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The Siphonaptera

"The Siphonaptera" is a nursery rhyme, sometimes referred to as Fleas.

Big fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so, ad infinitum.

Sometimes a second verse appears, with lines such as

And the great fleas, themselves, in turn
Have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still,
And greater still, and so on.

The rhyme is seemingly related to lines by Jonathan Swift from his long satirical poem "On Poetry: a Rhapsody" (1733):[1]

The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

Lewis F. Richardson adapted the poem to meteorology, specifically discussing fractal wind patterns:[2]

Big whorls have little whorls
That feed on their velocity;
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.

Gene V. Glass quoted an anonymous adaptation of the poem to educational measurement:[3]

Big criteria have little criteria,
Upon their backs to bite ‘em;
And little criteria, have littler still,
And so on ad infinitum.


  1. ^ Project Gutenberg (eBook #14353): The Poems of Jonathan Swift, D.D., Volume I (of 2): [1]
  2. ^ "Big whorls, little whorls". Nature Physics. 12 (3): 197–197. 1 March 2016. doi:10.1038/nphys3697. Retrieved 10 September 2017 – via 
  3. ^ Standards and Criteria, Journal of Educational Measurement, 1978

See alsoEdit