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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/360

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

partaken of its flesh, speaks of it as a most valuable addition to their scanty cuisine. When captured young, it is easily tamed and becomes an interesting pet. We saw one once in the possession of a Montrose skipper, which allowed itself to be handled and fed out of the hand, but it had an awkward habit of fixing its incisors into the fingers of an incautious admirer on the smallest provocation. During summer they swarm with vermin to such an extent that, although when examined singly they can scarcely be discerned by the naked eye, they change the color of the animal to a dull red.

The lemming multiplies so rapidly that in the course of ten or twelve seasons food becomes scarce, and, on the approach of some winter when the food-question has become one of life or death, the overstocked market is relieved by an expedient unparalleled in its nature among four-footed animals. This singular little creature is so local in its habits, that, unless under the circumstances we are about to narrate, it never leaves the mountain-regions to establish itself on the plains, where food is more abundant.

The inhuman suggestion of a modern writer that our paupers should be packed into rotten ships, which should be sent out to sea and scuttled, is something like the method adopted by the lemmings themselves to avert the famine which threatens to annihilate the entire species. When the time for the settlement of the question of partial extermination for the benefit of the race, or total extermination by starvation, can no longer be delayed, they assemble in countless thousands in some of the mountain valleys leading into the plains, and, the vast army of martyrs being selected, they pour across the country in a straight line, a living stream, often exceeding a mile in length, and many yards in breadth, devouring every green thing in their line of march; the country over which they have passed looking as if it had been ploughed, or burned with fire. They march principally by night, and in the morning, resting during the day, but never seek to settle in any particular locality, however abundant food may be in it, for their final destination is the distant sea, and nothing animate or inanimate, if it can be surmounted, retards the straight onward tide of their advance.

When the reindeer gets enveloped in the living stream, they will not even go round its limbs, but bite its legs until, in its agony and terror, it plunges madly about, crushing them to death in hundreds, and even killing them with its teeth. If a man attempts to stem the living torrent, they leap upon his legs; and, if he lay about him with a stick, they seize it with their teeth, and hold on to it with such determined pertinacity that he may swing it rapidly round his head without compelling them to loosen their hold. If a corn or hay rick be in the way, they eat their way through it; and, on arriving at the smooth face of a rock, they pass round it, forming up in close column again on the other side. Lakes, however broad, are boldly entered, and the