Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Ironic Twist: Lemmings arent "Lemmings" After All!

One myth deeply entrenched in our language is that of the "Lemming Suicide Plunge" - where lemmings, apparently overcome by deep-rooted impulses, deliberately run over a cliff in their millions, to be dashed to their deaths on the rocks below, or to drown in the raging ocean. Indeed, this myth is now a metaphor for the behaviour of crowds of people who foolishly follow each other, lemming-like, regardless of the consequences. This particular myth began with a Disney movie.

Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate "suicide" attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings' venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.

The myth of mass lemming suicide began when the Walt Disney movie, Wild Wilderness was released in 1958. It was filmed in Alberta, Canada, far from the sea and not a native home to lemmings. So the filmmakers imported lemmings, by buying them from Inuit children. The migration sequence was filmed by placing the lemmings on a spinning turntable that was covered with snow, and then shooting it from many different angles. The cliff-death-plunge sequence was done by herding the lemmings over a small cliff into a river. It's easy to understand why the filmmakers did this - wild animals are notoriously uncooperative, and a migration-of-doom followed by a cliff-of-death sequence is far more dramatic to show than the lemmings' self-implemented population-density management plan.

So lemmings do not commit mass suicide. Indeed, animals live to thrive and survive. Consider a company like Disney, where one rodent, namely Mickey Mouse, was Royalty. It's rather odd to think that Disney could be so unkind to another rodent, the lemming...

Weird as Hell,


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