I wrote a two-parter for PLOS Sci-Ed to tackle hatred of bugs. A bee is cute but a spider is a horrible monster. Why?
I started with Monstrous Verminous Bug, the part I listing 7 reasons why people fear bugs. I borrowed some thoughts and art from Kafka, District 9, and Cronenberg’s The Fly:
(originally published Oct 21st on Sci-Ed)
I was in the shower (…) when, out of nowhere, a three inch water bug dropped from the bathroom ceiling and landed at my feet. I admit it: I screamed. Wouldn’t you? (…) And then there we were, the water bug and I, trapped and defenseless and covered in soapsuds (…) One of us was very calm. One of us… began to carefully groom her antennae.” Hugh Raffles, Insectopedia
Even before that day when Gregor Samsa woke up as a monstrous, verminous bug, people have disliked bugs.
The bug hatred can be deleterious for science and for the way the public perceives science. Studies have quantified how people (adults and children) are repulsed by arthropods and do not grasp the invertebrate’s impact in agriculture and our economy. (…) So let’s consider “bugs” arthropods and break down the hatred in a Buzzfeed-type list…
Perched on a cantaloupe slice, the palm-sized animal – with its glossy chitinous surface and half dozen legs – sat motionless. The black-green bug looked more like a statuesque chess piece and less like a creepy insect. It was probably the reason why Dan Babbit chose the Atlas Beetle as his companion and ice breaker. Babbit is the manager of Smithsonian’s Insect zoo, and that day he was addressing a new group of museum volunteers and he started with the blunt question: “Is anyone afraid of bugs?”
Never before had I’d seen a science discussion start with a disclaimer.
Dan was being careful before bringing the live specimen for the volunteer’s closer inspection. Who can blame him – in the US alone there are 19 million entomophobes. How can we teach entomology to such a crowd? Can we break the bug phobia stereotype?