Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Chinese Fighting Crickets

Thanks to the Christmas break I've had the chance to read a few books such as "Bugs in the System" by May R. Berenbaum. In the chapter on behavior there is a short section on Chinese Fighting Crickets. Being the skeptic that I am, I immediately thought that this was worthy of the Uncyclopedia. However, a bit more research backed up the fact that the Chinese have been running this sport for many centuries.

May writes, "As soon as immature crickets are old enough to be sexed, males are caged in elaborate houses and solicitously fed vegetables, fruits, chopped fish, and event honey as a tonic."

The crickets engage in a multi-stage battle starting with antennae fencing, then displays of spread mandibles, leading into interlocking of the mandibles and finishing up with wrestling. The contest can be stopped at any stage by one of the crickets retreating. The losing contestant won't fight for 24hrs unless tossed in the air by it's trainer.

It makes flea circuses in comparison look positively calm affairs.


May R. Berenbaum: Bugs in the System, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Jin, Xing-Bao: Chinese Cricket Culture, Shanghai Institute of Entomology, Academia Sinica

Mark Shwartz: Will fighting crickets unlock the mystery of human depression?, Stanford University

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Flea Quotes

Quotes Daddy has some excellent Flea quotes including my favourites.

Mark Twain: "Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a congressman can"
Shakespeare: "That's a valiant flea that dares eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion."

Friday, 5 December 2008

Fleas don't always jump

I was watching the "Invasion of the body scratchers" yesterday with Mike Leahy and it just happened to be the one where he looks at ticks and fleas. One thing that was obvious from the section on fleas was that they don't actually spend all of the time jumping. Perhaps, Fleas jumping is just something they do when a new food source (person or animal) arrives in the area they are dormant.

Amoret Whitaker from the Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum provided some clarification.

"Most film footage of fleas probably shows them in isolation, when they are likely to do a fair amount of jumping, as they are trying to find a new host to settle on. However, once located on a suitable host, they will move around by crawling/walking through the hair/fur, and are unlikely to do much jumping unless disturbed, or the host dies, in which case they will try to jump onto a new (live) host. They will spend most of the time on the host itself, although adult fleas will also be found in the host's "nest" eg. cat basket, bird's nest etc."

Amoret Whitaker (nee Brandt) is a renowned flea expert and responsible for the recently updated and catchily named "RES Handbook Volume 1 Part 16: Fleas (Siphonaptera) 2nd Edition" she is currently working on Forensic Entomology.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Whos fleas are these?

In the flea circus culture section of the flea circus research library the following poem was attributed to Anon.

Big fleas have little fleas,
Apon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so, ad infinitum.

However various sources claim that it is Dutch, from the 1872 A. De morgan Budget of Paradoxes 377 or Dean Swift. Following up on the Budget of Paradoxes, that also points to Jonathan Swift with some slightly different wording.

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so _ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on

It's also mentioned in the Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources By James Wood 1893 and The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art by Robert Walsh, Eliakim Littell, John Jay Smith - 1835.

William Henry Hudson in 1894 credits the poem to De Morgan in An Introduction to the Philosophy of Herbert Spencer, with a Biographical.

Yet another variation accredited to Swift as

“So, naturalists observe, a flea - Hath smaller fleas that on him prey; And these have smaller still to bite 'em; And so proceed ad infinitum”

I'll update the culture page with these interesting findings.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The flea circus as a teaching resource

As previously mentioned I regularly trawl the web and blogs for people discussing flea circuses. A recent article came to my attention that raised the suggestion that flea circuses were not relevant to teachers.

So here are my thoughts on why it is relevant and some suggestions for teaching ideas. I'd like to point out that I'm not actually a teacher so you may need to adjust these ideas to meet the age range of your students and to meet the needs of your curiculum.


You’ve got magnification, magnetism (as used in lots of humbug style circuses), springs, syphoning (the flea is of the order siphonaptera), machining small items such as watch cogs (the first flea circuses were made by jewelers and watch makers), sensing heat and detecting CO2 (which is how fleas find their hosts) and even Nanotechnology although just plain old micromaching would be fine for a flea circus.


Look at Flea Circus Books and Flea Circus films discuss how the flea circus is used as a metaphor and how there is often a mysterious or sinister connection. Use the flea circus to introduce students to rhyming e.g. Freds Friendly Flea Finale. The British Council suggests that the flea circus can be used as a comprehension exercise.

Foreign Languages

What is a flea circus in different languages? Use the idea of a flea circus performance to introduce directions such as left, right, up down etc. See Portland Secondary College's "Le Cirque des impossibilités" project.


In my research I've been looking into historical flea circuses. I used genealogy techniques such as censuses, births, deaths and marriage records, church records and newspaper reports with regards to tracking down L.Bertolotto. Many towns had flea circuses, see if there was one in yours. Look at how social changes reduced flea populations and discuss what may have reduced peoples visits to shows such as flea circuses.

Look at the environmental conditions needed to sustain fleas and how that compares to other animals. Show how fleas and other parasites have transmitted diseases such as the plague.


Historically the flea circus was used to enact political satires of the time, also see the Death of a Flea Circus Director film.


For a junior audience a flea circus performance could be done. For teenagers there are many books and films that reference flea circuses and could be used as short plays. The ideas misdirection and comic timing can be examined.


There are many flea circus songs and music that can be used and analysed. Often the flea is expressed in staccato notes and stanzas often with big "jumps" in pitch. The Ukulele in Hawaiian means "jumping Flea".