs and shoots.  During the harsh winter months they don’t migrate but instead burrow under the snow to nest and eat grass that they’ve stored in advance.  When the seasons are good (short winters and long summers) the Norway Lemming population will boost to unsustainable levels.

When this happens, food is at a shortage.  Being solitary creatures by nature, the stronger lemmings drive the weaker and younger ones off long before a food shortage occurs so large groups of lemmings will go off and search for a new habitat.  This often means that they have to cross a body of water and in such cases, many drown because their little bodies can’t make the distance.  As such the lemming population fluctuates dramatically from year to year.

Many are born and then many will die.  Sad but true!


  1. Aha! So they don’t commit suicide? Good to know. Loved the youtube-clip. A Lemming in a nutshell!!

    • Apparently not Liv but lots of them die at once as they try to find new homes. Poor little things.

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