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Afraid of Spiders? You’re Not Alone

By Chris Williams on March 24, 2015.

big brown spider on kitchen floorLots of people are afraid of spiders. But you don’t expect that group to include entomologists, those science types who study insects and handle all manner of creepy bugs.

Dr. Rick Vetter is an internationally-known spider specialist who is especially interested in the distribution of the brown recluse spider and the misdiagnoses of its bites. He recently recruited entomology colleagues nationwide who admitted to being afraid of spiders. He asked 41 of these folks who fit his study criteria to fill out a Fear of Spiders Questionnaire, along with a standardized psychology test.

Entomologists Are Afraid of Spiders, Too!

Just like the general public, one of the entomologists’ biggest fears about spiders is that they have too many legs (54%). Maybe that’s explained by the fact that entomologists study insects with their 6 legs and spiders are not insects. Add two more legs and these bug folks apparently freak out. Other main worries about spiders is that they run fast, show up unexpectedly, and move in a creepy way.

In fact, in response to the question, “Spiders are one of my worst fears,” five entomologists gave the highest “totally agree” score of 7, two gave a score of 6, and three gave a high score of 5. At least two of the respondents actually work with spiders professionally, but said that spiders still bother them a lot. One of the entomologists has had spider-induced panic attacks. She avoids looking at spider pictures and has tried not to walk past a spider poster in her classroom.

It’s not that the spiders were necessarily considered to be more disgusting than other invertebrates. Some of the entomologists had high fear of spiders but felt low disgust. Some actually worked with cockroaches and flies, and one even dissected maggots as part of her job. She responded that she “would rather pick up a handful of maggots than have to get close enough to a spider to kill it…maggots don’t sneak up on you and jump in your hair.”

What Triggered the Fear of Spiders?

The question is why do these professionals who supposedly love insects hate spiders? Nineteen of the 41 entomologists admitted that they had had negative incidents with spiders, either as children or as adults. The incidents ranged from having spiders crawl on them or bite them, to being tormented by family members with spiders, to running into webs. Here’s the justification from one arachnophobic entomologist: From the ages of 4 to 8, she had a recurring nightmare of running around her house and into the large web of a human-sized spider. She always woke up just before being eaten!

Photo credit: larsjuh / Foter / CC BY

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