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Like many other rodents, lemmings have periodic population booms and then disperse in all directions, seeking food and shelter their natural habitats cannot provide. The Norway lemming and brown lemming are two of the few vertebrates which reproduce so quickly that their population fluctuations are chaotic,[4][5] rather than following linear growth to a carrying capacity or regular oscillations. Why lemming populations fluctuate with such great variance roughly every four years, before numbers drop to near extinction, is not known.[6] Lemming behaviour and appearance are markedly different from those of other rodents, which are inconspicuously coloured and try to conceal themselves from their predators. Lemmings, by contrast, are conspicuously coloured and behave aggressively toward predators and even human observers. The lemming defence system is thought to be based on aposematism (warning display).[7] Fluctuations in the lemming population affect the behaviour of predators, and may fuel irruptions of birds of prey such as snowy owls to areas further south.[8]For many years, the population of lemmings was believed to change with the population cycle, but now some evidence suggests their predators' populations, particularly those of the stoat, may be more closely involved in changing the lemming population.[citation needed]


Misconceptions about lemmings go back many centuries. In 1532, the geographer Jacob Ziegler of Bavaria proposed the theory that the creatures fell out of the sky during stormy weather[9][10] and then died suddenly when the grass grew in spring.[11] This description was contradicted by natural historian Ole Worm, who accepted that lemmings could fall out of the sky, but claimed that they had been brought over by the wind rather than created by spontaneous generation. Worm published dissections of a lemming, which showed that they are anatomically similar to most other rodents such as voles and hamsters, and the work of Carl Linnaeus proved that they had a natural origin.

Lemmings have become the subject of a widely popular misconception that they are driven to commit mass suicide when they migrate by jumping off cliffs. It is not a deliberate mass suicide, in which animals voluntarily choose to die, but rather a result of their migratory behavior. Driven by strong biological urges, some species of lemmings may migrate in large groups when population density becomes too great. They can swim and may choose to cross a body of water in search of a new habitat. In such cases, many drown if the body of water is an ocean or is so wide as to exceed their physical capabilities. Thus, the unexplained fluctuations in the population of Norwegian lemmings, and perhaps a small amount of semantic confusion (suicide not being limited to voluntary deliberation, but also the result of foolishness), helped give rise to the popular stereotype of the suicidal lemmings, particularly after this behaviour was staged in the Walt Disney documentary White Wilderness in 1958.[12] The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late 19th century. In the August 1877 issue of Popular Science Monthly, apparently suicidal lemmings are presumed to be swimming the Atlantic Ocean in search of the submerged continent of Lemuria.[13]

In 1955, Disney Studio illustrator Carl Barks drew an Uncle Scrooge adventure comic with the title "The Lemming with the Locket". This comic, which was inspired by a 1953 American Mercury article, showed massive numbers of lemmings jumping over Norwegian cliffs.[14][15]

Perhaps the most influential and, for the lemmings involved, tragic, presentation of the myth was the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature and in which producers threw lemmings off a cliff to their deaths to fake footage of a "mass suicide", as well as faked scenes of mass migration.[17] A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Cruel Camera, found the lemmings used for White Wilderness were flown from Hudson Bay to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where, far from "casting themselves bodily out into space" (as the film's narrator states), they were, in fact, dumped off the cliff by the camera crew from a truck.[18][19] Because of the limited number of lemmings at their disposal, which in any case were the wrong subspecies, the migration scenes were simulated using tight camera angles and a large, snow-covered turntable.

The 1983 song Synchronicity II by The Police makes an allusion to the supposed suicidal tendencies of lemmings in its reference to commuters "packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes, contestants in a suicidal race."

In 2006, the German Fun Metal, Comedy Rock, and Neue Deutsche Härte band Knorkator produced the comedy rock song Wir werden alle sterben (Eng.: We are all going to die). The lyrics state that all signs indicate that we are all going to die soon, possibly even today. Also a child sings some parts stating that this might also happen during brushing teeth, making it more funny but dark. The lyrics do not mention any lemmings, but the music video (available freely on YouTube[21]) shows some creatures which are clearly supposed to be lemmings dying in different situations. The video starts with the typical visualization of these lemmings lining up walking to and over a cliff (which, while falling to their deaths, happily sing about the party coming to an end).

Lemmings are main characters of the 2016 French animated television series Grizzy and the Lemmings. As a humorous allusion to the popular myth, the series frequently features lemmings jumping down from elevated platforms.

The objective of the game is to guide a group of anthropomorphised lemmings through a number of obstacles to a designated exit. To save the required number of lemmings to win, one must determine how to assign a limited number of eight different skills to specific lemmings that allow the selected lemming to alter the landscape, to affect the behaviour of other lemmings, or to clear obstacles to create a safe passage for the rest of the lemmings.

Lemmings is divided into a number of levels, grouped into four difficulty categories.[13] Each level begins with one or more trap doors opening from above, releasing a steady line of lemmings who all follow each other.[14] Levels include a variety of obstacles that prevent lemmings from reaching the exit, such as large drops, booby traps and pools of lava.[15]

The goal of each level is to guide at least a portion of the green-haired, blue-robed lemmings from the entrance to the exit by clearing or creating a safe passage through the landscape for the lemmings to use.[16][17] Unless assigned a special task, each lemming will walk in one direction ignoring any other lemming in its way (except Blockers), falling off any edges and turning around if they hit an obstacle they cannot pass.[18] A lemming can die in a number of ways: falling from a great height, drowning or falling into lava, disappearing off the bottom of the level map, being caught in a trap or fire, or being assigned the Bomber skill. Every level has a time limit; if the timer expires, the level ends and the player is evaluated on the number of lemmings rescued.

To successfully complete the level, the player must assign specific skills to certain lemmings. Which skills and how many uses of each are available to the player varies from level to level, and the player must assign the skills carefully to successfully guide the lemmings.[17] There are eight skills that can be assigned:[16] Climbers climb vertically though fall down if they hit an overhang. Floaters use a parachute to fall safely from heights. Bombers explode after a five-second timer, destroying themselves and any destructible landscape in close proximity, though not damaging other lemmings or traps. Blockers stand still and prevent other lemmings from passing; lemmings that hit a Blocker simply reverse direction. Builders build a stairway of 12 steps. Bashers, Miners and Diggers dig horizontally, diagonally downwards or directly downwards respectively.[13]

While the player is able to pause the game to inspect the level and status of the lemmings, skills can only be assigned in real-time. Lemmings are initially released at a rate predetermined by the level (from 1 to 99). The player can increase the rate as desired to a maximum of 99, and later decrease it down to, but not lower than, the initial rate. The player also has the option to "nuke" all the remaining lemmings on the screen, converting them to Bombers.[13] This option can be used to abort a level when in a no-win situation, remove any Blockers that remain after the remaining lemmings have been rescued, or end a level quickly once the required percentage of saved lemmings has been reached.[16]

The original Lemmings also has 20 two-player levels. This took advantage of the Amiga's ability to support two mice simultaneously, and the Atari's ability to support a mouse and a joystick simultaneously.[20] Each player is presented with their own view of the same map (on a vertically split screen), can only give orders to their own lemmings (green or blue), and has their own base. The goal is to get more lemmings (regardless of colour) into one's own base than the other player. Gameplay cycles through the 20 levels until neither player gets any lemmings home.[16]

The inspiration for gameplay came as a result of a simple animated character sprite in an 88 pixel box created by Dailly using Deluxe Paint[21] as part of development for Walker, then envisioned as a sequel to Blood Money.[20] Dailly was able to quickly produce an animated graphic showing his creations moving endlessly, with additional graphical improvements made by Gary Timmons and other members of the DMA Design team to help remove the stiffness in the animation. One member, Russell Kay, observed that "There's a game in that!", and later coined the term "lemmings" for these creations, according to Dailly. Allowing the creatures to move across the landscape was based on a Salamander weapon concept for Blood Money and demonstrated with the animations.[20] 041b061a72


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