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Lemmings have become widely known for their supposed tendency to run en masse off of cliffs to their deaths. The term "lemming" has even become a commonly used metaphor to describe the behavior of those who would mindlessly follow the crowd, despite the obvious consequences.

Is there any scientific evidence that mass lemming suicide is actually true?

If it isn't true, then what are the origins of the myth?

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    Where is his blue shirt? – going Apr 19 '11 at 4:17
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    Got rid of it when he shaved off his green hair:) – Monkey Tuesday Apr 19 '11 at 4:54
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    Of course it's true - haven't you ever played the game? :) – user5341 Apr 21 '11 at 15:52
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    @DVK Of course I have, which is why the lemming pictured above has shaved his green hair, removed his blue shirt and had his appearance altered to resemble that of a small rodent; it's all part of the lemming witness protection program. He's apparently still on the run from DMA and now Disney is going to be after him! Seriously, he sent me a text saying "if something happens to me, it wasn't suicide:) – Monkey Tuesday Apr 22 '11 at 2:26
  • If the Lemmings Suicides are a myth the source of the myth would be the Walt Disney company as they are the producers of the documentary "White Wilderness" which depicts lemmings as suicidal creatures. As to whether or not lemmings are suicidal, I image one would have to travel to their island and observe for ones self with all of the conflicting reports. – Michael Eakins May 13 '11 at 16:47
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According to Snopes.com it is a myth, one promoted by the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness which not only staged a lemming migration on a turntable, but then herded them off a cliff. There was an article in the Washington Post about how nature movies are made a while back that said:

The lemmings that plunge to their deaths in the 1958 Disney documentary “White Wilderness” were hurled ingloriously to their doom by members of the crew, as a Canadian documentary revealed. Palmer writes that Marlin Perkins, host of television’s “Wild Kingdom,” was known to bait animals into combat [..]

Lemmings do migrate in response to population density and other pressures, and can swim, so there are times when some may drown trying to cross water, but they do not commit suicide. According to The Times, the myth was supported by sudden fluctuations in lemming populations, now believed to be caused by the predator-prey cycle.

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    +1. Furthermore, lemmings indiscriminately committing suicide like this would be strong evidence against evolution by natural selection. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 19 '11 at 12:59
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    @Konrad - humans smoke tobacco. Russians drank themselves to the point of demographic collapse. Hey, I just proved evolution wrong! :) – user5341 Apr 21 '11 at 15:54
  • @konrad, wouldn't that sort of behavior (if it were legitimately occurring and for the record, it's not) just indicate that lemmings are somehow fundamentally unfit, and therefore still be consistent with evolutionary principles and merely reflect natural selection in action? – Monkey Tuesday Apr 22 '11 at 2:19
  • @DVK Thankfully (for evolution) that’s not the same. The survival rate of an allele for suicide before rearing offsprings is exactly zero. It cannot, in principle, proliferate. Cigarette smoking and drinking also diminishes comparative fitness but not as drastic, and may potentially have other advantages (for example, it may make somebody more attractive in the eyes of prospective mates, just like the peacock’s tail). – Konrad Rudolph Apr 22 '11 at 14:00
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    Yikes, Disney was evil! I can't believe they did that... What on earth prompted them to even think of such a thing? – Django Reinhardt May 17 '11 at 21:17
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Although the lemmings in the fabulous game from 1991 do, the real ones don't. You can see in this article by the Alaska department of fish and games that it is a myth that originate from the Walt Disney's "documentary" White Wilderness where some footage was faked to make it more spectacular.

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Lemmings became the subject of a popular misconception that they commit mass suicide when they migrate. Actually, it is not a mass suicide but the result of their migratory behavior. Driven by strong biological urges, some species of lemmings may migrate in large groups when population density becomes too great. Lemmings can swim and may choose to cross a body of water in search of a new habitat. In such cases, many may drown if the body of water is so wide as to stretch their physical capability to the limit. This fact combined with the unexplained fluctuations in the population of Norwegian lemmings gave rise to the misconception. [8]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemming

There is more on the article about how some of the mass suicides were staged.

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