Critter Spotlight: Brown Lemming: Lemmus sibiricus
Today's critter spotlight is about a cute little mammal, known commonly as the brown lemming. Lemmings are rodents, similar in characteristics to voles and mice. There are 20 different species of lemming. The brown lemming, Lemmus sibiricus makes its home in the tundra regions of Siberia and North America, primarily Canada. Brown lemmings eat only live plant matter, which in winter in the tundra consists of frozen, but still living moss.
Lemmings are vital to tundra ecosystems. They are a keystone species. A keystone species is any organism, that if removed, can change the entire biodiversity of that ecosystem. Lemmings serve as prey for many other animals. These animals are directly impacted by lemming populations. One of these animals is the snowy owl, which was featured in a critter spotlight two weeks ago! Snowy owls, the caribou/reindeer from last week's critter spotlight, and lemmings all call the tundra ecosystem home!
Lemmings reproduce very quickly. A female lemming can have up to 13 babies at a time, with a gestation period of only 3 weeks. That means that just about every 3 weeks, a female lemming can reproduce. This means a lot of food for hungry predators like snowy owls.
There is a myth that lemmings will follow each other off cliffs. This is untrue. However, lemmings do follow each other in migration. During years where lemming populations are high, some lemmings will migrate to warmer areas in search of food. They will follow each other and sometimes even cross water bodies to get to areas where live vegetation is available. The drawing below, capturing lemming migration, comes from a Popular Science magazine from 1877!
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The snow is still on the ground! I hope you will get outside and explore.