Brown lemmings are found in the tundra regions of Siberia and North America. They can be found in arctic tundra and in subarctic alpine tundra above treeline.
(Jarrell & Fredga, 1993; Rodgers & Lewis, 1986; Stenseth & Ims, 1993c; Wilson & Ruff, 1999)
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native )
Brown lemmings have stout bodies which do not appear as elongated as other microtine rodents. Total body length is 130-180mm, averaging 150mm. Sexes are similar in size, though males are 5-10% larger than females. They have small eyes, small ears hidden under the fur, blunt muzzles, and short tails (18-26mm, averaging 21mm, including hair at the tip). Their backs and sides are tawny brown to cinnamon, with a paler underbelly; unlike some other lemming species (e.g. most species of the genus Dicrostonyx), they do not change colour in the winter. Older adults may have a rusty-coloured patch on the rump.
(Stenseth & Ims, 1993c; Wilson & Ruff, 1999)
Range mass: 45 to 130 g.
Average mass: 80 g.
Habitat and Ecology
Brown lemmings live in northern treeless regions, usually in low-lying, flat meadow habitats dominated by graminoids and mosses. In summer, they live in areas rich in grasses and sedges, moving in winter to mossy areas with permanent snow cover or wet meadows. (Barkley et al., 1980; Rodgers & Lewis, 1985; Stenseth & Ims, 1993c; Wilson & Ruff, 1999)
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra
Brown lemmings eat only live plant parts. For most of the year, they eat fresh grasses, sedges, and mosses (except sphagnum). In summer in areas of wet tundra, their diet consists primarily of monocot leaves, making up 76 to 90%. In winter they eat frozen (but still green) plant material, the available 1-2cm of basal leaf sheaths, and moss shoots. Mosses can make up nearly one-half of their winter diet, and are also important in dry tundra, where mosses make up about 30% of their diet.
Because their food is so low in nutrients, they must eat quite a lot of it; they forage for 1-2 hours at a time, at roughly 3-hour intervals, throughout the 24-hour day.
(Barkley et al., 1980; Batzli, 1993; Wilson & Ruff, 1999)
Life History and Behavior
Brown lemmings become sexually mature quite early, normally at 5-6 weeks of age, but possibly as early as 3 weeks in some summers. Females can breed immediately after giving birth (post-partum estrus). They give birth to 2-13 young, after a 3 week gestation period. Litter size averages 8 in summer, 4 to 5 in early and late winter, and 3 in mid-winter. There appears to be no reproduction during the spring snow melt (May through early June) nor during the fall snow pack formation (September through early October).
Not much is known about their reproductive habits, but it is likely that females rear the young alone, since no males have been caught in a wild nest with young. Non-receptive captive females have been known to attack males. It is also likely that breeding is promiscuous, since males have larger home ranges than females, and there is substantial overlap in the home ranges of multiple individuals.
(Stenseth & Ims, 1993a; Wilson & Ruff, 1999)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Lemmus sibiricus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern
Although there is no recognized, immediate threat to the global population of brown lemmings, they are in danger of decline in years to come. The predicted warming of the Canadian climate, and predicted northward migration of Canadian biota, may result in a reduction of the range of the brown lemming, which is limited in the north by the Arctic Ocean. Brown lemmings are quite inflexible in such traits as diet and preferred terrain, so they would be particularly sensitive to such a loss of habitat.
(Kerr & Packer, 1998)
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
No information available.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
No information available.
North American brown lemming
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|This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (October 2012)|
The North American brown lemming, Lemmus trimucronatus, is a small North American lemming. Originally called the Siberian brown lemming, Lemmus sibiricus, they were later formed into two distinct species.
The lemming is brown in colour, with a reddish-brown back and rump, while the head and shoulders are grey. In the winter, the coat becomes longer and greyer. The female averages 12.5 cm (5.7 in) in length and weighs 58 g (2.4 oz), while the male averages 13 cm (5.9 in) and weighs 68 g (2.7 oz). Like other lemmings, it has small ears, short legs and a very short tail. The feet, both the soles and toes, are covered with bristles and are adapted for burrowing.
The lemming is found in the tundra areas of northern Canada (Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon) and Alaska. It is also found on the west coast of British Columbia almost as far south as Vancouver Island. They feed mainly on grass shoots and will also eat tundra grass, sedge, moss, bark, berries, lichens and roots. Predators include most carnivores and certain birds, and some evidence suggests caribou may sometimes eat them. In years when the brown lemming is scarce, some predators, such as the Arctic fox, may be unable to reproduce.
They live underground, in colonies, and may produce up to three litters each year, including under the snow in winter. With a gestation period of 23 days, the female will give birth from four to nine young. The brown lemming is not migratory and when overpopulated (and during mating season), they will fight amongst themselves. Bylot Island has several wetlands with shallow polygons and many types of mosses, grasses and sedges, which suits the North American brown lemming very well for several reasons (Rochefort et al. 1996). On Bylot Island they prefer to live in the South plain of the island and mostly live in the polygon fen, also known as wetlands, which mostly supports the graminoids that they rely on for food (Bety et al. 2002). During winter brown lemmings live in insulated burrows in the ground made out of sedges and grasses (Reid et al. 2011). They make their nests in these confined burrows underground because it increases insulation and allows them the to reproduce during winter (Duchesne et al. 2011). Studies on Bylot Island have shown that brown lemmings prefer to burrow under increasing snow depth rather than more dense. They believe that brown lemmings do this because the more snow depth the better energy is trapped and the number of nests increased. Deeper snow cover also protected lemmings and their nests from avian predators; mammalian predators can still forage for them but since their nests are so deep it decreases the of some predators ability to see, therefore, they are very well protected from predators (Duchesne et al. 2011; Reid et al. 2012). During summer, brown lemmings do not have the cover of snow and their territories become a lot more widespread across Bylot Island (Reid et al. 2012).
- Terrestrial Mammals of Nunavut by Ingrid Anand-Wheeler. ISBN 1-55325-035-4
- Berteaux D, Gauthier G, Gruyer N. 2010. Demography of two lemming species on Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada. Polar Biology. 33(6): 725-736.
- Bety J, Gauthier G, Korpimaki E, Giroux J. 2002. Shared Predators and Indirect Trophic Interactions: Lemming Cycles and Arctic-Nesting Geese. Journal of Animal Ecology. 71(1): 88-98.
- Duchesne D, Gauthier G, Berteaux D. 2011. Habitat selection, reproduction and predation of wintering lemmings in the Arctic. Oecologica. 167(4): 967-980.
- Gauthier G, Berteaux D, Bety J, Tarroux A, Therrien J, McKinnon L, Legagneux P, Cadieux M. 2011. The tundra food web of Bylot Island in a changing climate and the role of exchanges between ecosystems1. Ecoscience 18(3):223.
- Gruyer N, Gauthier G, Berteaux D. 2008. Cyclic dynamics of sympatric lemming populations on Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 86(8): 910-917.
- Legagneux P, Gauthier G, Berteaux D, Bety J, Cadieux M, Bilodeau F, Bolduc E, McKinnon L, Tarroux A, Therrien J, Morissette L, Krebs CJ. 2012. Disentangling trophic relationships in a High Arctic tundra ecosystem through food web modeling. Ecology. 93(7): 1707-1716.
- Oksanen T, Oksanen L, Dahlgren J, Olofsson J. 2008. Arctic lemmings, Lemmus spp. and Dicrostonyx spp.: integrating ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Evolutional Ecology Research. 10: 415-434.
- Reid DG, Bilodeau F, Krebs CJ, Gauthier G, Kenney AJ, Gilbert BS, Leung MCY, Duchesne D, Hofer E. 2011. Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment. Oecologica. 168: 935-946.
- Reid FA. 2006. Mammals of North America. 4th edition. New York (NY): Houghton Mifflin.
- Rochefort L, Beaulieu J, Gauthier G. 1996. The Growth Response of Graminoid Plants to Goose Grazing in a High Arctic Environment. Journal of Ecology. 84(6): 905-914.
- Watson A. 1956. Ecological Notes on the Lemmings Lemmus trimucronatus and Dicrostonyx groenlandicus in Baffin Island. Journal of Animal Ecology. 25(2): 289-302.
Siberian brown lemming
The Siberian brown lemming (Lemmus sibiricus) is a species of rodents in the family Cricetidae. It is found in Canada, the Russian Federation, and the United States. It does not hibernate during winter; it lives in burrows. It is prey to several animals, including the snowy owl and the Arctic fox.
- Musser, G. G. and M. D. Carleton. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. pp. 894–1531 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
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