The idea that lemmings run off cliffs en masse was created by James R. Simon, principal photographer for the lemming sequence in Disney's 1958 nature documentary "White Wilderness." The less-believed idea that lemmings are small creatures with green hair was created by video game designers.

A lemming is actually a small burrowing mammal, usually four to five inches long, related to voles and muskrats but looking mostly like a mouse. They tend to be gray or brown in the summer, but like the ermine their fur becomes white for the winter to provide camouflage in the tundra. True lemmings are most readily found in the Arctic, but wood lemmings, bog lemmings, and collared lemmings may be found elsewhere - at least one species of bog lemming has been seen in Michigan. While generally shy animals, they will become aggressive when cornered, and even attack a polar bear if it believes that is the only option. Lemmings do migrate frequently, because of how quickly the population increases. A female lemming may give birth to as many as seven litters in one year, each with about ten babies. They reach adulthood and mate within thirty days, so one lemming can produce thousands of descendants in a single year. Lemmings usually eat plants and berries, and when food becomes scarce they will first fight amongst themselves and then leave the area - the Scandinavian lemmings do so all in one group, generally every three years. Because they are good swimmers, lemmings will not hesitate to try to cross a body of water, but usually end up getting eaten or drowning because of exhaustion.

The myth about lemmings committing mass suicide was created for one of Disney's popular animal-based documentary films, "White Wilderness." Because nature shows are difficult to film, photographers in the 1950s and 1960s would stage events so they could get exciting footage. It took nine photographers three years to assemble "White Wilderness," one of them having been James R. Simon. To obtain the lemming sequence, he purchased a few of them from Inuit children and brought them from Manitoba to Alberta - well outside their native habitat. They were placed on a snow-covered turntable and filmed from several angles, creating the appearance of many lemmings migrating together; they were then taken to a cliff and herded into the water. Disney has never admitted to knowing about Simon's actions, but the method was not unheard of at the time.

Sources:
http://www.yakscorner.com/animal/lemming.html
http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/html/lemming.html
http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.htm

"Lemming" is a term for a MUSH or MMORPG player (or group of players) that rushes to participate in a scene, usually because they expect to find personal gain but sometimes simply because they're bored. The term is derived from the rodents of the same name who are widely believed to follow each other anywhere, including to their deaths.

The lemming phenomenon can be mitigated by implementing a good screening process (such as application) to improve the quality of players on the game. It will never fully disappear, though, as game plots where characters search for artifacts to gain power will always be popular.

Lem"ming (?), n. [Nor. lemming, lemende; cf. Sw. lemel, Lapp. lummik.] Zool.

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 hemispheres.

The common Northern European lemming (Myodes lemmus) is remarkable for making occasional devastating migrations in enormous numbers from the mountains into the lowlands.

© Webster 1913.

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