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Lemmings are small, thickset vole-like animals that live in the Arctic tundra. They live in a harsh environment, are super-cute, kinda mean, and totally misunderstood.

But here at SciShow we're going to set the record straight with 3 Actual Facts About Lemmings.

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Lemmings! They are small, thickset, vole-like animals that live in the Arctic tundra. They live in harsh environments, are super cute, kinda mean, and totally misunderstood. But we're here, right now, to set the record straight with three actual facts about lemmings.


Let's start with a fact that shouldn't need to be stated but because the little creatures are so misunderstood, it does. Number one, lemmings do not fall from the sky. As mammals that live at the northern most latitudes of the Earth but never hibernate, the lemmings' existence in the tundras is so unlikely that for hundreds of years, "scientists" -- if you can call them that -- assumed that the little guys were blown there by seasonal storms and dropped from the sky. Seriously. So yeah, no. Fossils of lemmings have been found in northern Europe dating back more than two million years, and clearly, they've been there long enough to adapt to the arctic climate.

They continue to thrive just like the rest of us through sex and babies. But sometimes they do seem to disappear and reappear like furry fairies because, fact number two, lemming populations flirt with extinction every few years. Lemming populations boom hard and bust fast to the point of near-extinction every three to five years. This is likely due to a number of factors including increased predation, food availability, quick gestation and climate. The little guys are prolific breeders, the fastest breeding vertebrates, in fact. Under ideal conditions a population of lemmings can blow up by a factor of ten in just one year. That is a veritable smorgasbord of bite-sized treats for every predator in the area, and lemming populations get slammed hard and cycle down again.

It's also a whole lot of hungry little fatties already on a hardscrabble landscape so it makes sense that once they've chomped their way through their local food supply they have to leave. Lot of animals will reach this point -- heck, including lots of nomadic human tribes -- but there are so many of these rodents it's pretty darn noticeable when they start to disperse in massive migratory-like mobs, running over whatever they cross. And if they hit water, they might jump in and swim to the other shore in search of the elusive, all-you-can-eat, grass buffet. Or they might accidentally fall in from so much fuzzy jostling and drown.

But accidentally is the key here. It brings us to our last and most important fact: lemmings are not suicidal morons. That's right, everything you've ever heard about lemmings -- until today, with the list that we so far gave you -- is a lie. 

This is nefarious slander put out into the world by none other than Disney. In 1958, a Disney documentary film called White Wilderness brought graphic images of hordes of hopeless lemmings, seized by a suicidal compulsion, flinging themselves off cliffs to their deaths as a dramatic voice-over told us of their unreasoning hysteria. But it turns out, it was all lies. Murdering lies. All that cliff-flinging footage was totally staged; the production company flew in a box of lemmings from Hudson Bay to Calgary -- a place devoid of the tundra rodents -- then set careful editing and tight camera angles to film a few dozen lemmings running on a snow-covered turntable. When the big finale came, they just tossed the poor guys off a cliff, faking mass suicide... Rude.

No one realized this at the time, and the film won an Academy Award for best documentary that year. The truth didn't come out until the 1980s when a Canadian broadcasting producer investigated, but by then, the damage to the lemmings' reputations had already been done.

Today, "lemming" is like a word for some imbecile who will go along with anything, which really seems like a more appropriate name for those tricksy filmmakers than for their innocent subjects. 

Also, Bambi memo: deer don't get twitterpated in the spring; they mate in the fall.

Anyway, SciShow, we are proud to clear the good name of the lemmings.

Thank you for watching. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for us you can leave them here, or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter, and if you want to keep getting smarter with us here at SciShow, go to and subscribe.

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