Flea Circus

Dr. Wilson's Flea Circus Flea circuses are another thing I read about in Ricky Jay’s book. Before that, I thought the term was a euphemism for something small and tacky, in addition to being fodder for 1940s cartoons — something along the lines of jackalopes. I was so wrong. People actually did harness fleas to carts with tiny wires and glue costumes on ’em.

Dr. Wilson's flea circus

This is Dr. Wilson, who recreates the traditional medicine wonder show, except that he skips the part where — after the audience is amazed by displays of extraordinary memory, strength, etc. — the medicine man sells them some plants, sugar, water and booze in a bottle. Oh, he still talks about his elixir to prevent cataleptic neuroplexy. (Scary!) He just doesn’t let you buy it, bless him.

Anyway, in addition to the medicine show and various magic acts, you can book him to put on a flea circus. If I didn’t like this guy for anything else, I would love him for his promotional text/chatter. Listen to this:

The performers are small, but their hearts are full of love! They crawl in the dust, but their eyes are on the stars!

Now, although there are or have been circuses which used actual fleas, further examination of the pix suggests that Dr. Wilson’s may not be one of them. (For more information on flea circuses with fleas, and how they traditionally got them to do stuff, here’s a wiki link.) Since Dr. Wilson is a magician, he’s capable of having the bits of his circus move around without insectoid motive power. Without seeing the show, I can’t tell. Some people wouldn’t be comfortable with heating fleas to get them to saw away at little instruments. This brings up an issue that will have to remain unresolved in this post. If you use fleas in a circus, and apply glue or heat them, can you get away with it if you don’t film it? The American Humane Association (AHA) has this to say.


(ants, beetles, worms, bees, spiders, scorpions)

Upon review of the script, if American Humane believes there to be any intense animal action,we will strongly encourage the use of computergenerated imagery (CGI), animatronics or fake animal doubles to minimize the risk of injury to the animal.

8-44 ……Nothing can be done to an insect that will cause permanent harm, or permanently alter its physical characteristics.
8-45 ……When using insects and arachnids, the standard of care for the particular species being used must include housing, feeding, and protection against environmental dangers such as heat, humidity, cold, and inclement weather.
8-46 ……When using insects, an animal handler knowledgeable with that particular insect(s) should be on set.
8-47 ……Care should be taken to collect all insects used in filming. None should be allowed to remain on the set or location. Non-indigenous species shall not be allowed to escape, and proof of a plan to contain non-indigenous species must be reported to American Humane prior to filming.
8-48 ……When insects are brought on set for filming, filters, nets, or screens shall be placed over lighting to prevent them from flying into the lights.
8-49 ……Bees and other species of insects and arachnids shall not be used in filming when the air temperature is below 55 degrees. The use of bees and other specific species in colder weather is self-limiting, as the bees will not fly or move.
8-50*……Insects and arachnids that are – by law – deemed “invasive” species shall not be released. Certain species of insects and arachnids are beneficial to the environment. Others, such as locusts, moths, and certain species of beetles, shall not be released. Non-indigenous species shall not be released. Certain species of butterflies shall never be released, as they will not likely survive.
8-51*……When releasing insects and arachnids, contact American Humane first.

Notice that they don’t mention fleas in that heading. Or mosquitoes, or any other blood suckers I could make you queasy by mentioning. You know, I think I might need some of Dr. Wilson’s elixir.

An additional link I found later, and what looks like the motherload of info on this subject. It’s amazing what’s out there.


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5 Responses to “Flea Circus”

  1. Laura Says:

    So you can’t make them uncomfortable for filming purposes, but squashing or poisoning them when they arive in your living room is just dandy. Got it.

  2. andy Says:

    You will be pleased to hear than no fleas are harmed in the making of my flea circus film (so far).

  3. Fleacircusdirector Says:

    You will fine a whole load more information on Flea Circuses and a directory of where you can hire peformers at the Flea Circus Research Library.

  4. Jack Says:


    Article very good thanks for write

  5. grant Says:

    In Japan they got a fly circus LOL!

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