Entomophobia is the excessive fear of insects. Most of our customers suffer from this common phobia to some extent, which is why they trust us here at Cook’s to keep the insects out of their home. Because it’s October, and Halloween is right around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at why people seem to find insects and spiders so creepy.
Let’s start with the most commonly feared arthropod, spiders. Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders and other arachnids is so prevalent and powerful that in some cases, just looking at an image of a spider is enough to give a person the creeps. Admittedly in the South, there is some legitimacy to fearing spiders. We deal with two potentially dangerous species here: the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow. Getting bitten by either of these spiders can be a very serious situation. In fact, when most customers see a spider and ask us, “what kind of spider is that?” what they’re really asking is “is that a black widow or brown recluse?” Luckily, only about 0.1% of spiders have venom that is potent enough to harm a human in any serious manner. So why are spiders so scary to so many people? It could simply have to do with how they look. A spider, and arthropods in general, have an anatomy that is completely different to ours. They have too many eyes, venomous fangs called chelicera, and a lot of legs. This is typically why people find house centipedes so scary as well.
Another arthropod that people commonly fear is cockroaches. Like spiders, many people cannot stand the sight of a roach in their home, and will take immediate action to ensure the roach is killed and removed. However, unlike spiders, roaches are completely harmless. Bites from roaches, although possible, are exceedingly rare and relatively painless due to their small mouthparts. Like spiders, people may fear roaches due to their appearance. They have long antennae, and bristled, cursorial legs that they use to scuttle around very quickly. However, roaches more so than most other insects, represent filth and contamination. Roaches are generally thought of as filthy, and for good reason. The environments they live and breed in, as well as the distinctive smell they give off when in large numbers can turn stomachs. Roaches are also great mechanical vectors of germs and bacteria. This means that unlike mosquitoes or ticks that need to bite you to transfer disease, roaches simply carry pathogens on their body. If a roach runs across your food, it may transfer some bacteria from its body to you.
In short, no one knows why so many people find insects so disconcerting or scary. Because they are so different from us with their long legs and beady, lidless eyes, it might just be our natural fear of the unfamiliar. It also may be bred into us. According to Snake Detection Theory, humans and related primates have the ability to recognize an image of a snake faster than we can visually perceive what we are looking at. This is because snakes used to apply a much greater predation pressure on primates, and those that could quickly detect a snake before it struck had a greater chance of surviving. Additionally, ophidiophobia, or the fear of snakes, along with entomophobia and arachnophobia, is one of the most common phobias among people. In fact, you probably already know someone who absolutely hates snakes and insects, and spiders.
-Andrew Davitt, entomologis