Lord of the Fleas

A story for kids about the only remaining flea-circus director in Europe

Hans Mathes is the last of his kind, the only remaining director of a fleacircus in Europe. Here he tells some of the best  kept secrets of his trade: How to make real fleas perform real stunts.

Hans Mathes reaches for a hair-fine string of copper wire and twists it into a braid until only a tiny loop is left at the end. Then he gets one of his artists. They are magnificent athletes. For them it’s no problem to kick balls more than 30 times as heavy as themselves or to turn a carousel 20,000 times their weight. They are barly bigger then 2 millimeters, the size of a grain of sand – a fraction of a gramm of concentrated strength: they are fleas. Hans Mathes is their master. Mathes carefully holds a flea between his thumb and index finger, moving the little copper wire loop over its head. Then he takes a fine needle and also moves the flea’s first pair of legs into the loop, which is located right behind the head. Now comes the most difficult part: Mathes squeezes the copper-wire loop just a tini-tiny bit so the flea has no chance to escape its harness. Too much pressure, and the flea meets his maker… But, after decades of experience, Mathes gets about 90 percent of his artists harnessed without causing fatalities.

Flea circuses were very common in medieval Europe, an attraction on just about every county fair. …

This is an excerpt. The story was published by the american magazine muse. It is now a standard and often recommended text for pupils in US primary schools (3-4th grade). A spanish version was published in 2008 in Mexico by the mexican science magazine QUO.

Photos: Volker Steger