Understanding the Fear of Butterflies and Moths

Close-Up Of Butterfly On Pink Flowers Blooming Outdoors
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The fear of butterflies and moths is called lepidopterophobia. Mottephobia, or the fear of moths alone, is closely related to this phobia. Those who suffer generally call themselves mottephobes.

Lepidopterophobia is derived from the word lepidopterans, the over 155,000 species of insects including butterflies, moths, and skippers. It may be hard to pronounce, but it's not hard to find.

While fear of spiders, or arachnophobia, is the most common insect fear people encounter, fear of butterflies and moths is also a fairly common phobia.

While many people see butterflies as cute and harmless creatures, some people are afraid of how they look and skittish by their behaviors. Even actress Nicole Kidman claims to have this fear and shows such as Animal Planet's "My Extreme Animal Phobia" chronicles people's experiences which can result in debilitating fear and anxiety that affects their social and personal life.

Fear of Butterflies Origin

Many people develop phobias from single or repeated events where they were in an environment that was unfamiliar or startled by an unpredictable or uncontrolled interaction with butterflies or moths or these animals were present during the uncomfortable or unfortunate event.

For example, one woman shared a butterfly flew through her window and landed on her chest when she was 8 years old and the unexpected event was a trigger to her phobia. Others associate butterfly and moth behavior with being attacked or overcome by insects so that the fear is less about being hurt, but more so by being unable to control or escape the environment.

Fear of Fluttering

Many people with a butterfly or moth phobia report that they are afraid of the creatures' constant fluttering. Some fear the sensation of a fluttering butterfly flying in their faces or brushing against their arms, while others are uncomfortable with how they look when traveling through the air.

The lack of predictability of movement is associated with the fear in that people do not know whether the butterfly or moth will land on them or where on their body they will touch.

Fear of Flying Creatures

Some people claim to be afraid of not only butterflies and moths but birds as well. They may fear the flying behavior or worry that a flying creature will land on them. Some are afraid only of smaller birds that rapidly flap their wings, such as hummingbirds, but are unafraid of larger birds that flap more slowly.

It all comes down to their perception of the "threat" of surprise and the lack of control they have over their environment.

Fear of Swarming

Both butterflies and moths are social creatures, and they often travel in groups. Some people who fear them are less afraid of a single butterfly or moth than they are of a large group. Swarming, in which many butterflies or moths fly in close formation, may be a particular trigger. People whose fear is specifically of swarming are often afraid even when the insects are at rest, as they often rest in groups.

How to Overcome a Butterfly Phobia

No matter what the origin, there are proven ways to help people with lepidopterophobia and they involve facing their fear. Research into one method, called MEE, or mere exposure effect, has shown that exposure to the object of your fear in a controlled and intentional environment is a good way to help neutralize the phobia.

While the fear may never go away completely, deliberately interacting with or exposing yourself to butterflies, for example at a zoo where there are butterfly and moth exhibits, or going to a garden, may be a good way to face your fear.

A sense of lack of control may be a contributor to the anxiety that results from the phobia and by intentionally interacting with them, you assume greater control and this may alleviate some of your fear. Some people join butterfly conservation projects, others try immersion therapy, and others find solace in creating art with their feared subjects.

Whatever you try, never allow your phobia to keep you from socializing or enjoying time with friends and family. If you find your phobia is leading to this, get the help you need and enlist your community of support to come along for the ride. 

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  1. Young SG, Jones IF, Claypool HM. Stimulus Threat and Exposure Context Modulate the Effect of Mere Exposure on Approach BehaviorsFront Psychol. 2016;7:1881. Published 2016 Nov 29. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01881