We've all heard about how lemmings follow one another in a mass suicide march. It’s a popular notion fed to us by various sources including the Disney studio. Now, how many really believe that lemmings intentionally commit suicide by following one another off the cliff, or in a similar way engaging in willful destruction of their population? This is one of the most wide-spread myths in the huge human repertoire of strange and silly ideas. Let’s try to clear it up.
First, what are they? Lemmings are small rodents—about 3 to 6 inches long. They are related to mice, hamsters, and gerbils. They live primarily in the northern regions of Europe and the Americas. Lemmings are herbivorous and are one of many factors in the food chain of the region.
So, where does the myth come from. Well it seems that lemmings, like their cousins in the small rodent world, periodically engage in wholesale reproduction at prodigious rates, thus increasing their local population to critical proportions. Because of the resulting food crisis, the little beasts take off for greener pastures, and they do so by the thousands.
This mass migration does sometimes cause them to follow the lead animals in a headlong dash over cliffs onto rocks, into rivers and other waters, and thus to their death. But it isn’t intentional suicide.
How does this relate to this blog? Well, for a large part of this blog, we will use the lemming concept to discuss various ways in which people—specifically Americans—follow one another, in what seem to be mass actions, doing ludicrous and sometimes bizarre things. It’s amazing to watch this phenomenon unfold over time.