What Is Lepidopterophobia?

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Lepidopterophobia, also known as butterfly phobia, involves intense fear of butterflies and moths. Mottephobia, or the fear of moths alone, is closely related to this phobia.

Neither are considered distinct conditions in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition" (DSM-5), but would instead be classified as a specific phobia. Specific phobias involve intense, life-limiting fear of a specific object or situation. When people come in contact with moths or butterflies, they experience immediate symptoms of fear and anxiety.

Lepidopterophobia is derived from the word lepidopterans, the over 155,000 species of insects including butterflies, moths, and skippers.

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.

Symptoms of Lepidopterophobia

If you have lepidopterophobia, you might experience a number of psychological and physical symptoms if you encounter a butterfly or moth, or sometimes if you even see a picture or think about one. Some common symptoms include:

  • Immediate feelings of anxiety or fear when faced with a butterfly or moth
  • Physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, racing heartbeat, nausea, sweating, and trembling
  • Avoidance of situations or places where you might encounter a butterfly or moth
  • Extreme feelings of fear or anxiety that are out of proportion to the actual threat

It is important to distinguish between having fear or dislike of something and a specific phobia. People who have a phobia experience severe fear and avoidance that causes disruptions in their ability to function normally. The level of distress they fear and their avoidance behaviors make it difficult to engage in their regular daily activities.


There are a few different traits and aspects of lepidopterophobia that people may experience. Some of these include:

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.


In order to diagnose a specific phobia such as the fear of butterflies and moths, a doctor or mental health professional will ask questions about the nature, duration, and severity of your symptoms. 

These symptoms must meet certain criteria described in the DSM-5. To be diagnosed with a specific phobia, these symptoms must be present for six months or more and must create significant distress or disruption in your life. 

Causes of Lepidopterophobia

The exact causes of lepidopterophobia are not known, but a number of different factors may play a role.

  • Evolutionary factors: Some research suggests that certain phobias, such as those related to animals or insects, may be part of a hard-wired, evolutionary response designed to aid in survival.
  • Genetic and family influences: Specific phobias appear to have a genetic component. Upbringing and witnessing phobia-related anxiety responses can also contribute to the development of such fears.
  • Traumatic experiences: 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.

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.

Treatment for Lepidopterophobia

Many strategies to deal with lepidopterophobia involve taking steps to face the fear. Exposure therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, is the first-line approach for treating specific phobias such as lepidopterophobia.

This approach relies on what is known as the mere exposure effect. Exposure to the feared object in a controlled and intentional environment is a good way to help neutralize the phobia. Such exposure can involve real-world exposure but imagined or virtual reality exposure can also be effective.

A sense of lack of control may be a contributor to the anxiety that results from the phobia. Intentionally interacting with butterflies and moths can contribute to a greater sense of 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.

While the fear may never go away completely, deliberate interaction and exposure to butterflies, for example at a zoo where there are butterfly and moth exhibits, or going to a garden, can be a good way to face this fear.

Coping With Lepidopterophobia

If you or a loved one are having symptoms of lepidopterophobia, it can be helpful to use self-help strategies in addition to getting professional treatment. Some tactics that can help:

  • Relaxation techniques: When you find yourself experiencing feelings of anxiety or fear, relaxation methods such as deep breathing, visualization, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation can help you manage your symptoms.
  • Self-care strategies: Caring for your health and well-being can also help you deal with feelings of stress and anxiety more effectively. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, connecting with your social support network, and getting regular physical activity.
  • Gradual self-exposure: Gradually exposing yourself to butterflies and moths can be helpful, but it is important to do this in a safe way to avoid worsening feelings of fear. Be sure to practice relaxation techniques along with exposure to help yourself stay calm. 
5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.