On our fear of insects

Stick bugs mating

Learn more about the devil’s darning needle by clicking on the image. Go ahead, reduce your fear.

Lately I’ve been dealing a lot with overcoming fears, tiptoeing outside of my comfort zone, and loss. What a downer. On the flipside, I spend a lot of my day thinking about ways that I can get people to like insects as much as I do… and I know for some of you reading this you’re going to say, “Miss Awesome, don’t bother worrying about that with me, my mind is made up, bugs are scary and gross and I kill them all.” To which I say,

“The more you know and understand, the less you fear.” 

My high school humanities teacher, Mr. Fachner, had that quote in faded die-cut letters at the top of his chalkboard. Every day for three years I walked into that classroom and reminded myself to do something every day that scared me a little… so I could overcome my fears by learning from my experiences. When someone expresses their detest for the most abundant animal on the planet, insects, I struggle. To me expressing hatred for insects is like saying “I hate pavement,” “cell phones are scary,” or “trees are ugly,” these things are ubiquitous and a very real and constant character in our reality. We would have to be in complete isolation in order to avoid pavement, cell phones and trees… and insects. Over half of the known biodiversity of living things on the planet belongs to the Class Insecta, and half of that class is made up of the Order Coleoptera, or beetles. Meaning that one in four living things on the planet… is a beetle. Perspective, now you’ve got some. Insects outweigh humans in biomass. Under your feet, on the ground, in your walls, above your head, migrating long distances around our planet… are insects.

We didn’t all start out hating insects. In fact, we started out inherently curious about them. I hate to anthropomorphize  but I know this helps most people relate, and empathize, with insects. This amazing alien creature crawling around with a seemingly secret life attending to its own agenda, needs and microscopic life… so detailed and more beautiful the closer you look. But somewhere along the line someone, perhaps a parent or a teacher, told us that insects were gross and nasty and dangerous… and that we weren’t supposed to like them. That we’re “weird” if we like them. I deal with the bias of an elementary school teacher expounding to her students that insects are dangerous and useless so we should kill them all. I have been told that Jesus created the butterflies and that’s why they look the way they do. These simple, misinformed answers frustrate me as an educator, but allow me an opportunity to reduce students’ fears by telling them the truth. By opening their eyes to a world that is vibrant, bright and diverse.

I frequently remind myself of the faded die-cut words above Mr. Fachner’s board. Of the words expounding ignorance and the importance of seeking knowledge and asking questions. The answers, it turns out, lead to more wonderful questions.

To learn more about why I love insects so much, check out my “Why I Like Insects Week” over at honey without flowers.

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