Understanding the Fear of Insects or Entomophobia

Honey Beehive

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Entomophobia, sometimes known as insectophobia, is the fear of insects. The fear is relatively common in the US, particularly in urban areas where coming into contact with bugs is relatively infrequent because of the lack of interaction with nature.

Urban dwellers' fears of insects often serve as fodder for situation comedies and reality shows that depict their sudden transition to rural or island life. Many people who have never been exposed to country life can struggle because of the prevalence and pervasiveness of insects in living areas and public spaces.

Although they are not technically insects, the fear of spiders is one of the most prevalent form of entomophobia. Other commonly feared bugs include bees, ants, cockroaches, flies, and butterflies and moths. Many people fear "bugs" in general, reacting in panic to any insect or related creature that crosses their path.

Fear of Contamination

In many cases, people with entomophobia are afraid of becoming contaminated by insects. Many bugs, such as cockroaches and flies, can carry disease. In addition, disgust reactions can contribute to feelings of anxiety.

A variety of research has shown that we react more strongly to creatures that we find disgusting than we do to animals that may be more inherently dangerous. Perhaps this is an evolutionary response to our ancestors' misunderstandings of disease prevention.

Fear of Being Bitten

Some people worry that they will be bitten by an insect. Specific worries run the gamut from the fear of pain to the fear of illness. Legitimate allergic reactions, particularly to bee stings and fire ant bites, do exist, as do legitimately venomous insects, but by in large, the fear of being bitten by common insects such as house flies, cockroaches, and the like are not realistically warranted.

The vast majority of insect bites or stings cause little more than an annoyance, and most fears of being bitten are out of proportion to the risks.

Fear of Infestation

Some people worry about their homes or bodies becoming infested with bugs. According to an article in the Cultural Entomology Digest, people with this fear often bring items that they believe to be bugs to pest control or medical professionals. These specimens, gathered around the house, often turn out to be bits of lint, scabs or dust, rather than the feared bugs.

In the article, researcher Phillip Weinstein points out that infestation fears may be indicative of delusional thoughts rather than a simple phobia. It is up to the treatment provider to carefully analyze the client's thoughts and behaviors in order to accurately diagnose and treat the issue.

The fear of insects is relatively common but does not need to take over your life. The fear responds well to a variety of short-term behavioral treatment methods. With a bit of hard work, you can beat even the most stubborn entomophobia.

2 Sources
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  1. Hoffman YSG, Pitcho-prelorentzos S, Ring L, Ben-ezra M. "Spidey Can": Preliminary Evidence Showing Arachnophobia Symptom Reduction Due to Superhero Movie Exposure. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10:354. doi:10.3389%2Ffpsyt.2019.00354

  2. Polák J, Rádlová S, Janovcová M, Flegr J, Landová E, Frynta D. Scary and nasty beasts: Self-reported fear and disgust of common phobic animals. Br J Psychol. 2019. doi:10.1111/bjop.12409

Additional Reading
  • UQ News Online. The University of Queensland. "Researchers Unlock Snake and Spider Mystery." March 7, 2008.

  • Weinstein, Phillip. "Insects in Psychiatry." Cultural Entomology Digest. Issue 2.

  • Davey, Graham. "Why I Study...Disgust." The Psychologist. 17:6. June 2004.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.