Norway Lemming
Tunturisopuli Lemmus Lemmus
Common Name Norwegian Lemming
Range Northern Fennoscandia
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Rodentia
Family Cricetidae
Genus Lemmus
Species L. lemmus
Conservation Status
Least Concern

The Norway lemming or Norwegian lemming, (Lemmus lemmus), is a common species of lemming found in northern Fennoscandia. It is the only vertebrate species endemic to the region. The Norway lemming dwells in tundra and fells, and prefers to live near water. Adults feed primarily on sedges, grasses and moss. They are active at both day and night, alternating naps with periods of activity.


The Norway lemming has a bold pattern of black and yellow-brown, which is variable between individuals. It grows to a size of 155 mm. The tail is very short (10 - 19 mm). It weighs up to 130 g. The dental formula is 1/1, 0/0, 3/3.


The Norway lemming has a dramatic three- to four-year population cycle, in which the species' population periodically rises to unsustainable levels, leading to high mortality, which causes the population to crash again.

The Norway lemming spends the winter in nests under the snow. When the spring thaws begin and the snow starts to collapse, they must migrate to higher ground, where the snow is still firm enough for safety, or, more commonly, to lower ground, where they spend the summer months. In autumn, they must time their movement back to sheltered higher ground carefully, leaving after alpine snow cover is available for their burrows and nests, and before the lowlands are made uninhabitable by frost and ice.

When the seasons are particularly good (short winters without unexpected thaws or freezes, and long summers), the Norway lemming population can increase exponentially: they reach sexual maturity less than a month after birth, and breed year-round if conditions are right, producing a litter of six to eight young every three to four weeks. Being solitary creatures by nature, the stronger lemmings drive the weaker and younger ones off long before a food shortage occurs. The young lemmings disperse in random directions looking for vacant territory. Where geographical features constrain their movements and channel them into a relatively narrow corridor, large numbers can build up, leading to social friction, distress, and eventually a mass panic can follow, where they flee in all directions. Lemmings do migrate, and in vast numbers sometimes, but the deliberate march into the sea has yet to be verified.

According to genetic research, the Norwegian lemming survived the Pleistocene glaciation in western Europe, inhabiting various refugia which were not covered by ice. Alternatively, some researchers have contended the Norwegian lemming populations had arisen from ancestors of the present-day siberian brown lemming (Lemmus sibiricus), moving in after glaciers receded.

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