Flea Circuses

Posted on: August 29, 2022, in Blog

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Usually fleas are just known as nasty, biting pests. Did you know that they used to have Flea Circuses?

Short history of flea circuses

The first recorded performance of fleas was in 1578 when Mark Scaliot, a watchmaker, made a tiny golden chain along with a tiny lock. Lock and chain were so small and light that they could be pulled by a flea. Another record says that in 1742 Mr Boverick, a watchmaker, made a small coach out of gold with all the details, with harnessed fleas that pulled the coach. The idea of these handicrafts was mainly to show off the skill of the craftsman. The fleas were used to serve as a “frame of reference” to show how small the creations were.

The first recorded flea circus dates back to the early 1820s, when an Italian impresario called Louis Bertolotto advertised an “extraordinary exhibition of industrious fleas” on Regent Street, London. Some flea circuses persisted in very small venues in the United States as late as the 1960s. The flea circus at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Manchester, England, was still operating in 1970. In 2013, there was still at least one genuine flea circus still performing (at the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany) and Svensons in the UK occasionally use real fleas, but now most flea circuses are a sideline of magicians and clowns, and use electrical or mechanical effects instead of real fleas.

Tricks the fleas could do

Fleas have a short lifespan – a few months only, and cannot be trained. “Trainers” observe fleas to see which jump and which walk and according to that use them for acts. Then they tie a harness around the neck of a flea. These harnesses are very thin, made of gold (because gold can be made into a very thin wire), and left on a flea for the rest of its life. Other side of the wire is tied to a prop like a carriage or other small objects. Fleas are so strong that they can pull them. Another common act in flea circuses was a “flea music band”. Fleas are glued to the base of a flea circus and small musical instruments are glued to fleas. When the base was heated, fleas tried to escape but because they were glued they looked like they were playing instruments. There are also flea circuses that don’t use fleas but electrical, magnetic, and mechanical devices that simulate behavior of fleas.

Unfortunately, fleas aren’t always entertaining. If you have a flea infestation, contact Service Master for an inspection and to advise and administer the best treatment.

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