passage attempted; and rivers, however deep and rapid, are forded, impediments in the water being as boldly faced as those on shore. They have been known to pass over a boat, and to climb on to the deck of a ship, passing, without stop or stay, into the water on the further side.
Their natural instincts are not in abeyance during this migration, as females are frequently seen accompanied by their young, and carrying in their teeth some one which had succumbed to the fatigues of the march, which might not be stayed until the helpless one was recruited.
Foxes, lynxes, weasels, kites, owls, etc., hover on their line of march and destroy them in hundreds. The fish in the rivers and lakes lay a heavy toll upon them, and vast numbers are drowned, and die by other accidents in "flood and field;" but the survivors, impelled by some irresistible instinct, press onward with no thought of stopping, until they lose themselves in the sea, sinking in its depths, as they become exhausted, in such numbers that for miles their bodies, thrown up by the tide, lie putrefying on the shore. Comparatively few ever return to their native haunts, but there can be no doubt that some do so, as they have been seen on the return, pursuing their backward journey in the same fearless and determined manner as their advance.
The peasants witness this dread incursion with terror. Until lately they believed that the vast horde was rained from heaven as a punishment for their sins, and during the time of their passage they used to assemble in the churches, the priests reciting prayers specially composed for such visitations. It was also believed that the reindeer ate them, and that they so poisoned the ground they passed over that they would not eat on it for a considerable time. As we have seen, the reindeer bites them with its teeth in its agony and terror, and the complete sweep they make of every blade of grass on their line of march satisfactorily accounts for its declining for a time to graze upon it.
A recent writer tells us that, in addition to this wholesale migration, which takes place about twice during a quarter of a century, smaller migrations occur, in which many are killed, while others live to return to their haunts; but as there are several species of lemmings spread over the northern regions of both the Old and the New World, he may allude to another variety than the one we have been dealing with, which is the Mus lemmus of Linnæus and Pallas.
The superstitious notions and wonderful reports once prevalent with regard to the lemming, as recorded by old writers, are not without interest. Olaus Magnus says: