What is a flea circus?

   A flea circus is an exhibition of fleas apparently engaged in moving tiny objects, playing musical instruments, dancing, dueling, and the like. Fleas are not actually trained to do these things, but their natural movements can be obstructed in such ingenious ways that they appear to push, pull, or carry objects when they are merely trying to struggle free or to grasp something.

   The trainer usually picks female fleas for his circus, since they are larger, stronger, and more agile than the male. Many are able to jump many times their own length and to pull objects that weigh 1,200 times their own weight.

   To provide an anchoring place for objects, the flea trainer ties a very fine silk fiber around the flea's body and knots it on its back. Then he ties a tiny cart or wheelbarrow (attached to a minute pole) to the silken cord; the flea, in trying to wriggle free of his burden, will move it around. Two fleas tied together, not quite touching, will look as though they are waltzing in their efforts to pull away.

   Fleas may also be suspended in midair merely by tying a fine wire to the silken cord round their body. Then if they are agitated, they will try to grasp something; and miniature objects that have been attached to their forelegs, such as a sword or conductor's stick, will begin to move.

   Flea circuses are numerous in Europe, where they are among the attractions at fairs, amusement parks, and large festivals. In the United States they are less common. Flea circuses are operated either in tents or in store-front sideshows in large cities or resorts. In either case the customers buy tickets, enter the show area, and stand around a small table where the operator has the fleas putting on their performance.