Lemmings, amazing inhabitants of the tundra, have long attracted the attention of scientists by their migrations and incredible fecundity.
These small rodents of the hamster family play a very important role in the balance of the tundra.
Paradoxically, but without these small animals in the conditions of the north, many species of animals and birds that inhabit these harsh places could not exist. The reason is that lemmings are the main type of food for northern predators.
Looking at these nimble animals, you would not think that they have a hard life. These either mice or hamsters are constantly on the move. They are very active, all the time running somewhere, in a hurry, and all the time chewing.
Moreover, lemmings do not eat as they please, but according to a schedule. For about an hour they eat intensively. Then for an hour and a half to two hours they hide and sleep. Then again, one hour of eating and two hours of rest. In between these important processes for them, they still manage to look for food, take a walk, and engage in life-extension procedures. But the main thing is food. And so all the year-round, at any time of the year, summer or winter.
What do lemmings eat in summer?
They are not fussy about food and are nearly omnivores. But their diet has to change depending on the season. This is because there is a huge difference between summer and winter weather conditions in the Tundra. Summers are short but warm and sometimes even hot, and then the tundra is covered with a carpet of vegetation. This time of year is a free-for-all for lemmings.
In summer, lemmings eat everything that grows around them. These are herbaceous plants and berries: cloudberries, blueberries, bilberries, veronicas, bramble, which are abundant in this region in summer. Lemmings can eat sedge, mushrooms, seeds of plants, and if they are caught, any insects. If the year is good, lemmings multiply rapidly due to the abundance of food, and as a consequence, the increase in their numbers ensures good nutrition for all wildlife, both animals and birds, because lemmings are food for them. But summer in these parts is very short and cold days come quickly.
What do lemmings eat in winter?
In August, the lush vegetation dies out, and in autumn the tundra is covered with shriveled grass, and in some places, it becomes almost naked. Only in the lowlands the areas remain covered with lichen. Now the menu of lemmings is considerably reduced. The short northern summer ends and the long winter sets in. And now these polar region aborigines have to start eating the so-called bottom-feed.
The main diet at this time is the reindeer moss, but in fact, it’s not even moss and not a plant at all, but a peculiar lichen which in principle belong to a special category of organisms, but it is quite nutritious. Therefore, with a large amount of moss, the lemmings are not in danger of starvation. Besides lichen, lemmings feed on bark on bushes, rake snow and get to roots of various plants, gnaw birch bark on trunks of dwarf birch or polar willow. Green or peat mosses are also a great help in lemming nutrition.
They gladly eat eggshells from abandoned bird nests. In places where reindeer graze, old antlers dropped by reindeer are left under the snow, which lemmings easily cope with, crushing them into small pieces with their powerful front incisors. When cold and snowstorms come, lemmings don’t hibernate but are active. Under the snow in the mossy marsh litter or inside bumps, they arrange spacious burrows with deep passages, make stores there, and breed. Digging tunnels under the snow, they extract plant roots and thus replenish their ration; on warm days, they go outside.
Lemmings eat a lot of food. An adult animal can eat twice as much food as it weighs in a day. Therefore, it is not surprising that lemmings sometimes devastate places where they live. It doesn’t happen often, once every few years. But when that happens, lemmings are forced to look for new places to settle. That’s when the famous mass lemming migrations happen. First one at a time, then in huge living avalanches, lemmings move in one direction known only to them, devouring everything on their way. If they encounter bodies of water on their way, this does not stop them, they throw themselves into the water and swim to the other shore, and then move on. And although a large part of them die during such crossings, it saves the lives of the survivors.
Old-timers of the north say that during one of these migrations, clouds of lemmings passed through one village, eating everything in their way. After that, the village ceased to exist. Well, to what extent this is true is unknown, but the periods of lemming migration become a feast for all the inhabitants of the tundra because they become easy to prey on the way. Four-legged and feathered predators pounce on the unthinking lemmings during the transition and devour them by the thousands and feed them to the slaughter for their young. In such years the number of birds and animals in the polar region increases several times. So, at the cost of their lives, these animals help to save many of the inhabitants of the far north.
How to keep lemmings and what to feed?
Since lemmings look quite cute, in recent years there have been many people willing to get them as pets.
However, not everyone manages to keep this animal in the home for a long time. The main thing is to create their usual conditions.
Keep them in a spacious cage, as they are very active, they can frolic around the clock.
On the floor of the cage must be placed volumetric covering, from which they could make a nest and make their passages. It can be dry moss or twigs, but surely natural, synthetic materials must not be put down because they might try to use it for food.
It is better to keep them in pairs. They are used to coolness, so the cage should not be in a heated room.
Since they are undemanding in their nutrition, they can be fed with whatever is left from the host’s table.
But in addition to that, their diet must include:
- Breadcrumbs – almost all kinds of cereals.
- Fresh and dried fruits and vegetables.
- Whole grains and herbs.
Keep in mind that although lemmings look like the most ordinary hamsters, they are far from being so friendly. They are quite capable to pounce and even bite. Besides, at the period of puberty, they are rather boisterous and you will hardly manage to tame them. Still, while lemmings live about two years in the wild, they can last about four years in a proper home environment. Know, though, that they won’t let you get bored, day or night. Good luck!