I have been plotting an April Fools post for some time – a devious plan to use my wit to snare people in some cleverly disguised trap. It wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I find myself explaining how I ended up the butt end of my own joke.
A few blog posts ago I proudly declared that I would make a lousy lemming. I nearly ordered tee shirts with that slogan. I really want to stand by that statement but it turns out that I may be a lemming after all! The worst part is I bet the snowy owls knew all along.
I don’t know why, but I had this niggling idea that I should double check the facts (for the first time) after publishing that bold declaration.
Of course everyone knows that lemmings reproduce until their numbers are too great. Then one of them decides to jump over a cliff and mass numbers follow in a suicidal plunge of significant proportions. And that’s where we get the idea of acting like a lemming – following the crowd without critical thinking. I love the expression even if it does play on nature’s darker side.
Unfortunately my double checking revealed the rich irony of the lemming story – none of it is true. In real life, lemming populations do fluctuate and when numbers are high, some will head off to new territory. Occasionally they will drown if they can’t make it across a large lake. However, that’s not exactly cliff-jumping suicide and it sucks the wind right out of the lemming expression!
One of the key contributors to the lemming mythology was a 1958 Disney film, White Wilderness, which staged the critical scene by launching real lemmings off a cliff using a turntable. Just to complete the irony, they won an academy award for a documentary feature! An Alaskan government website provided a most interesting explanation of the myth.
Other creatures also have lemming tendencies like the snowy owl which, as chance would have it, likes to eat lemmings. You can’t make this stuff up! This winter there were a large number of snowy owls found much further south in the US than usual. Project Snowstorm tracked them all the way to Florida. It’s a great read!
A lot of people initially assumed that a shortage of food in the Artic sent the hungry snowy owls on a mission. It turns out the truth is exactly the opposite. There were so many lemmings in the Arctic that well-fed snowy owls had a fabulously successful breeding season and wandered much further afield. I’m just thankful a few wandered into the range of my lens which was still in their normal migratory region.
I still think I would be a lousy lemming though I’m not entirely sure what that means anymore. Who needs April Fools’ jokes when I have been duped for decades on some basic facts about nature.
It’s hard not to believe the lemmings were somehow at fault for all this.