Social Question

partyrock's avatar

Why are people so afraid of flies, spiders, and bugs?

Asked by partyrock (3870points) February 4th, 2012

I’m speaking for myself and a lot of other women and people I know.

I’m wondering about the fears and psychology behind this -

When even an adult has fear against a teeny-tiny, seemingly harmless little spider or insect. Why do people get scared, even though they clearly know it is JUST a small spider… ? Where does it come from?

I was walking in my room and I came across what I had thought to be a spider or small black bug on the floor. I jumped back and then realized it was just black cloth… What made me jump back so scared ? It wasn’t like I was seeing a murderer in front of me, how can people (especially girls) be so creeped out of bugs ?

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27 Answers

harple's avatar

For me I think it’s the (perceived) sensation of spiders on my skin…. Despite being so much larger than a spider, if there is one in my room I am convinced it is going to end up crawling on me, and that thought creeps me out. It HAS to go!

On a side note, did you know that the whole “eating 8 spiders a year” thing was made up to see how gullible people are when they read something presented as fact online… Course, that doesn’t mean we don’t eat 8, or even 28 spiders a year…. yeaurgh!

deni's avatar

Its just a fear of the creepy crawly in general I think. People don’t want little bugs crawling on them or being in their home, that are possibly dirty, maybe poisonous, sometimes they bite or sting and cause general unpleasantness. It is pretty irrational most times though. And most little spiders are harmless, but….I’m not one to speak. If I see a caterpillar I will not sit still for an hour. I’ve been scared to death of them since I was little. Just looking at the word makes me itchy all over. UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bluefreedom's avatar

1, Several species of spiders are poisonous. That’s bad.
2. Flies can be vectors for the spread of disease and sickness. That’s not a whole lot better.
3. Bugs are a little funky and not seriously appealing. That’s not so good.

JaneraSolomon's avatar

I’ve always suspected that there’s a deep psychological need to protect your orifices, and consequently a fear of things that could crawl into them. That would also explain the stories of elephants being afraid of mice… which could potentially crawl up their snouts. I watched a friend of mine go virtually nuts when a bug flew into her ear, she started spinning around and shaking wildly…

Coloma's avatar

I think you should ask why SOME people are afraid of spiders and bugs.
I’m a woman and I LOVE insects, snakes, reptiles, and all of the creatures of the natural world.
Usually when someone is phobic about something it is based on a negative past experience, usually originating in childhood.
I taught my daughter to have a deep interest and curiosity about nature and as a little girl she wanted to be an Entomologist, she kept tinfoil covered dixie cups in her dresser drawer and hatched wasps and all sorts of insects, often to my surprise. lol

Her favorite playthings were rubber bugs and dinosaurs and stuffed animals, she was never a baby doll kinda kid, infact, she strongly disliked baby dolls, preferring her stuffed animals.
She could indentify about 300 different species of animals and insects/reptiles/birds etc. by the time she was 3.
Sooo, I think MOST peoples issues with fear of the creatures in our natural world are conditioned by their programming. If mom freaks out over a spider or mouse the child reacts accordingly. Basic psychology of modeling behaviors.

It’s all about exposure and conditioning.
Anyone that was raised by someone like me would have an insatiable curiosity rather than phobias. ;-)

wilma's avatar

For me I think it’s that they can so easily sneak up on you.
You might not know they are there until they are found crawling on you or bite you.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I suspect there’s something atavistic about them. When the human race was growing up, what we consider today a very minor spider bite could have been a life-threatenng incident. The fear and aversion are throwbacks to that era.

Hain_roo's avatar

Well, I think it must be programming, like Coloma said. When I was little my folks made a nature trail in the woods and we examined every creature we came upon, watched every nature show on tv. I have no fear of spiders or snakes or mice, I was taught to respect all living things. My brother is the same way and so his kids are too.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Wise parents you had. : ))

HungryGuy's avatar

Because many of them bite, sting, and spread filth, and they’re so tiny they can “get” you unawares. With animals, even small animals, you can see them and keep your distance.

Hain_roo's avatar


Thank you. I think so too. :)

auhsojsa's avatar

“I’m speaking for myself and a lot of other women and people I know.” < I love that by the way, it’s so mysterious :P

I think the many amounts of legs, eyes, and the kids stories (usually spooky) we’ve seen as children made some you and others feel really indifferent. When one doesn’t understand another, the perceived actuality from folk tales or here-say becomes ones reality.

I grew up on Eye Witness Books They helped me, perhaps they can help you :D

AshLeigh's avatar

I’m not really afraid of bugs. I just think they’re kind of gross.
It does startle me when they pop out of nowhere, which they do a lot. But there’s really nothing to be scared of. Squish them, so put them outside. Easy.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Well, the one’s that inspire fear aren’t exactly cute. When’s the last time you cringed from a puppy? Plus the venom, stings, etc don’t add any real appeal either.
Edit. Let me test that idea. Who’s afraid of ladybugs?

Coloma's avatar

My daughter once dared me to pick up a huge longhorn pine beetle…it’s mandibles drew blood, THAT was exciting! lol

Jeruba's avatar

Not everyone is afraid of them (I’m not). But I think there’s an instinctive reaction that we have to overcome.

At its simplest, I would guess that the fear is tied to a fear of death. In all sorts of ways, insects are closely linked to death.

Also their bodies are so alien. We can physically identify with larger animals and see little humanoids in them, with analog faces, hands, etc. Even birds and fish are more like us; look how easily we humanize them as angels and mermaids. Insects are just so other.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Because we’re taught to be afraid. I don’t think it’s instinctive. When my daughter was very little, 18 mos, I had to stop her from picking up a spider and probably eating it! Now, though, she’s a freaking bug-a-phobic.

I think if we lived in and closer to nature we wouldn’t worry so much.

Once upon a time my ex and I went on a canoe trip with our then 2-year-old. We wound up spending 3 days and two nights on a bluff in the wild. It was wonderful. However, there was only one place to put the boat, and to get to our campsite we had to come within about two feet of this bush that was just humming and buzzing, almost alive, with wasps. The first time was scary, scary. But nothing happened. After about the third time it got to the point we didn’t even think about it any more. Didn’t bat an eye.

Keep_on_running's avatar

The only thing that really freaks me out about bugs is the possibility that they will climb into my mouth or nose during the night. If I see one in my bedroom I have to either kill it if it’s really small or take it outside if I think it deserves to live. muahaha Well, really if it’s big enough to make me feel bad about killing it.

I’m pretty sure the statistic that you will consume 5 or something I can’t remember exactly spiders in your life whilst you sleep caused this. Some stuff we just don’t need to know.

Coloma's avatar

True story. Last summer my gardener left a can of wasp spray in a bench on my deck that has a storage seat that was slightly warped leaving a little gap into the storage under the seat. A wasp made a nest ON the can of wasp spray! It was like a farside cartoon…I left them alone til they were gone. Cracked me up.

@Keep_on_running LOL..I JUST watched a thriller the other night where this guy had hornets coming out of his ears, nose and eyes. It was so creepy, this hornet coming out from his lower eye lid. Gah! Hey…did you know that every time we urinate a small amount of urine is secreted into our saliva? Haha…you needed to know this, makes for fascinating cocktail party chit chat. :-D

Keep_on_running's avatar

@Coloma “Hey…did you know that every time we urinate a small amount of urine is secreted into our saliva

Why, oh why, did you do that to me?! Now I’m gonna have to keep a bottle of water next to the loo… :P

Coloma's avatar

@Keep_on_running Mostly because it would make ME laugh! lol ;-)
Oooh, never share your vulnerable side with the public…it’s a set up! haha

Berserker's avatar

So that’s why it always tastes funny after I’m done taking a piss.

I think the whole alien factor that @Jeruba mentioned might be key. At least some part of it. Not only do bugs look all messed up, but flies hang around crap, garbage and carrion, and those types of things are naturally dismissed by our instinct. Whether physically or mentally, we don’t need to suck on logs, and the way spiders eloquently snare and consume prey is actually a vivid representation of death. I could add the same to snakes. Monkeys jump around, look all cute…lions are badass predators, but they look all awesome, so we feel inspired…but things like spiders or snakes seem mostly defined for their cruel methods of survival.

There’s some analogy I could make that prolly has nothing to do with this…

I believe it’s a relation that is being made, or not being made. Whether one learns how a spider feeds, or actually witnesses it, the spider is defined by its feeding method, (whether or not they make webs, depending on the species) or the fly defined for being disgusting. (even though it’s actually quite a groomer)

Maggots burrow in nasty stuff, flies hang around garbage, lizards and snakes don’t seem to have that bitty ’‘human’’ side we can somehow relate to like we can with many other animals…I’m guessing it has something to do with some deeply rooted psychological subconscious thing that’s attached to survival. Cuz I ain’t never heard of anybody being afraid of butterflies, after all, besides specific phobias.

I mean, people don’t like blood, and are afraid/panicky at the sight of it, at least generally. This is because when you see blood caused by injury or something serious that may jeopardize health or life, you know something happened that wasn’t supposed to when it comes to living, (whether to you, or someone else) and your survival instinct knows it too. It makes you know this ain’t good. Horses also freak out when they see something dead. Random. But maybe it’s in the similar field as the fear of bugs.

But I think insects are awesome, and before I discovered video games, I used to want to be an entomologist. I used to go and catch all sorts of bugs as a kid. Lift over big branches and rocks, catch em everywhere I could…got stung, bit, puked on, didn’t bother me.
However, for some reason I can’t understand unless it has something to do with what I’m suggesting, I can’t stand worms or maggots. I just can’t. I fear and loathe them. Throw one at me, and I won’t get angry and call you an asshole. I’ll run and lock myself somewhere, panic and cry. Haha. Maybe not that bad, but close enough.

john65pennington's avatar

I had a brown recluse spider to fall down my the back of my shirt and bit me between the shoulder blades. I had to have it cut out.

Up until that time, spiders never concerned me.

A brown recluse will make a believer out of you.

My size 13 shoe bites the dust on the next one I can physically see.

Dutchess_III's avatar

They are wicked creatures, for sure @john65pennington.

wildpotato's avatar

I think it is instinctive to a large degree, as a self-preservation technique around possibly dangerous animals. Also, as Coloma observed, modeling has a lot to do with it.

I don’t think the alien-looking factor or the creepy-crawlies figure into it across the board, because there are lots of people like me, Symbeline, Coloma, & Ditchess_III, who love spiders, insects, and other fantastic little beasties. My boyfriend and I react to cool bug encounters like Doctor Who seeing a new alien. Spiders especially – they are such beautiful and helpful creatures, and they build amazing things.

This is why I think it’s primarily instinctive fear: despite my love of spiders, and even though I felt terrible about it, I killed a poor little guy who dropped into my kayak the other day because I was afraid he was a recluse or other dangerous spider, and it’s almost impossible to capture and release a spider from a kayak while you are in it.

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