Monday, 28 February 2011

Earliest Flea Circus

I've written before about early flea performances but my latest research has been into trying to discover when the first use of the phrase "Flea Circus" was used. My dictionary search had already determined that it was before 1934 when the Hecklers first used the phrase.

Thanks to the Wellcome Library I've managed to remotely access "19th Century British Library Newspapers" and the "17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers".

Not only has that resulted in some definative dates for Boverick, Bertolotto and the Industrious Fleas but it's also turned up an early example of the phrase "Flea Circus".

Back in 1886 the Manchester Times ran a section caled the Childrens Corner, on the 22nd May they published the following:

A Flea Circus composed of about two hundred of the most distinguised and intelligent fleas in the entire family, was exhibited a few years ago. Who first discovered that the flea was susceptible to education and kind treatment is not known; but the fact remains that on their small heads there is a thinking cap capable of accomplishing great results. In the selection of fleas for training, however, the same care must be taken as with human beings, as the greated difference is found in them. Some are exceeding apt scholars, whole others can never learn, and so it is that great numbers of fleas are experimented with before a troupe is accepted. One of the first lessons taught the flea, is to control its jumping powers, for it its great leaps should be taken in the middle of a performance, there would be a sudden ending to the circus.

This in turn references an article in the children's magazine St Nicholas. I've cross referenced this against a contents list for The St. Nicholas Magazine and there on page 533 in volume 13, No 7, May 1886 is "The Smallest Circus in the World" by C. F. Holder, illustrated by J. G. Francis.

The HathiTrust Digital Library has a copy of this edition and tha article is an entertaining read.

So to answer that definative question of "who invented the flea circus", I'd say it was children's magazine writer C.F.Holder in May 1886 as prior to this the performances were described as exhibits or exhibitions. Obviously if someone can find a reference to an earlier use of the phrase "flea circus" then I'd love to hear from you.

Ref: Manchester Times (Manchester, England), Saturday, May 22, 1886; Childrens Corner - Flea Circus
St. Nicholas [v13 # 7, May 1886], page 533

Friday, 25 February 2011

International Flea Database

For reseachers into fleas what more could you need than an International Flea Database

The project from Brigham Young University has two main aims:

"It is our intent to not only summarize the wide spread available data, but also provide a platform for the constant renewal and updating of different data"

"extensive evaluation of taxonomic characters, and their distribution across taxa, including the outgroup will lead to a feasible datamatrix"

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Worlds Smallest Fish Tank

Anatoly Konenko has built the world's smallest aquarium.

Anatoly's other creations include writing on a grain of rice, a flea shod with horseshoes and a grass hopper playing a violin. Following the work of early miniaturists he's also chained up a beetle and fastened a lock to an ant.

He's also created over 200 books, most of them around the size of a coin and a supermini book that was less than a mm.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Fleas in the dictionary

The discussion on the Discovery News Podcast about dictionaries got me thinking as to if this would answer the question of when the term "flea circus" was first used.

We know that back in Bertolotto's time the performances were not described as a circus but as an exhibit. We also know that Egon Erwin Kisch who was a fan of Charles Dicken's "Sketches by Boz" used the term "Flea Theatre" in his 1920s book "Die Abenteuer in Prag". In approximately 1901 strong man William Heckler took over an Orlando, Florida "Flea Theater" and John C. Ruhl also ran a "Flea Theater" at Hubert's. By 1925, the Heckler's had taken over with their "Trained Fleas", according to a show flier they were using the term "Trained Flea Circus" for their show in Time Square by 1934.

My initial searches brought up nothing, flea circus is not in the dictionary. I'm guessing that this is because it's a "phrase" not a "word". It's also not in the official list of scrabble words.

However a trip to Westminster reference library in my lunch break found the phrase in the 2007 6th Edition Oxford English Dictionary, the 2nd Edition Oxford English Dictionary and Chambers 11th Editionary Dictionary. The OED also suggested that the phrase was from US origins. Although the librarian did offer to search online for me, I did not have time on this visit. The librarian was also skeptical that the early editions of the dictionary would contain the phrase.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Fleas in the Discovery News

The chaps over at Discovery News have been discussing the jumping flea research from the researchers at the University of Cambridge.

This naturally lead to a discussion of flea circuses and if they really used fleas.

The producer got in contact with me to clarify some points so hopefully tomorrow's pod cast will have some more flea circus facts.

You can listen for free on Itunes or on their podcast.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Flea Places

There are many places named after fleas around the world.

View Flea Places in a larger map

In the USA, fleas are popular for placenames.

Fleaville, Shasta County (which unfortunately no longer exists)
Flea Creek, Montana
Flea Hill, Delaware
Flea Hop, Elmore County, Alabama

In the south there are places also named after the Spanish word for fleas, "Las Pulgas", and a good few flea places in Spain too.

Las Pulgas Canyon and Las Pulgas Road in Camp Pendleton
"Rancheria de las Pulgas", San Diego

Avenida de las Pulgas ("Avenue of the Fleas"),

If we look at the French name for flea, Puce there are a few places, firstly in Canada and also in France.

Puce, Ontario
Pucé, 69670 Vaugneray, France

Down in New Zealand, the fleas get a nautical theme, not to be mistaken for the popular internet auction site.

Flea Bay, New Zealand

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Flea foot power transfer

The mystery of how fleas jump resolved thanks to Professor Malcolm Burrows and Dr Gregory Sutton from the University of Cambridge Department of Zoology.

Back 1967, Henry Bennet-Clark made the discovered of resilin, the 'elastic' protein that fleas use to store the energy for jumping, however since then flea scientists have been debating how that energy was transferred into the ground to allow the flea to reach such speeds and hights.

The Cambridge scientists used low light conditions which kept the fleas calm whilst they setup the cameras then turned up the lighting to see them jump. The videos were analysed and mathermatical models were used to predict the results.

Sutton and Burrows suspected that the insects push down through the tibia (shin) onto the tarsus (toe). Using a mathematical model that could reproduce the flea's trajectory, the scientists were able to confirm that the insects transmit the force from the spring in the thorax through leg segments acting as levers to push down on the tarsus (toe), solving the 44 year old mystery.