Award ceremonies are typically not extremely exciting events. This is not to say that I don’t love them and enjoy fraternizing with my fellow industry folks in jubilant celebration. These events are entirely necessary for industries or organizations to recognize their most distinguished, brightest, or exemplary people. However, the Ig Nobel Prize awards held at Harvard annually falls into an entirely different bucket of award ceremonies that is both fascinatingly weird and delightful, and how I came about to learn that there are entomologists, like myself, that fear spiders. Dr. Richard Vetter won the Entomology prize for his paper “Arachnophobic Entomologists: Why Two Legs Makes All the Difference”.
Forty-one entomologists were selected to complete a “Fear of Spiders Questionnaire (FSQ)”, which is a standardized test used in psychology (Szymanski and O’Donahue 1995); and also rate their fear and disgust of spiders; and answer other questions regarding negative spider experiences and reasons of spider fear. The average score for these entomologists was a 28.2, so they were just somewhat adverse to spiders.
However, it gets interesting when you dive into the entomologists that scored high on the spider fear scale and would be considered arachnophobic. In regards to the statement “Spiders are one of my worst fears”, five entomologists gave the highest “totally agree” score.
A forensic entomologist who routinely handles maggots, gave spiders a maximum disgust score and replied “I would rather pick up a handful of maggots than have to get close enough to a spider to kill it.”
Nineteen of the 41 entomologists stated they had negative incidents with spiders. These happened both in youth and in adulthood. Respondents listed exposure to spiders crawling on them, bites or presumed bites, seeing large orb weavers in webs or running into them, having nightmares about them, and being tormented by family members or peers. Three entomologists specifically mentioned exposure to black widow spiders as one of their negative experiences.
One of the reasons entomologists described spiders negatively was because of their many legs – all spiders have 8 legs. I would laugh, if I were not a spider fearing entomologist, because we entomologists routinely handle 6 legged creatures. It seems those two extra legs, as the author’s title states “makes all the difference”. Also the real, or mostly perceived, notion of spiders running fast, showing up unexpectedly, having dangerous bites or just being ugly were all reported as why they evoke such negative emotions.
If you are a pest management professional or entomologist that fears spiders – you are not alone! Arachnophobia usually develops in childhood. Most people don’t know the exact moment they became fearful but they have always been afraid of spiders. Entomologists who fear spiders have similar fears as the general public and not surprisingly, developed these fears way before considering entomology a career. So, I’ll continue to slay bed bugs all day but squeal like a child when I run into a spider web in a cold, dark crawl space.
Curious to see how you score on the Fear of Spider Questionnaire? Check this link to take the quiz. * We are bug doctors, not psychologists, so we can’t help you with any of your spider fear. We can only commiserate with you.
Brittany Campbell, PhD, BCE
Vetter, R. S. (2013). Arachnophobic entomologists: when two more legs makes a big difference. American Entomologist, 59(3), 168-175.
Szymanksi, J. and O’Donohue, W. (1995). Fear of spiders Questionnaire. Journal of Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 26(1), 31-34.