lemming


lemming
/lem"ing/, n.
any of various small, mouselike rodents of the genera Lemmus, Myopus, and Dicrostonyx, of far northern regions, as L. lemmus, of Norway, Sweden, etc., noted for periodic mass migrations that sometimes result in mass drownings.
[1600-10; < Norw; c. Icel laemingi lemming, laemingr loon; akin to Goth laian to revile, Icel la to blame]

* * *

Any of several species of small rodents belonging to the family Cricetidae and found primarily in northern temperate and polar regions of North America and Eurasia.

Lemmings have short legs, small ears, and long, soft fur. They are 4–7 in. (10–18 cm) long, including the stumpy tail, and are grayish or reddish brown above, paler below. They feed on roots, shoots, and grasses and live in burrows or rock crevices. They are noted for regular population fluctuations, and for their periodic migrations in spring and fall. Those of the Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus) are the most dramatic, because many of the migrants drown in the sea. However, lemmings are hesitant to enter water and, contrary to legend, do not plunge into the sea in a deliberate death march.

* * *

mammal
Introduction

      any of 20 species of small rodents, some of which undertake large, swarming migrations (migration). Lemmings are found only in the Northern Hemisphere. They have short, stocky bodies with short legs and stumpy tails, a bluntly rounded muzzle, small eyes, and small ears that are nearly hidden in their long, dense, soft fur. The wood lemming (Myopus schisticolor) and steppe lemming (Lagurus lagurus) are the smallest, measuring 8 to 12 cm (3.1 to 4.7 inches) in body length and weighing 20 to 30 grams (0.7 to 1.0 ounce). The other species are larger, weighing 30 to 112 grams, with bodies 10 to 22 cm long. The colour of the collared lemming varies seasonally. During the summer its coat is gray tinged with buff or reddish brown and with dark stripes on the face and back. In the winter they molt into a white coat and develop forked digging claws. Other species are gray, sandy yellow, various tints and tones of brown, or slate gray and black.

Natural history
      Lemmings live throughout temperate and polar regions of North America and Eurasia, inhabiting steppes (Steppe, the) and semideserts, treeless alpine or arctic tundra, sphagnum (peat moss) bogs, coniferous forests, and sagebrush-covered slopes, where they are solitary and generally intolerant of one another. Active year-round, they feed on almost any sort of vegetation, including roots, buds, leaves, twigs, bark, seeds, grasses, sedges, and mosses. Lemmings scamper along extensive runway systems and construct nests in burrows or beneath rocks. Collared and brown lemmings (Dicrostonyx and Lemmus) make nests on the tundra surface or beneath the snow. Breeding from spring to fall, females can produce up to 13 young after a gestation period of about 20 to 30 days.

      Lemmings do not, as is popularly supposed, plunge into the sea in a deliberate suicidal death march. Historically, collared and brown lemming populations fluctuate dramatically, with highest levels reached every two to five years. After several years of optimal breeding conditions, overutilization of food resources, and low predation, populations become excessively large and more aggressive. As a result, the lemmings may migrate in late summer or fall. Most travel only short distances, but the Norway lemmings (Lemmus lemmus) in Scandinavia are a dramatic exception. From a central point, they move in growing numbers outward in all directions, at first erratically and under cover of darkness but later in bold groups that may travel in daylight. Huge hordes overrun broad areas, and some lemmings are often forced to swim water barriers or into human settlements. Many die because they cannot locate a suitable habitat, and others drown when they are pushed into the sea by the pressing momentum of the masses behind them. An especially massive outbreak occurs every 30 to 35 years in Lapland, with the lemmings swarming to central Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia (Bothnia, Gulf of).

      Since the mid-1990s, lemming populations in southern Norway have not followed historical patterns. Norway lemmings overwinter in the spaces between the deep snow and the ground surface. Warmer, more humid winters have produced fewer areas of this specialized habitat, and the heavy, wet snow has made remaining spaces less secure.

Classification
      The 20 lemming species belong to 6 genera, which, along with voles (vole) and muskrats (muskrat), are classified in the subfamily Arvicolinae of the mouse family ( Muridae) within the order Rodentia (rodent).

Genus Dicrostonyx (collared lemmings)
 11 species.Genus Lemmus (brown lemmings)
 3 species.Genus Eolagurus (yellow steppe lemmings)
 2 species.Genus Synaptomys (bog lemmings)
 2 species. Genus Lagurus (steppe lemming)
 1 species.Genus Myopus (wood lemming)
 1 species.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lemming — kann bezeichnen: verschiedene Arten und Gattungen der Wühlmäuse: den Steppenlemming (Lagurus lagurus) eine Art der Gattung Halsbandlemminge (Dicostonyx) eine Art der Gattung Mull Lemminge (Ellobius) eine Art aus dem Tribus Lemmini der Wühlmäuse… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • lemming — [ lemiŋ ] n. m. • 1765; lemmer 1678; mot norv. ♦ Petit mammifère rongeur (muridés) des régions boréales, voisin du campagnol. Les migrations des lemmings. ● lemming nom masculin (mot norvégien) Petit rongeur (cricétidé) des montagnes scandinaves …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Lemming — Sm (kleines Nagetier) per. Wortschatz exot. (18. Jh.) Entlehnung. Besonders genannt im Zusammenhang mit dem irrigen Volksglauben, daß sich die Lemminge scharenweise ins Meer stürzen. Entlehnt aus ndn. lemming, das auf anord. læmingi, lǣmingr… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Lemming — Lem ming (l[e^]m m[i^]ng), n. [Nor. lemming, lemende; cf. Sw. lemel, Lapp. lummik.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any one of several species of small arctic rodents of the genera {Myodes} and {Cuniculus}, resembling the meadow mice in form. They are found in both… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • lemming — small arctic rodent, c.1600, from Norw. lemming, from O.N. lomundr lemming. Perhaps from Lapp luomek. Figurative sense (in reference to their mass migrations that sometimes end in plunges into the sea) is from 1959 …   Etymology dictionary

  • lemming — [lem′iŋ] n. pl. lemmings or lemming [Dan < ON læmingi, lemming, orig., prob. “barker” < IE echoic base * lā > L latrare, to bark, lamentum, LAMENT] any of various small, mostly arctic rodents (family Cricetidae) resembling mice but… …   English World dictionary

  • Lemming — (Hypudaeus lemmus Illig., Mus l. L., Mus norwegicus), Art der Wühlmaus, hat die Größe einer Ratte, ist 51/2 Zoll lang u. schwarz, gelb u. weiß gescheckt, hat kurze Füße, an den Vorderfüßen einen langen Daumennagel; wohnt in Erdlöchern im Norden… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Lemming — (Myodes Pall.), Gattung der Nagetiere aus der Familie der Wühlmäuse (Arvicolidae), kleine, sehr gedrungen gebaute, kurzschwänzige Tiere mit großem Kopf, tief gespaltener Oberlippe, kleinen, rundlichen Ohren, kleinen Augen, fünfzehigen, auch auf… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Lemming — (Myōdes), zur Familie der Wühlmäuse gehörige Nagetiergattg., kleine, die nördl. Gegenden der Alten und Neuen Welt bewohnende, oft in großen Scharen wandernde Tiere mit dickem Körper, kurzem Schwanz, versteckten Ohren, leben von Vegetabilien.… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Lemming — (Mus norwegicus), zur Gattung Wühlmaus gehöriges Nagethier auf den Gebirgen Norwegens und Lapplands, von der Größe der Ratte, mit gelb und schwarz geflecktem Balg. Berühmt sind diese Thiere durch ihre Wanderungen, die sie in manchen Jahren zur… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • lemming — sustantivo masculino 1. (macho y hembra) Lemus lemus. Mamífero roedor de tamaño pequeño, cola muy corta y pelaje amarillento o gris, que habita en zonas árticas y realiza migraciones en grandes grupos …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.