Lemmings

Octo𝘣𝘦𝘳 19, 2020

A lemming is a small rodent, usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings make up the subfamily Arvicolinae (also known as Microtinae) together with voles and muskrats, which form part of the superfamily Muroidea, which includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils. A longstanding myth holds that they commit mass suicide.  Misconceptions about lemmings go back many centuries.  In the 1530s, geographer Zeigler of Strasbourg proposed the theory that the creatures fell out of the sky during stormy weather and then died suddenly when the grass grew in spring.  This description was contradicted by natural historian Ole Worm, who accepted that lemmings could fall out of the sky but claimed that they had been brought over by the wind rather than created by spontaneous generation.

For some unexplainable reason we have had two squires drown in our pool over the last two weeks.  This is odd as we have not had any drownings the previous three years we have been here.  I had finally come to except the squirrels as a part of our backyard ecosystem this fall.  I have put out a squirrel feeder with cracked corn and a ground corn log for them to gnaw on.  I have yet to see one squirrel on the feeder, but the cardinals are munching on the corn.  While squirrels can swim, the slippery surface on the side of the pool make it difficult to get out.  When I checked online about this I found the recommendation to call my local wildlife organization to get the squirrel out.  Good luck with that.  They would be dead before they arrived.

Lemmings have become the subject of a widely popular misconception that they are driven to commit mass suicide when they migrate by jumping off cliffs.  This is not a deliberate mass suicide, but instead a result of their migratory behavior. Driven by strong biological urges, some species of lemmings migrate in large groups when population density becomes too great. They can swim and can choose to cross a body of water in search of a new habitat.  If the body of water is too vast, or is the ocean, they can drown.  This gave rise to the popular stereotype of the suicidal lemmings, particularly after this behavior was staged in the Walt Disney documentary White Wilderness in 1958.  

π—§π—›π—’π—¨π—šπ—›π—§π—¦:  I had never heard of lemmings until my Ecology class in college.  This focused on the effects of overpopulation on different species.  The professor had done his research on rats placed in an enclosed pen in an isolated field.  They were provided an abundance of food and water.  When he returned in two weeks most of them were gone.  He set the experiment up again and checked daily.  What he found was the population flourished to the point of overcrowding.  Then the rats began to exhibit tendencies like our cities.  They formed marauding gangs, horded food, and indiscriminately killed each other.  Like the lemmings, overpopulation creates a breakdown in the species.  Even if we did not know this before, that was forty years ago.  Overpopulation is an anathema itself.  We need to support zero population growth.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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