Genuine Flea Circus


meA few years ago I became interested in flea circuses (see old, and somewhat embarrassing, photo on left).

I ended up putting together a talk about the topic, performing with a mechanical circus, and writing an article on the history of them (click the ‘history’ tab).

The original Victorian circuses used genuine fleas, but the art form has all but died out because of a lack of performers (mainly caused by improvements in hygiene over the years).

So, imagine how excited I was to discover that some people were once again staging genuine flea circuses. There is a video of their activities after the break and the footage of their performing insects is amazing (thanks Sid)!


27 comments on “Genuine Flea Circus

  1. Liz says:

    Something about this video bugged me. 🙂 Did you see the contact name was Tim MANTIS? Perhaps he should be listed over on the NAME GAME blog entry. And are those the same glasses that were recently broken? We have found the culprits – your glasses were flea-bitten!

  2. Tim Jones says:

    Cool. Reminds me of the early juggling fly films. See NewSci vid at 1:46.

  3. Sage says:

    I can’t stop scratching now.

  4. It’s good to see a performance in the UK. I believe Tim’s going to be giving a talk later in the year.

    There’s quite a few flea circuses on youtube both real and humbug. My favourites are the Oktoberfest one and the Race of the Agitators by Walt Noon.

  5. Berber Anna says:

    I wonder if those fleas survived the copper wire that seems to be glued to their bodies…

    On the one hand, I think flea circuses are cool. I love Victorian oddities. There’s a pair of dressed up fleas (bride and groom) at my favorite antiques store — I’d love to buy those (if they weren’t above my budget, at 80 euros for the two).
    On the other hand, gluing things to living insects seems cruel. And I know they’re just fleas, and I have no problem with outright killing the fleas on my cats, but I hate to see any living thing suffer. So I wonder if they actually are suffering, I guess…

    • lauren says:

      Hi there Berber Anna,
      Could you please provide the name of this antique shop you saw the dressed up fleas in? I am highly interested in them purchasing them for my Grandpa!
      I look forward to your reply,
      Thanks Lauren

  6. Ellen says:

    This is so cruel, I can hardly look at it.

    • Erika says:

      You must be joking! We kill fleas and other insects all of the time and don’t give it a second thought. Also, it is obvious that they love it – otherwise they would refuse to perform and wouldn’t be smiling like that.

  7. The wire is simply wrapped around them glue is not needed. The fleas are harnessed in wire for life and perform and feed that way. Ties them too tight and they can’t feed.

    The dressed fleas are called pulgas vestidas.

  8. Berber Anna says:

    Cool. The ones I saw don’t seem to be Mexican, though — the label on the box is in Dutch, albeit old-fashioned Dutch (different spelling). Well, unless they were imported before they were labeled, of course.

    So the wire doesn’t actually bother the fleas? That’s good to know. What kind of fleas are they? Human fleas aren’t that common anymore, right?

    • Cat fleas are used now as they are more common than human fleas. They are also not fussy as to who/what they feed from.

      I wonder when people started using cat fleas? I’ve heard that Maria Cardoso used them but I don’t know about earlier ones. Will have to get a flea expert looking at the film footage on pathe news and from the Torp flea circus in Tivoli Gardens in the 1960s.

  9. englishcoach says:

    I wonder if Professor Cockerill feeds his protegés himself? If he doesn’t, then there must be a poor creature that provides the necessary. Now that’s the cruelty. Itchy.
    From personal experience, I’d just like to point out that the terms ‘human flea’ or ‘cat flea’ are purely descriptive of their usual habitat, and in no way normative. As FleaCircusDirector says: cat fleas are not fussy as to who/what they feed from. Indeed.

  10. Jacqueline says:

    This is the most bizzare topic I’ve ever read. A discussion on the use of fleas for entertainment. I wonder how one gets involved in such a career, but then again there are stranger ones.

    • Nowadays, most flea circus performances are started by people such as magicians and street entertainers who have a humbug flea circus act. A few take the next step and start using real fleas. For those interested in starting up I can recommend getting hold of Walt Noon’s DVD.

      There’s also a few people of a scientific bent who get an entry via their entomological interests such as Tim.

  11. Rex says:

    Those fleas have such a tortured attitude about them.

  12. Alex Pryce says:

    Hmm reading some comments on here and on the youtube page it’s conjuring up a few debates.

    Personally I have no issue with flea circuses in theory, training animals to do things for us has always been part of mankinds evolution, to argue with it would be pointless.

    However, there are ways to do it. I don’t like the use of the copper wire- glued or not. If it were are larger animal we would call it humiliating and cruel. Replace the flea wiht a tiny baby hamster and then try and say it isn’t cruel.

    It is wonderful to see some of these old victorian entertianments come back, I just don’t like the method, its simply the use of the copper wire and the restraint. Otherwise they are truely fascinating. I adore the Victorians.

  13. Tim Jones says:

    I’m thinking something similar could be done with bed bugs; a species still much deserving of pay-back.

    Everything would need to be scaled down of course. Little carbon nano-tube harnesses for them etc.

  14. Tim Jones says:

    On reading the latest issue of the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle from May 1886 – as you do – I note fleas were trained to have the serious ‘jump’ knocked out of them via a spell in small glass jars. Over-lively candidate fleas, placed in said jars, would repeatedly bang their heads on the containers lid until they learned never again to unfold their legs in such a hurry. Product – a manageable flea. Then as now, top-notch journalism.

  15. Tim says:

    How fantastic to see so much interest in the flea circus! I made the video last year to show my initial experiments with performing fleas, as part of an ongoing project to document the history and techniques of the genuine flea circus.

    The issue of cruelty to fleas is nothing new – debates date back as far as the 19th century when the flea circus first became popular, and – believe it or not – the issue has even been raised in the House of Commons.

    The fleas are well-fed once harnessed, live out their natural life with a ready source of food (my arm) and are not harmed in the process – the survival record for a captive flea fed on human blood is in fact well over 1 year. To quote a number of past flea circus proprietors: ‘I live off them, and they live off me!’ Think of the harness as being like a collar around a dog’s neck, a saddle on a horse or a yoke on oxen.

    If we’re talking about cruelty to insects, I’m afraid we’re all guilty. I can’t think of a single crop-plant that doesn’t have its insect pests eliminated by some tortuous means!

    I’ll be giving a talk on flea circuses late this year at the Natural History Museum in London. Hope to see you there!

  16. Flea Meds says:

    Good thing…..
    I appreciate flea circuses ………
    Because people can easily understand what you are trying to tell by circuses. The information spreading throgh circus is easy than explaining to all……
    You done a great job…..

  17. andy c says:

    you can buy a flea circus here i want one!!

  18. Emma says:

    Elimination of pests does not give suffering for one year.
    This is cruel, no doubt about it.

  19. Gemma says:

    I can’t believe people are supporting this. No matter how little something is, it still has organs and it can feel pain! This is disgusting and sick. It is so cruel. I truly feel so sorry for the poor little guy

  20. Paritus says:

    ilginç bir çalışma olmuş 🙂 incelenmeli

  21. Martin says:

    Practically all this discussion on Siri amazes me. How can anybody rightly refer to a fairly uncomplicated voice recognition software program as artificial intelligence?

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