quality posts: 17 Private Messages WootBot


It’s now 2014, a full decade since Jeopardy! made Ken Jennings mildly famous, but he’s still waging his tireless war against misinformation in our weekly “Debunker” column. Did you know that January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Or that David Seville of “The Chipmunks” fame was born on January 27? By the end of this month, of course, the most famous rodent-related day on the calendar, Groundhog Day, will be just hours away. In honor of our small woodland friends, most of whom are probably hibernating right now, Ken will spend the month of January gnawing away at all the rodent-related facts you only thought you knew.

The Debunker: Do Lemmings Commit Mass Suicide?

Chances are you know only one thing about the tiny rodents called lemmings: that they jump off cliffs to their watery deaths during migrations. This behavior is the only reason video games get made about lemmings. It’s their only cultural relevance whatsoever. They’re lucky, I suppose. Most of their cousins, like voles and marmots, have no metaphorical function in modern discourse whatsoever.


Unfortunately for you (but fortunately for the lemmings), the one thing you know about them is wrong. The myth about lemming suicide plunges is over sixty years old, but it’s bogus. The State of Alaska has a whole website on the subject (okay…) in which a zoologist blames the myth on the lemmings’ migratory behavior. The tiny mammals do move in large groups, and when the group reaches a natural barrier, like an icy river, a few lead lemmings may be inadvertently swept into the current by the rest of the pack. But that’s not the kind of kamikaze behavior we think of as classically “lemming-like.” It’s a tragic accident. In rock star terms: a “Brian Jones” rather than a “Kurt Cobain.”

A whole generation of nature buffs got its lemming knowledge from a 1958 Disney documentary called White Wilderness, which did indeed depict a pack of lemmings running across the Canadian snow and then leaping to their deaths in the ocean. “Over they go,” laments the narrator, “casting themselves out bodily into space!” In fact, a 1983 investigation by a Canadian TV producer revealed that the scenes (shot in landlocked Alberta!) had been faked. The lemmings in a “migrating” frenzy were actually being spun on a snowy turntable. And the ones seen “jumping” had actually been thrown off a cliff by a documentary crew! Wow. Say what you want about the manipulations of modern reality TV, but at least The Bachelor never threw dozens of women off a helicopter to their deaths.

Quick Quiz: DMA Design, the company that sold 20 million Lemmings video games in the 1990s, has had even more success since 1997, the year that it created what other game franchise?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.


quality posts: 21 Private Messages DrChops

"Kurt Cobain?" Oh man..

Too soon, Ken Jennings.

Too soon.

Petey Thaseatesmyne


quality posts: 0 Private Messages MacGuffin

Quick Quiz answer: Grand Theft Auto!


quality posts: 1109 Private Messages whatsamattaU

Great, now I have a weird image of Tom Hanks threatening to throw Emma Thompson off a roof for the sake of Mary Poppins. It's WAY too late (yes, I actually did see the movie), and I hope The Bachelor doesn't start getting any ideas....


quality posts: 0 Private Messages wackymother

Here's the Disney version:



quality posts: 68 Private Messages LarryLars
DrChops wrote:"Kurt Cobain?" Oh man..

Too soon, Ken Jennings.

Too soon.

It's ironic that Ken refers to Brian Jones' death as an accident. Lots of folks believe it was foul play.

Have you checked your Private Messages lately?


quality posts: 0 Private Messages dakillabee



quality posts: 0 Private Messages gwal01

In the words of the late Jim Jones. "Have a cup of my kool aid and we'll talk about it later".


quality posts: 2 Private Messages davidbowser
DrChops wrote:"Kurt Cobain?" Oh man..

Too soon, Ken Jennings.

Too soon.

He died in 1994. 20 years is too soon?


quality posts: 97 Private Messages daveinwarshington

Are you accusing Walt Disney of tossing lemmings off of a cliff??

How dare you!

I'd say there are lemmings with 'issues', causing severe mental distress and suicidal tendencies.