The Victorian Flea Circus
A flea, with legs finer than a human hair, can pull up to 700 times its own weight! A flea can lift up to 60 times its own weight! A flea can jump over 150 times its own height! When we build circuses on Mars, or asteroids one day, then we’ll perhaps witness similar dexterity, but for now - consider a humble flea.
Human fleas are the easiest to train, however, they are also the hardest to find [and] Also consider this: every performance can be their last, so these insects are really on a tight schedule, putting everything into it - see for yourself:
- the performers live for about one year
- it takes six months for them to mature enough to be trained
- it takes three months to train them
- they perform for the next three months, then they die.
Fleas are trained not to jump by keeping them in a container with a lid. Once trained, they are harnessed by carefully wrapping a thin gold wire around the neck of the flea. Once in the harness the fleas usually stay in it for life. The harnesses are attached to the props and the strong legs of the flea allows them to move objects significantly larger than themselves.
Performing fleas has been around for a long time (some say, since Ancient Egypt), then they achieved notoriety in the 1600s (when some flea trainers were condemned as sorcerers), and finally became really popular in the Victorian Period.
[The images are from Torp’s Flea Circus, which was active in the 1950s and 60s, but captures the essence of the Victorian flea circus, I’m sure. There’s also this British Pathe video, which shows the fleas in action]