Monday, 20 December 2010

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures - Size Matters

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have been filmed earlier this month and will be shown on BBC Four on 28, 29 and 30 December at 8pm. Dr Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist from King's College London, will
explore the extraordinary world of size and scale.

There are ants mentioned in the description for the first show and I'm really hoping that there will be fleas too. If not I'll publish my own findings on why a human sized flea would not be able to jump over St Pauls in the New Year.


It has been confirmed that there is a good flea demonstration in the lecture by Tim Cockerill. Fleas generously provided by the hedgehogs at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital


Thursday, 16 December 2010

A flea in her ear - La Puce à l'oreille

The Old Vic is showing a new play called "A flea in her ear". I say new but it was actually written in 1907 by Georges Feydeau. The play is a translation of a French Farce and from what the reviews are saying it's worth going if that's your cup of tea.

What interested me was the phrase, "a flea in her ear", according to one user on WordReference it's an old idiom going back to at least the mid-fifteenth century. Yahoo answers suggests, the real meaning of "mettre la puce à l'oreille" is "to arouse someone's suspicion", "plant the seeds of doubt", which sounds about right. There are suggestions in the press that the phrase is connected to "bee in her bonnet" which I have to disagree with although the free dictionary does suggest an alternative use of that phrase which is consistent with "A flea in her ear".

Monday, 22 November 2010

Pulgas Vestidas for sale

Your chance to own some dressed fleas. These tiny figures are made with a flea as the head. This particular pair have a wedding theme and are dressed as a bride and groom and are just 1/8 inch tall. The box contain the couple is just 1/4 inch tall and is mounted in a frame with a velvet surround along with a 1cent coin to show the scale.

If you are not rich enough to purchase your own fleas then there are some exhibits around the globe that also have these historical creations on show.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Flea Suppliers

One of the questions I get asked a lot is where can you buy live fleas. Unfortunately I've not found any such suppliers here in the UK and the general recommendation is to talk to a vet and get some cat fleas.

However I've just found out that Blades Biological can sell you a preserved dog flea.

Blades also do prepared flea slides and sets of preserved specimens.

Fisher Scientific also do slides with fleas.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Conditioning of insects

A recent edit to the wikipedia article on flea circus suggested that fleas can't be trained or conditioned because they have no brain. It also suggested that some fleas are more inclinded to jump and others to walk so it's a case of selection rather than conditioning. This of course contradicts the long running parable of fleas in a jar being conditioned not to jump and once the lid is taken off then the fleas still jump no higher than before the lid was removed.

Firstly to address the question of does a flea have a brain, Richard Fox comments, "The nervous system consists of a dorsal, anterior brain of two or three pairs of ganglia, circumenteric connectives, and a paired ventral nerve cord with segmental ganglia and segmental peripheral nerves.". A bit of explaination of what that means can be found in this article on Brain Evolution which sees a link between the number of sensory organs and brain power.

With regards to the use of those senses and how they affect the behaviour of fleas aspect there has also been some research done, by Michael Dryden aka "Dr Flea".

"Contrast of a moving dark cylinder against a light backdrop was visually attractive to the fleas. No visual orientation was demonstrated under red light. Increasing the complexity of patterns on the target did not increase its attractiveness. Orientation and attraction to a stationary heated target was demonstrated, but required the additional stimulation of air movements to evoke a directed jump. Light, CO2, and air currents stimulated locomotion."

Osbrink, W.L.A. and Rust, M.K., 1985. Cat flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae): factors influencing host finding behavior in the laboratory. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am., 78:29 34.

Walt Noon the magician, inventor and flea circus performer has also reports seeing this behavior.

Apart from the flea circuses there has not been much research into the actual conditioning of fleas how there has been some for other creatures.

Insect Conditioning

Conditioning of moths

Pavlov's Cockroach
Classical Conditioning of Salivation in an Insect
Hidehiro Watanabe, Makoto Mizunami*

So I'm not sure if there is a strong argument for nature vs nurture with fleas. I'd advise anyone hoping to have performing fleas would be advised to tap into the flea's behaviour of responding to heat, light, CO2 and air movements.

And finally, some slightly more questionable research into do fleas have higher level emotions.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Insect Circus at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate

The Insect Circus is returning to London. The next performance of the Insect Circus is at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London. There will be 10 shows over 5 days in late October. Tickets available from Jackson's Lane box office on 020 8341 4421.

269a Archway Road, Highgate,
London N6 5AA
27 October 2010

Delights to behold will include Dungo (son of Dungo) the balancing Scarab Beetle, Tallulah the Worm Charmer, The Heroic Courage family and their Vicious Vespa Wasps, and the Acrobatic Ants. I have previously enquired and unfortunately the Insect Circus has no performing fleas.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A bit odd...

"Ripley's Believe it or not" have just published a new book "Enter If You Dare".

I've checked and there's a good double page spread on flea circuses past and present with lots of photos and pictures. A nice "ask the expert" section covers the topic in detail.

It's available to buy now from the London Odditorium and I'm sure it will appear in bookshops soon too.

For more information, contact RipleyBooks

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Boys' Life Feb 1975

The cub scout magazine, Boys' Life had a nice little article back in Feb 1975 on making a "No Flea - flea circus". It describes making a stage and how to perform three tricks; raising a telegraph pole, high dive and a strong flea pulling a railway wagon. It also has an article on how to dress like a ring master which would be an idea costume for a flea circus performance.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Chuck Caputo Electronic Flea Circus

Chuck Caputo is quite well known as a flea circus maker as he's been making them for some years now. I've seen his circuses appear on Ebay and raise a good value even second hand.

Chuck's latest circus is electronically controlled and includes a good selection of acts including a very patriotic flag raising and a novel firing cannon.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Children's Festival

Madame Tiptop and Felix Flip-flop have been performing their flea circus at the Children's Festival in Belfast. The flea circus from Cahoots NI theatre is well known for it's attendance at such events and for visiting local hospitals.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Industrious Fleas in the news

News just in.... well from 1832 so I'm a little late.

Thanks to the British Library British Newspapers 1800-1900 archive, I've been chasing down those pesky Industrious Fleas. The great advantage of newspapers as a source is that they are dated and detail locations too. There is one drawback which is that the papers of the time liked to print snippets from other regional papers so there's a bit of duplication between the articles. I'm currently working through 40+ articles and will be updating the L.Bertolotto Flea Circus History page over the next few month.

A large range of newspapers have reported on L. Bertolotto's Industrious Fleas over the years, in locations such as:

Star Inn, Oxford,
No 4. Castle Street, Liverpool,
Exchange Ante-Room, Manchester,
Gallery of Arts Drawbridge, Bristol,
Assembly Room, Exchange, Belfast,
The Crown Hotel, High Street, Portsmouth,
The Subscription Rooms, Exeter,
11 Castle Square, Brighton,
6 Lune Street, Preston,
Somerset Gallery 151 Strand, London
Bordelese Gallery, London?

A couple of the adverts have an amusing poem.

The Fleas, the Fleas, the merry Fleas:
Let us flea to see the Fleas;
Over land and over seas,
The cry is, Have you seen the Fleas?

The Merry Fleas

The articles also report of Giuseppe Paris at 63 Prince Street Edinburgh in 1834 and Kitchingman with a performance on the corner of Maddox Street and Regent Street in 1869.

Some interesting tangents to investigate too such as a court report on "Mr Augustus Rynam, who previous to 1854 kept on exhibition called the Industrious Fleas" and a few red herrings such as a ship called "Bertolotto" from Odessa.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Flea Circuses and alternative events

Flea Circuses are often associated with carnivals, freak shows or other colourful forms of entertainment. For example, Flea Circuses have been performed at Huberts Museum and Coney Island.

A recent example of this was Ms. Karla Chameleon's Flea Circus at the Steampunk themed event "The Great Exhibition" from "White Mischief". Where Ms. Chameleon walked around like a cigarette girl, entertaining the crowds with a portable circus.

Comming up next month, is Indulgent Decadence a Burlesque night at the Red Shoes Theatre in Elgin. Circus Maximus has been asked to perform at the event.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The flea - Harold Russell - 1913

Via a search on the Wellcome Trust Library and then google books and the internet archive, I discovered a quite detailed book called "The Flea" by Harold Russell.

As well as a detailed record of the internal workings of the flea, in the chapter on Human Fleas there is a section on performing fleas. There are a items of particular interest to would be performers. The first is that the author suggests that the fleas are harnessed with silk threads not wire, the use of blotting paper so that their feet do not slip when pulling carriages and the rotating pill box for breaking the fleas jumping habits.

This account of a despised and detested group of insects would be very imperfect if it did not mention those educated or performing fleas which have evoked so much astonishment among people who have watched them. It will be best to say, at once, that the fleas are not educated and that the performance can only be attributed to their desire to escape. It is stated that a performing flea may be broken of the habit of jumping by being put in a pill-box with glass sides which is made to revolve like a lottery wheel. A short course of this treed-mill teaches the flea that the objectionable practice of hopping is useless and exhausting. It is said that the life of performing fleas averages eight months which seems surprising. They are fed every few days, and the trainers delight in showing the punctures on their arms where the swarm of pets has been fed.
Performing fleas are first of all securely fastened, and this is nine-tenths of the secret, and the art of education. A very fine silk fibre is put round the body and knotted on the back. The flea may then be cemented to some movable or immoveable object. It may pull a coach by being attached to a pole made of a bristle. A little paper object stuck on its back is tamed by courtesy an equestrian or a ball-dress. The lively imagination of the spectators is of greet he1p. The strength of a flea is wonderful, and on being placed on a sheet of blotting-paper, so that the hooks of the feet get a bold, the coach travels at a fine pace. In the intervals of the performance the coach is turned over, and the performer with its feet in the air does not get exhausted with needless struggles. Or else the fleas are fixed head uppermost, with their legs extended horizontally, to an upright wire driven into the table. Ladies have fans of tissue paper gummed to their limbs. Gentlemen are in the same way supplied with swords made out of fine segments of wire. When two swordsmen are placed opposite each other and the table is knocked they move their limbs. The swords then clash by chance, and we have a representation of a duel not much worse than may be seen in provincial or even London melodrama.
More wonderful are dancing fleas, for there we have, a real representation of a ball-room filled with waltzers. The orchestra of fleas, all securely flied with cement, is placed above a little musical-box. The music proceeds from the box, but the vibrations make the fleas gesticulate violently over their musical instruments. The dancers spin round on the ballroom floor. The couples are fastened by a rigid bar opposite each other, so that they cannot touch or part. Each is pointed in an opposite direction, and tries to run away. A rotary motion ensues which, to the spectators if not to the fleas, is very like waltzing

Ref: The Flea - Harold Russell - 1913

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Two miniature museumes, Guadelest, Spain

The metro reported yesterday morning of museums in the Benidorm area of Spain. One of them was the "Micro Gigantic" in Guadelest. When I searched for more details, I discovered that there are actually two museums with miniature exhibits in Guadalest. The Micro Gigantic and the Museo de Micro Miniatures which also has a collection of interesting items.

Obviously the exhibit that attracted my attention was the Flea riding a bicycle along the edge of a seed but they have a range of other marvelous miniature exhibits. Unless there are several fleas riding bicycles in existence, I believe this one to be the creation of Willard Wigan.

A selection of paintings by Goya such as 'fusilamiento 3 de Mayo' painted on a grain of rice and 'The Naked Maja' painted on the wing of a fly. There is also a sculpture of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, a full Bible inscribed on a piece of hair and a violin scaled to be played by an ant.

Miniatures Museum: Calle Iglesia, 5
Micro-Gigantic Museum: Calle del Sol, 2

Guadalest town website
Miniature museums around Europe.
More Micromini exhibitions.
Works by Willard Wigan.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Flea Circus Acts

A new page has been added to the Flea Circus Research Library, a page of Flea Circus Acts. Some of the historic and more recent acts are examined.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Fleas in Amber?

Amber is fossilised tree resin and often contains small bugs or animals. Because these specimens are perfectly preserved they give us a view into the world of insects 50 million years ago.

Small flies and mosquitoes are the most common insects to find trapped in amber, but rarer finds include beatles or spiders. German professor and amber expert Wolfgang Weitschatt dreams of finding an amber nugget with a fossil of a flea hardened within the resin. Until now, there are only two such finds known in the world.

Buy insects in amber from the Amber Workshop
The legendary Amber Room in St Petersberg

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Video Gallery of Flea Circus Performers

I've added the following playlist of flea circus videos that I've found to the Flea Circus Directory. Let me know if you've got a video to add or if you want to be added to the directory.

Flea Circus Performers on Video