The shortest poem ever written, composed by American poet Strickland Gillilan (also attributed to Ogden Nash) in the early 20th century, reads,
Straight to the point, man has a long history with fleas. A fossil flea discovered in Australia is claimed to be 200 million years old. As one of the two vectors of Yersinia pestis, the agents of the Black Death (also known as The Bubonic Plague) the flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) has contributed, over the centuries, to the death of millions of people throughout the world. This bloodsucking parasite has been feeding off man and animals alike causing at the least irritation and at the worst death.
On the lighter side, fleas have not only been the inspiration for poetry, works of art, literature and entertainment, but were featured in a whole separate genera of entertainment, The Flea Circus. Yes, trained fleas entertained thousands with daring acts of strength, high jumping antics and clever theatrics. Beginning as sideshow performers for traveling circuses, fleas drew crowds of the curious to this once thriving form of entertainment.
What caused the eventual demise of the Flea Circus? It was the advent of radio and television which left such simple forms of entertainment as the flea circus, as well as other great and classical pastimes, craving an audience. Out with the old and in with the new and the Flea Circus passes away into the archives of history and folk lore.
Itching to find out more, here are some fun facts about fleas:
- There is a flea in a Kiev museum that wears horseshoes made of realgold.
- Dead fleas dressed as wedding couples were popular collectors’ items in the 1920s.
- Dressing fleas in tiny costumes was an art form practiced exclusively in Mexico for over a century.
- Aztec sculptors memorialized fleas in stone because fleas lived by sucking blood.
- A flea can pull up to 160,000 times its own weight.
- A flea can jump over 150 times its own size. If a man had the same strength, he could jump over St Paul’s Cathedral.
- When jumping, the flea accelerates 50 times faster than the space shuttle.
- A flea can jump 30,000 times without a break.
- Fleas are attracted by carbon dioxide. (Don’t want to get bit? Hold Your Breath!)
- Fleas alternate the direction of their jumps. They jump horizontally and vertically.
- A flea can live more than 100 days without a blood meal.
- Even though there are more than 2,000 known species and subspecies of fleas, one flea species — the cat flea — accounts for most of the dog and cat flea cases found in the U.S.
Don’t want to start your own Flea Circus? Call a professional and end your flea woes today!
Just to keep the record straight, a contender with Fleas for the shortest poem in English was composed by boxer Muhammad Ali. On June 4, 1975, after giving a speech at Harvard University, Ali recited the “shortest poem ever written on what it’s like to be as great as Ali”: He is quoted as saying, “Me? Whee!” Enough said.