The top nature hoax—according to Animal Planet, the popular TV channel created by the BBC and Discovery Communications—is the suicidal nature of lemmings. Many people today, influenced by films such as the early Walt Disney documentaries of the 1950s and 1960s, still believe that on the Arctic tundra, lemmings running to a cliff and flinging themselves off is one of those flukes of nature.
The truth is that every three or four years in some regions, the lemming population drops to near extinction; then skyrockets again. This ebb and flow in their numbers is the result of a mass migration, which may include jumping off of cliffs into the water and swimming great distances to the point of exhaustion—even death.
Watch the first video segment below, from the 1958 Walt Disney documentary, White Wilderness, Part II. In great part, it’s how the lemming-suicide myth began.
In the second video, you’ll see how similar film footage was created. Captured lemmings were placed on a turntable to simulate the migration and chased over a cliff into the sea.
Although we’d like to think we’re more sophisticated today and skeptical than we were a few decades ago, still many animal photographs, posters, videos and “documentaries” are staged.
Just don’t tell me that Jimmy the Groundhog (I live in Wisconsin—sorry, Punxsutawney Phil!) can’t predict the arrival of spring.