Why do bugs skeeve me out?
June 8, 2005 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Why do bugs skeeve me out?

The thought came over me last night - I had gone out with a couple friends yesterday evening for a couple drinks, and we sat out on the patio since it was one of the first few hot days of the year. Sure enough, there were mosquitoes and gnats flying around, and they eventually drove us indoors because we (ok, I) was really grossed out. Later that evening, I was in my room, and a gigantic (I'm talking 2 inches wide) mosquito flew lazily across the room in front of me. I was TERRIFIED, and if you had asked me at that moment, I would have been convinced that the mosquito wanted to kill me and start the revolution in my bedroom. I ran screaming from my room and made one of my housemates go in and kill it.

Even disposing of a dead bug can turn into a project involving a broom, a paper plate, some duct tape and a mad dash to the outside trash can.

Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, bugs won't do me any harm. Oh sure, I could have an itchy lump from a mosquito for a couple of days. And your run-of-the-mill bee sting isn't any more than slightly annoying for a minute or two (I'm not allergic, thank god), but bees are the worst for me. (I once threw a baseball bat at a bee, which kind of pissed him off and made him chase me. That's part of the reason why bees are the worst for me. In my mind, they want REVENGE. The rest of them just want to get away.)

Anyway. is there a legitimate psychological reason why the "OMIGODTHEBUGISGOINGTOGETMEEWEWEW!" part of my brain takes over instead of this logical part of my brain that knows that in general, don't really mean me any harm, and even if they did, they can't do much? If there is a psychological reason, is it learned, or are we as humans programmed to keep the bugs away?
posted by AlisonM to Science & Nature (35 answers total)
 
Do a search on "entomophobia," and phobias in general.
posted by mcwetboy at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2005


I thought I could back this up with a link pretty easily, but I can't. All I got was Freud's snake = male member stuff.

I was taught somewhere in the course of my over-education that women tend to be skeeved by vermin because they are uncontrollable and unpredictable. In psychobabble terms, one either fears that you can't control them so you project that you can't control your children or your life or whatever, or. . .subconsciously you're afraid they'll crawl/fly/slither up your woo-woo.

Dag, I wish I had a link - that sounds daft, I know!
posted by rainbaby at 12:26 PM on June 8, 2005


Wow, it really does. And sexist too. Men have phobias about bugs too. What's the idea there? The same?
posted by agregoli at 12:34 PM on June 8, 2005


Well, Freud and those cats are old-timey and sexist. The out of control and penetration fear issues could apply to men too. I said it was wierd, but it is a possible Why.
posted by rainbaby at 1:04 PM on June 8, 2005


Well, Freud and those cats are old-timey and sexist. The out of control and penetration fear issues could apply to men too. I said it was odd, but it is a possible Why.
posted by rainbaby at 1:05 PM on June 8, 2005


Man, psychobabble irritates me.

We know there's some genetic backing to being skeeved by certain things but not others; there was that monkey / flower / snake experiment. We also know that people can unlearn fears by conditioning themselves. The navy seals throws its guys in which a whole bunch of (non-poisonous) snakes, or whatever, to help them learn not to be irrationally skeeved. I personally lost my fear of rats living in chinatown - honest to god, I know it sounds stereotypical, but the residents there didn't mind them, and I ended up adjusting myself, so that they're just like hamsters or whatever - maybe not something I want showing up unannounced in my home, but also not something that sets off a 'freakout trigger', anymore than seeing a stray cat (I even kinda think of them as "stray rats" now, since some people do have pet rats. not that anyone would adopt the street ones, but still).

anyway, as for bugs, they can carry disease so there is probably a decent evolutionary reason that we have a disposition to find them unwanted. It is definitely not women-only; I was in the country with a bunch of martial artists, no less, and one guy had a big bug land on him in the dark and totally shrieked. (It might just have been a cricket or something - we didn't get a good look, though it was pretty big).

Anyway, if you care about it, you can teach yourself to be less freaked out by reading about them, looking at pictures, and training yourself to be around them. If you don't care, you can just continue to be squicked out. Don't believe dumb freudian theories, though.
posted by mdn at 1:10 PM on June 8, 2005


I with mdn: I think it's an evolutionary thing: bugs can be deadly or carry diseases, so it's natural for us to avoid them.
posted by Specklet at 1:31 PM on June 8, 2005


When my niece was born, one thing our family decided to do was to see if we could make it so she's not afraid of bugs so that whenever we were confronted with one, we'd calmly pick it up and put it outside or out of sight. She's six and still unafraid...
posted by superkim at 1:41 PM on June 8, 2005


I feel the same way you do about bugs, but spiders are the worst for me. And I can actually trace it back to one specific incident in my childhood when I unexpectedly found a large spider in my shoe that I had been wearing. The thing was dead, but I was FREAKED. OUT. Before that incident I had no problem with creepy crawly things, so I think at least part of it comes from experience. Do you find you're more afraid of flying bugs than crawling bugs, perhaps relating back to the bee incident you mentioned?
posted by geeky at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2005


Spiders are scarier than other insects because of a strange psychological effect. Spider limbs have similar structure and movement to the fingers on human hands. This results in a cognotive dissonance that exacerbates the innate fear most people already have to insects.
posted by randomstriker at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2005


Spider limbs have similar structure and movement to the fingers on human hands.

That, and they have this creepy tendency to show up in unexpected places when you least expect them.
posted by geeky at 2:25 PM on June 8, 2005


Spiders are scarier than other insects because of a strange psychological effect. Spider limbs have similar structure and movement to the fingers on human hands. This results in a cognotive dissonance that exacerbates the innate fear most people already have to insects.

Similar to the uncanny valley effect, perhaps? It might also explain why this movie freaked me out so much as a child. (Or maybe it was finally seeing what this guy looked like sans makeup.)
posted by gigawhat? at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2005


I think it's an evolutionary thing: bugs can be deadly or carry diseases, so it's natural for us to avoid them.

Just to be clear, if you read about the flower/snake experiment, the idea is that we can have a predisposition to some fears but not others (in this case, monkeys can learn to fear snakes, but not to fear flowers), but the fear still must be activated - so it is both nature and nurture (like pretty much everything).
posted by mdn at 2:49 PM on June 8, 2005


Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, bugs won't do me any harm.

FALSE.

Take it from someone who nearly died from malaria.

There's a good reason to be afraid of some bugs, although, really big mosquitos are male, and don't suck blood/transmit disease.

Spider limbs have similar structure and movement to the fingers on human hands. This results in a cognotive dissonance that exacerbates the innate fear most people already have to insects.

That's a really interesting explanation. I'd never heard that before, but there is a definate innate fear of spiders in man. I remember reading a study a while back with infants that confirmed this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:35 PM on June 8, 2005


I'm not bothered by bugs as a whole but sometimes I can get really squicked by ants in large groups; it's not so much a phobia as kind of an intellectual uneasiness because all of them together are a super-organism and that's just kind of weird (although also fascinating).
posted by matildaben at 4:01 PM on June 8, 2005


Just to let you know, your fear of the "gigantic mosquito" was especially irrational. It was a crane fly; they don't even feed as adults.
posted by glibhamdreck at 4:25 PM on June 8, 2005


The funny thing is that the "giant mosquito" you saw was probably just a harmless crane fly.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:33 PM on June 8, 2005


Damn you, glibhamdreck. Didn't catch it on preview.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:34 PM on June 8, 2005


Sixth grade science class. Leg fell off of a daddy longlegs.

The leg kept moving after it fell off.

Fear is a perfectly rational response.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:57 PM on June 8, 2005


Three years old. First experience with a palmetto bug. It flew into my face. Its wings whirred around and brushed my eyelids. Now I'm taking my car apart because of a single roach.

If this sort of fear is abnormal, hell, you have plenty of squicked-out company.
posted by cmyk at 7:14 PM on June 8, 2005


I know spiders creep me out because when I was really little one of those giant brown house spiders crawled across my face while I was asleep and woke me up. It still gives me shudders remembering it.
posted by emmling at 7:33 PM on June 8, 2005


Why am I scared to death of butterflies? Nicole Kidman is too.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:34 PM on June 8, 2005


Because behind their intricate, beautiful, motley wings is just another 6-legged, squirmy bug that used to be an even squirmier caterpillar.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:45 PM on June 8, 2005


With regards to the evolution-bred fear of insects and the resultant spread of disease, I think another trigger might be the fact that many of the most menacing insects are parasitic: ticks especially elicit horror and disgust, and while they are disease transmitters as well, I think a lot of the reaction towards them stems from the fact that they are living at the expense of their host. That seems like something that any living thing would be conditioned to not want.
posted by invitapriore at 8:05 PM on June 8, 2005


Three years old. First experience with a palmetto bug. It flew into my face. Its wings whirred around and brushed my eyelids. Now I'm taking my car apart because of a single roach.

HOLY SH*T, CMYK. You nailed it. (And I saw your thread yesterday, I'd sell the damn car if I were you.) I totally forgot until just now, but the exact same thing happened to me. I was a kid, I don't remember how old, but I was going out my backdoor into the backyard, I opened the door and SOMETHING flew right into my eye. I TOTALLY forgot about it until your comment. And now that you've reminded me, I can't get the blurry black visual out of my head (my mom had to pick it out of my eye somehow because I slammed my eye shut and jammed my palm into my eye. It hurt. Really bad. GAH! SKEEVE! EW!

It was probably just a fly or something harmless because it never stung me (from what I remember anyway), and I don't recall a doctor ever poking around in my eye.

Well, I guess that explains it.

your fear of the "gigantic mosquito" was especially irrational

But, see, I don't think you understand. IT WANTED ME DEAD. And its wings were flapping, and the LEGS! THE LEGS! oh man I can't even read this thread anymore. I feel like it's ON me! AAAAH!
posted by AlisonM at 8:10 PM on June 8, 2005


Yep, for me fear of bugs = fear of uncleanliness

When I was a kid my mom used my fear of roaches to make me clean my room. It didn't help that they were everywhere in Georgia. This is why I needed to move to a city with killer frosts. Though, if I see even one in my house I am prepared to poison everything in a ten block radius. Must...clean...
posted by Alison at 8:29 PM on June 8, 2005


To me, certain bugs mean things aren't clean enough. Roaches up here in the north usually indicate something is dirty (in the "gross food drippings left out" kind of dirty). Small ants are attracted by my children's juice drippings and apple cores left under the sofa. The bigger carpenter ants freak me out more because it's possible there are a lot more of them somewhere in the house where they are building a huge nest and are eating through some joist in the house. This winter, when I saw a spider moving around in the house I just thought hey! spring really is coming.

I just heard a show on NPR about how some mosquitos are attracted to some people more than others. I think I am one of those people.

Sacre_bleu's wife
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:31 PM on June 8, 2005


AlisonB, ITCHING, WRIGGLING, WANT TO SHOWER WITH BLEACH FROM READING THAT! My sympathies.

For your sake, I suggest you never visit Florida. Ever. I've seen enough ants, wasps, bees, flies, mosquitoes, and spiders to get over any heebies I might have with them. It's just the roaches I can't handle. Nasty bastards that FLY. And at least once a year you hear a story on the news about a body that, when it was found, was covered in roach bites.

They eat people and they'd survive The Bomb. I don't see how anyone could NOT be skeeved.
posted by cmyk at 9:33 PM on June 8, 2005


M, not B. I have no idea where I got that from.
posted by cmyk at 9:35 PM on June 8, 2005


indigorain - I'm afraid of butterflies too! Jesus Christ, I hate the damn things.

also: are crane flies the same thing as "mosquito eaters?" That's what my family has always called those giant gross things.
posted by Amanda B at 11:31 PM on June 8, 2005


I don't know about the psychology of it, but I know the philosophy of it. Taxonomy, more like. It's very simple. There are vertebrates, and there are invertebrates. INVERTEBRATES MUST DIE.

Except for crickets, I like crickets for some reason, so we can spare the crickets.
posted by furiousthought at 11:50 PM on June 8, 2005


Amanda - I think that's the same thing. In our neck of the woods, they're called "mosquito hawks", both because they look like a giant mosquito and because they are believed to eat mosquitos, although I have no idea if that's true.
Although completely unrelated, in case someone googles, we have a bird around here also called a mosquito hawk, you see them hunting bugs in the streetlights sometimes after dark.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:16 AM on June 9, 2005


Bugs are delicious
posted by the cuban at 6:24 AM on June 9, 2005


I grew up in Florida, and we called dragonflies "mosquito hawks" because they do in fact eat mosquitos.
posted by Specklet at 9:54 AM on June 9, 2005


Bug skeeves: My husband gets all weird about spiders. Which is slightly unfortunate because I encourage the spiders. Not inside, mind you...but I'm all about the giant spiders of doom living on the outside of my house. I have a couple of orb spiders on top of my arbor that create these stunning webs that catch all the bugs. Periodically, a giant spider will find it's way inside, and I'll have to chase it around with a big mayo jar and a paper plate, catch it, show it to the toddler and take it outside and put it in the garden. (When I say giant, I mean about half the size of my hand and up...these are big, healthy, well-fed spiders.)

For me, the big spiders are no threat...but if I see a spider that's the right size to be a brown recluse...it's an ex-spider. Pretty much everything else just gets a ride outside. I haven't seen a roach in 10 years or so, so I'm beginning to think there are none in this area, or the ducks eat all of them before they can get to the house.

Interesting analogy about spiders and hand movement. I'd never thought of that, but it's a really interesting idea. Did you just come up with that, or did you read it somewhere? If it's a study that you remember, I'd be interested in reading it.
posted by dejah420 at 2:02 PM on June 9, 2005


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