Suicide March of the Lemmings

About the bizarre animal the lemming, history and description of the creature known for marching off cliffs in droves.

THOMAS R. HENRY'S 10 BEST ODDITIES

The Suicide Marches of Lemmings. "Mass death marches of lemmings long have intrigued biologists and psychologists.

"The Lapland lemming is a short-tailed animal, related to the meadow mouse, that looks like a miniature rabbit. Through the sub-Arctic winter it lives completely buried under snow through which it burrows in search of mosses and lichens.

"It is extremely prolific; females produce 2 litters of from 4 to 6 offspring every year. The numbers soon become far too great to subsist on the sparse supply [of food] available in the Scandinavian mountains.

"Then, irregularly in periods of from 5 to 10 years, occurs one of the weirdest phenomena of animal life. Acting apparently on a common, subconscious, simultaneous impulse, the entire lemming population starts a mass migration out of the mountains to the lowlands. The animals proceed in a straight line, a few feet apart, each usually tracing a shallow furrow in the soil. They are a devouring scourge, stripping the earth of all vegetation in their path. Their progress seems irresistible. No obstacle stops them. If they come across a man they glide between his legs. If they meet with a haystack they gnaw through it. If a rock stands in their way they go around it in a semicircle and then resume the straight line of their march. When they come to a lake, river, or arm of the sea they swim directly across, vast numbers being drowned on the way. If they encounter a boat they climb over it, so as not to be diverted from a straight line. Curiously, they seem to avoid human habitations. They resist fiercely all efforts to stop them. They will bite a stick or hand, crying and barking like little dogs. Multitudes are destroyed every mile of the way. When the migrating horde reaches the sea it moves straight on--to inevitable destruction.

"A few linger behind and eventually make their way back to the mountain habitat. Numbers are so reduced that they are seldom observed. Then a new generation starts and builds up for the next migration."

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