Created By: MadMan400096 on May 18, 2013 Last Edited By: Alucard on April 11, 2016

Suicidal Lemmings

Lemmings off themselves by way of jumping off of cliffs.

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Rodents in fiction tend to have specialized roles. The mouse steals food and spreads disease while avoiding cats and other predators, the rat does pretty much the same thing, the beaver builds dams, the squirrel acts nutty, and the hamster and guinea pig act as adorable house pets. One rodent, the lemming, has a very special role: killing themselves.

While it is true that real life lemmings jump off cliffs, it's done for the purpose of migration. It is not the mass suicide that the media claims it to be. That doesn't stop writers from milking the urban legend for all its worth.
Film - Live Action
  • The Disney documentary White Wilderness is notorious for supposedly codifying this trope. However, it's a case of Beam Me Up, Scotty!, as the actual film averts it by flat out saying that the cliff-jumping was probably less suicide and more migration (which was on the money).

Video Games
  • Unsurprisingly, one can make the titular creature of Lemmings do this.

Western Animation
  • Parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch parodying nature documentaries, where lemmings gain the title of "Nature's Retards" for not only the typical behavior, but also running right into the path of moving cars, jumping into a blender, and not using condoms.
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • May 18, 2013
    Comic Strip
    • Parodied in a Far Side cartoon featuring one lemming among a horde running into the sea wearing a life preserver.
  • May 18, 2013
    I feel like this doesn't need to be specific to lemmings or rodents. Just "people metaphorically (or literally) shoot themselves in the foot and end up killing themselves."

    The name is a misnomer, as the description suggests, and I think it could use a better name, though lemmings' reputation would justify using them in the name (the misnomer is that the lemmings are actually killing themselves while the description says that they actually do not do that). Lemming Migration Syndrome or something; I'm put off by the syndrome (though it's still on the table), so...: Lemming Death, Lemming Migration Death, Killing Oneself In The Foot (I like LMD the most, though).
  • May 19, 2013
    For the Disney film, the crew actually threw the lemmings off the cliff themselves using a turntable. That lemmings jump off cliffs is simply a myth. The closest truth to it is that during migrations they sometimes cross bodies of water en masse, and some of them drown. See the Other Wiki's page.

    Comic Books
  • May 19, 2013
    ^^ The name isn't a misnomer. This is a trope about lemmings jumping off cliffs, which is a popular trope. It happens to be completely untrue, which is of course important to mention in the description.
  • May 19, 2013
  • May 19, 2013
    western animation* The Christmas special The Story of Santa Claus had the two elf characters trying to decide what should pull the sleigh. Aurora can't remember the problem with lemmings until they start moving.
    Aurora: I think I remember the bad thing about lemmingssssss *the sleigh goes over a cliff* They like to run off cliffs.

    • Newspaper comics
    Garfield meets a mouse with a lemming mother: here and here
  • May 19, 2013
    ^^^I just meant that the lemmings are not "suicidal"; the ones in the back don't see that there's a cliff and push the ones in front off the edge.
  • May 19, 2013
    I remember an old written sci-fi story which had some aliens possessing Earth creatures, which eventually evolved into mammals, but they possessed the wrong species and all that was left of their memory was rushing to some place now under the ocean. The punchline, of course, being that they're lemmings.
  • May 20, 2013
    • The Discworld has a relative of the lemming called the Vermine. Due to being descended from those rodents who were a bit more careful about leaping off cliffs than their cousins, they now only leap from very small pebbles, abseil down cliffs and build small rafts to cross rivers.
  • May 20, 2013
    On Chicken Little, there is a news report on the panic caused by the title character focusing on a group of lemmings who, unable to find a cliff, start jumping off park benches.
  • May 23, 2013
    • The first National Lampoon stage show was called Lemmings after this. It parodied Woodstock.
    • On Ducktales the boys get Uncle Scrooge a pet lemming, who runs off to Norway to migrate carrying Scrooge's locket (which has the combination to the money bin) with him.
  • March 14, 2014
    Bump From the Grave
  • April 12, 2016
    Newspaper Comics
    • The comic strip Pearls Before Swine will sometimes have a joke about a group of lemmings about to throw themselves off a cliff.
  • March 15, 2014
    Lemmings and their alleged suicidal habits are the Trope Namers for Gullible Lemmings.
  • March 15, 2014
    One of the voting incentive comics for The Order Of The Stick shows a "Dire Lemming", which instead of attacking Roy runs past him and off a cliff.
  • April 11, 2016
    Actor Alan Arkin once wrote a book called "The Lemming Condition," the plot of which pretty much embodies this trope. In fact, the book's title might be considered the trope crowner/trope namer, should it come to that.

    I agree with Dun Dun in that this trope should not be limited to literal lemmings only, but to any instance where a character or group of beings is put into a trance and compelled to walk mindlessly toward their doom.
  • April 11, 2016
    • In Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist, Freddy saves the town from a horde of stampeding snails by diverting them into a chasm. The narration notes that they "look just like little lemmings, marching over that cliff" and the cutscene of snails falling to their doom is a pretty obvious Shout Out to Lemmings.