Norway Lemming (Lemmus lemmus)


Family:                    Cricetidae.

Status:                     No special status.

Size:                        Length 3 cm (about 5 in) long; weight 1 to 4 ounces.

Diet:                        Herbivore.

Characteristics:        Solitary, aggressive.

Area:                       Scandinavia, northwest Europe.

Offspring:                Litter of 5 to 12, several times a year.

Predators:               Snowy owl, gray owl, buzzard, gyrfalcon, skua, wolverine, ermine, and arctic fox.



·       Some female lemmings are genetically programmed to bear only female offspring.

·       The belief that lemmings go on a suicide march to the sea, where they drown, is untrue.

·       Lemmings have waterproof fur, enabling them to survive cold northern temperatures.



Every three to four years, the population of lemmings increases to the point where Norway lemmings feel the need to migrate in a desperate search for food sources. Although lemmings can swim, they sometimes try to cross bodies of water that are too deep and too wide to swim across (for example, the sea) and so they drown in large numbers, because they can only swim for 15 to 25 minutes before becoming exhausted. Although all lemmings experience this population spurt, Norway lemmings are the only ones who migrate as a result. Lemmings do not hibernate during winter, and their fur grows thicker to compensate for the cold weather. They’re colourful little animals, with black, tan and reddish brown fur mixed together in patches. They build burrows during the summer lined with grasses and many will gather in winter to snuggle together for warmth. They rarely appear above the snow, usually remaining between the soil and the snow where the temperature is not as cold. The diet of a lemming consists of leaves, grasses, bark, berries, roots, green plants and mosses. Lemmings are active both during the night and the day, taking only short naps at various intervals in between feeding.



Norway lemmings live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and extreme northwest Europe, in northern alpine and the open, swampy flatlands of the tundra.



Norway lemmings can reproduce all year round and may have several litters per year, although when food is scarce due to overpopulation, reproduction slows down. Some females and males mate for life, while others have several mates. The female gives birth 16 to 28 days after conception, and will nurse the newborns for 16 days. Young females can mate at the age of two weeks, while males become sexually mature at seven weeks of age. Lemmings live to about one to two years in the wild, and up to three years in captivity.