Flea - Encyclopedia




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This article is from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Medical science has made many leaps forward since it has been written. This is not a site for medical advice, when you need information on a medical condition, consult a professional instead.

FLEA (0. Eng. fleah, or flea, cognate with flee, to run away from, to take flight), a name typically applied to Pulex irritans, a well-known blood-sucking insect-parasite of man and other mammals, remarkable for its powers of leaping, and nearly cosmopolitan. In ordinary language the name is used for any species of Siphonaptera (otherwise known as Aphaniptera), which, though formerly regarded as a suborder of Diptera, are now considered to be a separate order of insects. All Siphonaptera, of which more than loo species are known, are parasitic on mammals or birds. The majority of the species belong to the family Pulicidae, of which P. irritans maybe taken as the type; but the order also includes the Sarcopsyllidae, the females of which fix themselves firmly to their host, and the Ceratopsyllidae, or bat-fleas.

Fleas are wingless insects, with a laterally compressed body, small and indistinctly separated head, and short thick antennae situated in cavities somewhat behind and above the simple eyes, which are always minute and sometimes absent. The structure of the mouth-parts is different from that seen in any other insects. The actual piercing organs are the mandibles, while the upper lip or labrum forms a sucking tube. The maxillae are not piercing organs, and their function is to protect the mandibles and labrum and separate the hairs or feathers of the host. Maxillary and labial palpi are also present, and the latter, together with the labrum or lower lip, form the rostrum.

Fleas are oviparous, and undergo a very complete metamorphosis. The footless larvae are elongate, worm-like and very active; they feed upon almost any kind of waste animal matter, and when full-grown form a silken cocoon. The human flea is considerably exceeded in size by certain other species found upon much smaller hosts; thus the European Hystrichopsylla talpae, a parasite of the mole, shrew and other small mammals, attains a length of 5z millimetres; another large species infests the Indian porcupine. Of the Sarcopsyllidae the best known species is the "jigger" or "chigoe" (Dermatophilus penetrans), indigenous in tropical South America and introduced into West Africa during the second half of last century. Since then this pest has spread across the African continent and even reached Madagascar. The impregnated female jigger burrows into the feet of men and dogs, and becomes distended with eggs until its abdomen attains the size and appearance of a small pea. If in extracting the insect the abdomen be ruptured, serious trouble may ensue from the resulting inflammation. At least four species of fleas (including Pulex irritans) which infest the common rat are known to bite man, and are believed to be the active agents in the transmission of plague from rats to human beings. (E. E. A.) Fleche (French for "arrow"), the term generally used in French architecture for a spire, but more especially employed to designate the timber spire covered with lead, which was erected over the intersection of the roofs over nave and transepts; sometimes these were small and unimportant, but in cathedrals they were occasionally of large dimensions, as in the fleche of Notre-Dame, Paris, where it is nearly ioo ft. high; this, however, is exceeded by the example of Amiens cathedral, which measures 148 ft. from its base on the cresting to its finial.


Flechier, Esprit (1632-1710), French preacher and author, bishop of Nimes, was born at Pernes, department of Vaucluse, on the 10th of June 1632. He was brought up at Tarascon by his uncle, Hercule Audiffret, superior of the Congregation des Doctrinaires, and afterwards entered the order. On the death of his uncle, however, he left it, owing to the strictness of its rules, and went to Paris, where he devoted himself to writing poetry. His French poems met with little success, but a description in Latin verse of a tournament (carrousel, circus regius), given by Louis XIV. in 1662, brought him a great reputation. He subsequently became tutor to Louis Urbain Lefevre de Caumartin, afterwards intendant of finances and counsellor of state, whom he accompanied to Clermont-Ferrard (q.v.), where the king had ordered the Grands Jours to be held (1665), and where Caumartin was sent as representative of the sovereign. There Flechier wrote his curious Meinoires sur les Grand Jours tenus d Clermont, in which he relates, in a half romantic, half historical form, the proceedings of this extraordinary court of justice. In 1668 the duke of Montausier procured for him the post of lecteur to the dauphin. The sermons of Flechier increased his reputation, which was afterwards raised to the highest pitch by his funeral orations. The most important are those on Madame de Montausier (1672), which gained him the membership of the Academy, the duchesse d'Aiguillon (1675), and, above all, Marshal Turenne (1676). He was now firmly established in the favour of the king, who gave him successively the abbacy of St Severin, in the diocese of Poitiers, the office of almoner to the dauphiness, and in 1685 the bishopric of Lavaur, from which he was in 1687 promoted to that of Nimes. The edict of Nantes had been repealed two years before; but the Calvinists were still very numerous at Nimes. Flechier, by his leniency and tact, succeeded in bringing over some of them to his views, and even gained the esteem of those who declined to change their faith. During the troubles in the Cevennes (see Huguenots) he softened to the utmost of his power the rigour of the edicts, and showed himself so indulgent even to what he regarded as error, that his memory was long held in veneration amongst the Protestants of that district. It is right to add, however, that some authorities consider the accounts of his leniency to have been greatly exaggerated, and even charge him with going beyond what the edicts permitted. He died at Montpellier on the 16th of February 1710. ' Pulpit eloquence is the branch of belles-lettres in which Flechier excelled. He is indeed far below $ossuet, whose robust and sublime genius had no rival in that age; he does not equal Bourdaloue in earnestness of thought and vigour of expression; nor can he rival the philosophical depth or the insinuating and impressive eloquence of Massillon. But he is always ingenious, often witty, and nobody has carried farther than he the harmony of diction, sometimes marred by an affectation of symmetry and an excessive use of antithesis. His two historical works, the histories of Theodosius and of Ximenes, are more remarkable for elegance of style than for accuracy and comprehensive insight.

The last complete edition of Flechier's works is by J. P. Migne (Paris, 1856); the Memoires sur les Grands Jours was first published in 1844 by B. Gonod (2nd ed. as Mem. sur les Gr. J. d'Auvergne, with notice by Sainte-Beuve and an appendix by M. Cheruel, 1862). His chief works are: Histoire de Theodose le Grand, Oraisons funebres, Histoire du Cardinal Ximenes, Sermons de morale, Panegyriques des saints. He left a portrait or caractere of himself, addressed to one of his friends. The Life of Theodosius has been translated into English by F. Manning (1693), and the "Funeral Oration of Marshal Turenne" in H. C. Fish's History and Repository of Pulpit Eloquence (ii., 1857). On Flechier generally see Antonin V. D. Fabre, La Jeunesse de Flechier (1882), and Adolphe Fabre, Flechier, orateur (1886); A. Delacroix, Hist. de Flechier (1865).

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