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A Moment of Science

Lemmings Love Life

Do lemmings really follow each other off a cliff to their death? No, but there are mysteries surrounding the rodents. Over the years, there have been many tales of these Arctic rodents voluntarily jumping off cliffs and plummeting into the sea. Some have labeled their actions as noble acts, done in order to preserve their species.

The weird thing is that even though lemmings are known for their suicidal tendencies, it turns out there is absolutely no scientific evidence that supports this. No one has ever witnessed a lemming march off into the ocean. In other words, this is an urban legend!

Year after year, lemmings baffle scientists while their population rises and falls in four- year cycles, but no one can figure out why. Despite decades of scientific observation, it apparently has nothing to do with obvious factors like food supply and predators.

When the population increases, the lemmings migrate to find new food supplies. And the urge to migrate is so strong that it leads the lemmings to take undue risks, like jumping off ice floes. Also, sometimes when lemmings run into bodies of water or other natural obstacles, this causes what is called a “flight response,” which means the lemmings panic and run away without looking where they’re going, sometimes causing them to fall off a cliff.

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