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Synaptomys spp.

Lemmings are small mouse-like animals that live in the tundra. In summer they are brown, but in winter they are all white. Their white coats help them to hide from the snowy owl and other predators who depend upon them for food in winter.  Lemmings make simple burrows in the tundra during the summer, and they can make it very difficult to walk around.  Especially when you fall through them up to your knees!  In winter, they hide from the coldest weather in shallow burrows in the snow.

Lemming populations shrink and swell depending on how many plants and berries are available. One type of lemming, the Scandinavian lemming, migrates in a huge group when food becomes scarce. They will run in one direction through meadows, woods and towns. If they come to a large body of water they will swim and swim looking for land.  The stories about lemmings jumping off cliffs are a myth.  Other types of lemmings simply move away when the food gets scarce.  Wouldn't you?

Lemming in hand
Photo © Stephen Loring

19th Century Naturalist
Edward Nelson Recounts:

"The Norton Sound Eskimo have an odd superstition that the White Lemming lives in the land  beyond the stars and that it sometimes comes down to the earth, descending in a spiral course during snow-storms.  I have known old men to insist that they had seen them coming down.  Mr. Murdoch records this same belief as existing among the Point Barrow Eskimo."

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