Flea circus

A flea circus is a circus sideshow attraction in which fleas are attached (or appear to be attached) to miniature carts and other items, and encouraged to perform circus acts within a small housing.

Flea circus
The flea circus of Maxfield Rubbish, San Diego, CA (2009)


The Go-As-You-Please Race, as seen through a Magnifying Glass
"The Go-As-You-Please Race, as seen through a Magnifying Glass", engraved by J. G. Francis, from an article by C. F. Holder in St. Nicholas Magazine, 1886

The first records of flea performances were from watchmakers who were demonstrating their metalworking skills. In 1578, Mark Scaliot produced a lock and chain that were attached to a flea. 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.[1] 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. At least one genuine flea circus still performs (at the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany[2]) and Svensons in the UK occasionally use real fleas, but most flea circuses are a sideline of magicians and clowns, and use electrical or mechanical effects instead of real fleas.

Techniques with real fleas

Fleas typically live only for a few months and are not trained. Fleas are observed to see if they have a predisposition for jumping or walking. Once sorted, they are harnessed by carefully wrapping a thin gold wire around their neck.[3] 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 allow them to move objects significantly larger than themselves. Jumping fleas are used for kicking small lightweight balls. They are carefully given a ball; when they try to jump away (which is not possible because of the harness), they shoot the ball instead. Running fleas can pull small carts and vehicles or rotate a Ferris wheel.[4]

There are historical reports of fleas glued to the base of the flea circus enclosure. Miniature musical instruments were then glued to the flea performers and the enclosure was heated. The fleas fought to escape, giving the impression of playing instruments.[5]

Techniques without real fleas

Some flea circuses may appear to use real fleas, but in fact do not. A variety of electrical, magnetic, and mechanical devices have been used to augment exhibits. In some cases, these mechanisms are responsible for all of the "acts", with loose fleas in the exhibit maintaining the illusion. These circuses are known as "Humbug" flea circuses. Michael Bentine gave a mechanical flea circus a regular slot on his television show, It's a Square World in the 1960s.[6]


Fleas in dresses at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
Fleas in dresses at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Current flea circuses:

  • Professor A.G. Gertsacov's Acme Miniature Flea Circus has been touring the United States and Canada since 1996.[7]
  • Svensons have been performing in the UK since 1999, and have appeared in media.[8]
  • Swami Bill's Flea Circus is featured at the Denver County Fair.[9][10]
  • Professor B's Flea Circus has been performing in Northern California, USA for the last few years.[11]
  • The Flohcircus Birk at the Munich Oktoberfest in Germany.[2][12]
  • Professor Humbug’s Flea Circus performing at Seattle's famous Pike's Place Market.[13]

In the 1990s, María Fernanda Cardoso toured the world with her installation art flea circus.[14]

Professor Heckler's flea circus (in residence at Hubert's Dime Museum in Times Square, New York until 1957) can be seen in the background of the films The Thief and Easy Rider. L. Bertolotto ran a famous flea circus in Regent Street, London.[15]

In popular culture

Flea circuses have featured in cartoons, films, television shows, music, and novels.[16][17][18][19]


  1. ^ Lawton, Graham (22 December 2012). "Fleadom or death: Reviving the glorious flea circus". New Scientist (2896).
  2. ^ a b "Geschichte". Flohcirkus.de. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  3. ^ National Geographic, May 1988.
  4. ^ Hund, Katze, Maus. 10 February 2010 VOX
  5. ^ "Flea-Circus.com". Noonco.com. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  6. ^ "The rise and demise of the flea circus". BBC Radio4. BBC. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Acme Flea Circus Page". TrainedFleas.com.
  8. ^ "A little about Svensons". Svensons World Famous Flea Circus.
  9. ^ "Denver County Fair - Denver's own fairly weird County Fair at the National Western Complex". www.denvercountyfair.org.
  10. ^ Torpey, Jodi (August 8, 2013). "Flea Circus is a Must See at Denver County Fair". Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  11. ^ "Professor B's Flea Circus". Playland-Not-At-The-Beach.org. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  12. ^ "Oktoberfest Fun Rides". Munich.mydestinationinfo.com. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2011-10-12.
  13. ^ "Puppets and Masks by Rob D'Arc". gallery.passion4art.com.
  14. ^ John Fullerton; Jan Olsson (2004). Allegories of Communication: Intermedial Concerns from Cinema to the Digital. Indiana University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-86196-651-6.
  15. ^ L.Bertolotto The history of the flea
  16. ^ "Thomas Koerfer filmography – The Death of a Flea Circus Director". Koerferfilm.com. Retrieved 2010-09-21.
  17. ^ "Trumpet Warriors: Flea Circus". Barbican. 2011-03-03. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  18. ^ "Fifi the Flea – The Hollies | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  19. ^ Kast, Marlise. "Calendar – San Diego Magazine – February 2008 – San Diego, California". San Diego Magazine. Archived from the original on 2011-09-16. Retrieved 2010-09-21.

Further reading

  • "Fleas: The Lethal Leapers". National Geographic. 173 (5). May 1988.
  • Jay's Journal of Anomalies, ISBN 1-59372-000-9
  • Loving batbat by Gougou
  • Wild Tigers & Tame Fleas by William Ballantine, (1958)
  • Annals of the New York Stage by George C. Odel (Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1928)
  • Bertolotto, L. The history of the flea: With notes and observations (2nd ed.). London: Crozier.
  • Bertolotto, L. (1876). The history of the flea: With notes and observations (5th ed.). New York: John Axford. OCLC 11028632.
  • The Compleat Flea by Brendan Lehan (London: John Murray, 1969)
  • The Faithful Annalist: Or The Epitome Of The English History (Whitwood, 1666)
  • "Old-Time Vaudeville Looks Young Again" New York Times, Nov 24, 2002
  • "Revive the Charm of an 1800s Show with These Modern-Day Flea Circuses" Smithsonian Online, November 29, 2017

External links

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus was founded in 1995 by Keith Nelson and Stephanie Monseu. Initially, the duo was named "Fireplay." They toured the world with a mix of circus and sideshow. In 1999, the company became a non-profit organization incorporated as "Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc." The mission statement was as follows:

Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc. is a non-profit performing arts organization dedicated to increasing the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the history of circus, sideshow, vaudeville, and related arts through activities including performances, lectures, print media, and workshops for the general public, as well as creating opportunities for cultural exchange and fostering a sense of community.


A cosmorama is an exhibition of perspective pictures of different places in the world, usually world landmarks. Careful use of illumination and lenses gives the images greater realism.

Cosmorama was also the name of an entertainment in 19th century London, at 207-209 Regent Street, at which the public could view scenes of distant lands and exotic subjects through optical devices that magnified the pictures. It was later converted into an exhibition of curiosities named the Prince of Wales Bazaar. Exhibits included a sea lion, a sea serpent and L. Bertolotto's Flea circus.

Dixieland Droopy

Dixieland Droopy is a 1954 animated short subject in the Droopy series, directed by Tex Avery and produced by Fred Quimby for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Dixieland Droopy was produced simultaneously in Academy ratio and CinemaScope versions.

Flea circuses in popular culture

Flea circuses in popular culture are represented in numerous cartoons, films, television shows, music, and novels. A flea circus is a sideshow in a fairground or circus that may involve real or artificial fleas as performers.

Harry and Walter Go to New York

Harry and Walter Go to New York is a 1976 American period comedy film written by John Byrum and Robert Kaufman, directed by Mark Rydell, and starring James Caan, Elliott Gould, Michael Caine, Diane Keaton, Charles Durning and Lesley Ann Warren. In the film, two down-on-their-luck con men try to pull off the biggest heist ever seen in late nineteenth century New York. They are opposed by the greatest bank robber of the day, and by a crusading newspaper editor.

It's in the Bag! (1945 film)

It's in the Bag! is a 1945 comedy film featuring Fred Allen in his only starring film role. The film was released by United Artists at a time when Allen was at the peak of his fame as one of the most popular radio comedians. The film has been preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive.

List of one-shot Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer animated shorts

This is a list of theatrical animated cartoon shorts distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which were not part of any other series such as Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Barney Bear, Screwy Squirrel, George and Junior, Spike and Tyke, Spike or Happy Harmonies. All the cartoons were produced in Technicolor.

Mandy Keifetz

Mandy Keifetz (born May 26, 1966) is an American novelist, playwright, and poet. Her work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The Brooklyn Rail, .Cent, Penthouse, Vogue, QW, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and others. She was a Fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2002 and her plays have been staged in London at the Young Vic and Theatre 503, in Cambridge at the Junction Theater and at the Judith E. Wilson Studio, in Montréal at the Théâtre Ste. Catherine, in Oslo at the Samtid Festivalen and in New York at Where Eagles Dare Studios.

María Fernanda Cardoso

María Fernanda Cardoso (born 1963) is a Colombian Australian artist, sculptor and illustrator. Her contemporary art references many types of ready-made material, including plastic, trash, plants, dried and living animals, bones and styrofoam. One of her most famous art installations was a flea circus that featured live cat fleas. Her works have been featured in several museums internationally in Europe, the Americas, and Australia, and have won several awards. She resides in Sydney.

Medicine show

Medicine shows were touring acts (traveling by truck, horse, or wagon teams) that peddled "miracle cure" patent medicines and other products between various entertainments. They developed from European mountebank shows and were common in the United States in the nineteenth century, especially in the Old West (though some continued until World War II). They usually promoted "miracle elixirs" (sometimes referred to as snake oil), which, it was claimed, had the ability to cure disease, smooth wrinkles, remove stains, prolong life or cure any number of common ailments. Most shows had their own patent medicine (these medicines were for the most part unpatented but took the name to sound official). Entertainments often included a freak show, a flea circus, musical acts, magic tricks, jokes, or storytelling. Each show was run by a man posing as a doctor who drew the crowd with a monologue. The entertainers, such as acrobats, musclemen, magicians, dancers, ventriloquists, exotic performers, and trick shots, kept the audience engaged until the salesman sold his medicine.

Robert Bentley (animator)

Robert Bentley (11 March 1907 – 28 November 2000) was an American animator who worked for Warner Bros. Animation, Fleischer Studios, MGM, Tex Avery, Walter Lantz, UPA, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation,... among others. He contributed to such animated productions as Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973–1974), Spider-Man (1967), and Max Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels (1939).

Street performance

Street performance or busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. Street performance is practiced all over the world and dates back to antiquity. People engaging in this practice are called street performers or buskers.

Performances are anything that people find entertaining. Performers may do acrobatics, animal tricks, balloon twisting, caricatures, clowning, comedy, contortions, escapology, dance, singing, fire skills, flea circus, fortune-telling, juggling, magic, mime, living statue, musical performance, puppeteering, snake charming, storytelling or reciting poetry or prose, street art such as sketching and painting, street theatre, sword swallowing, and ventriloquism.

The Chimp (1932 film)

The Chimp is a Laurel and Hardy short film made in 1932. It was directed by James Parrott, produced by Hal Roach and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The second half of the film is a reworking from their last silent film Angora Love (1929), itself reworked into a short film the previous year, Laughing Gravy (1931).

The Flea Circus

The Flea Circus is a 1954 MGM animated short created and directed by Tex Avery about a French flea circus that breaks up when they decide to attack a dog, and the two members of the circus who inadvertently save it.

The Gay Place

The Gay Place (1961) is a series of three novellas, with interlocking plots and characters, by American author Billy Lee Brammer. The novellas, published in a single book, include The Flea Circus, Room Enough to Caper and Country Pleasures. Set in an unnamed state identical to Texas, each novella has a different protagonist: Roy Sherwood, a member of the state legislature; Neil Christiansen, the state's junior senator; and Jay McGown, the governor's speechwriter. The governor himself, Arthur Fenstemaker, a master politician (said to have been based on Brammer's mentor Lyndon Johnson) serves as the dominant figure throughout. The book also includes characters based on Brammer, his wife Nadine, Johnson's wife Ladybird, and his brother Sam Houston Johnson.The book has been widely acclaimed one of the best American political novels ever written.

The Professor (1919 film)

The Professor is a 1919 American silent comedy film made at the Chaplin Studios for the First National film company starring Charlie Chaplin. However, the film was never released or even completed. Chaplin abandoned production after finishing only one sequence: a single reel. Chaplin appears not as his usual Tramp character but as "Professor Bosco," a slovenly showman who brings his flea circus with him when staying at a flophouse. The fleas get loose during the night and create havoc.

The surviving film is included in Unknown Chaplin and on the Criterion Collection Limelight Blu-ray and release.

The Tex Avery Show

The Tex Avery Show is an animated showcase of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. cartoon shorts prominently by animator Tex Avery (a.k.a. Fred Avery). The showcase premiered on the Cartoon Network in 1996 (not long after the Time Warner-Turner merger allowed for common ownership of all but four of Avery's cartoons), and was taken off the air in 2002, while reruns continued to be shown on Cartoon Network until June 2004. It was soon re-broadcast on Boomerang.

Thundering Fleas

Thundering Fleas is a 1926 Our Gang film directed by Robert F. McGowan. It was the 51st Our Gang short subject released.

Vic Pratt

Victor Alfred Cornelius Eustace Beltane Diggory Penrith Pratt more commonly known as Vic Pratt is an artist, writer, musician and actor born in 1971. He lives in Muswell Hill, North East London.Pratt printed two issues of his own British small press comics Flea Circus in the mid-1990s. His comic strips are mostly autobiographical similar to Robert Crumb or Chester Brown. His art influences are David Law and Hergé. He drew a comic strip "Bad Feedback" in which he remembers his time in university having his comics rejected.

He wrote reviews in the 1990s small press zine Zum! He also wrote for Story Paper Collectors' Digest, a magazine about British boys' story paper fiction. He wrote reports on "The Old Boys' Bookclub". Pratt is a historian on British comics and wrote reviews and drew comics in Psychopia the zine of British comics. He drew many multi artist "jam strips" in the zine including "Martian Jam" and "Stranded on the M25".

As the British Film Institute fiction film curator he brought the first screening of Stanley Long's Primitive London film. He brought to the National Film Theatre the first screening of the live-action The Adventures of Tintin film Tintin and the Golden Treasure. As National Film Archive curator he introduces Rupert Bear Night with special guests Mary Turner creator of the puppet show and Terry Jones (Monty Python).In his spare time he plays and sings in country-folk-pop group Monogram with Stephen McConnachie and Corinna Reicher they first performed live at The Drill Hall, London in October 2004 and they recorded their first album for the Irregular Records subsidiary label for new bands, Unlabelled. He also played and sang in humorous music hall novelty-pop group Dylan Rabbit.He has also played the leading roles in the Hounslow films of director Jan Manthey He has acted in films such as Teenagecstasy.He sent a drawing of himself to Robert Crumb asking him to draw himself shaking Vic's hand. The art can be seen in the 1974 comic book Odds & Ends.

of insects
in culture
balance, and
and object


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.