Lemming, a small rodent that inhabits northern latitudes. Lemmings grow to a length of six inches (15 cm), including a one-inch (2.5-cm) tail. They have stocky bodies covered with thick, coarse fur. Long, spadelike claws on the forefeet are used to dig shallow burrows. A chamber in the burrow contains a grassy nest, where the female bears her litter of three to four young. The female is capable of producing up to 10 litters a year. Both parents take care of the young. Lemmings feed on vegetation, primarily sedges, grasses, berries, bark, leaves, roots, and lichen.

LemmingsLemmings use their long, spadelike claws to dig shallow burrows.
Brown Lemmings

inhabit alpine and arctic tundra in northern Scandinavia and Russia. They are brownish-gray above and light gray or buff below. Brown lemmings are known for their migrations, which occur every two to five years when the population exceeds the food supply. Large numbers of lemmings die during these migrations. It is commonly but incorrectly believed that they drown in the sea while trying to swim across it. Most deaths during migrations are from starvation or from drowning while trying to swim across rivers and lakes.

Bog Lemmings

inhabit marshes and bogs in Alaska, Canada, and the northeastern United States. They are grayish white with streaks of cinnamon, yellow, and black.

Collared Lemmings

inhabit tundra in Canada, northern Europe, and Greenland. They are distinguished from other lemmings by the tawny band of fur across the throat. They turn white in winter, blending in with the snow. The Labrador collared lemming, or Hudson Bay collared lemming, is found in northern Quebec, in Labrador, and on the islands in Hudson Bay. It is buff gray with a dark stripe down the back. Its fur is so thick that it completely covers the small ears. It builds a nest in a burrow. This species of lemming is killed for its pelt, which is used to trim parkas.

Where Do Lemmings Live?

Lemmings live in the cold, northern parts of the world. Most lemmings live in the Arctic tundra, a cold, dry area without trees in northern Alaska, Canada, Europe, and Asia. There lemmings make their homes in burrows they dig in the snow.

A lemming has no trouble staying warm in the cold. Its thick, furry coat traps body heat inside. Some species of lemmings have fur on the bottoms of their feet. The fur protects their feet from the snow and ice.

When snow falls and cold winds blow, some lemmings lie flat on the ground. The snow actually helps keep the lemmings warm. It helps block the wind and holds the warmth near their bodies. The lemmings also flip long, stiff hairs over their ears. Like earmuffs, the hairs help keep the lemming’s ears warm. Other lemmings simply crawl into their burrows to stay warm.

Lemmings belong to the subfamily Microtinae of the family Muridae of the order Rodentia. Brown lemmings belong to the genus Lemmus; bog lemmings to the genus Synaptomys; collared lemmings to the genus Dicrostonyx. The Labrador collared lemming is D. hudsonius.