Lepidopterophobia is the fear of butterflies to an extreme degree. Sufferers from Lepidopterophobia may not be able to be around moths or butterflies without suffering a panic attack or a severe fear reaction.
Lepidopterophobia is a fear of insects in the Lepidoptera category, which includes butterflies and moths. The term may refer to the fear of butterflies specifically or to the fear of butterflies, moths, and similar winged insects. Sufferers of Lepidopterophobia usually have a fearful reaction to the proximity of butterflies or moths, and may even be afraid of images or videos of these creatures. They may not be able to go into places where butterflies may dwell, such as gardens that attract butterflies.
Lepidopterophobia is often caused by a traumatic exposure to butterflies early on in life, but may also be caused by related fears of certain types of animals or by learning unsettling facts about butterfly biology. Most individuals with Lepidopterophobia seek treatment through exposure therapy, or simply limit their exposure to areas populated by butterflies.
Most patients who are overcome by Lepidopterophobia experience mental or physical symptoms that are similar in nature to panic attacks or other fear reactions. Individuals having a fear reaction to a butterfly may experience symptoms such as:
The cause of Lepidopterophobia is psychological in nature. It is often related to the patient having had a traumatic experience in which butterflies were present or played a part. It may be an extension of another fear that some patients suffer, such as a fear of insects or a fear of certain types of movement.
Butterflies and moths have some unique aspects of their biology which many sufferers of Lepidopterophobia may find uncanny or unsettling.
The wings of moths and butterflies are covered with colored scales, which may come off of the wings when the insect is handled roughly or injured. It is an old superstition that this colored dust is poisonous or dangerous to humans. Some well-meaning caregivers may repeat this story to children, cementing butterflies as something dangerous even when this myth is disproved.
Butterflies and moths do not have traditional mouths, but instead, use a long strawlike proboscis that coils up when not in use. They use this to drink nectar from flowers or fruit juices, water or mud, or even bodily fluids from animals. In one case, an individual with Lepidopterophobia learned this fact as a child when a caregiver assured them that it was impossible for a butterfly to bite him. This was far from reassuring, as the child became afraid of being bitten or poked by the butterfly’s proboscis.
Butterflies also taste through their feet rather than through their mouth, allowing them to test the surface they are standing on before deciding whether to eat from it or lay their eggs on it. Some individuals with Lepidopterophobia have professed that knowing these facts about butterfly biology only made them fear the beasts more, as the thought of being tasted by an insect’s feet in order to test one’s edibility may be unsettling to someone of any age.
Many individuals who suffer from Lepidopterophobia also have a fear of birds, bats, or other flying animals. The type of fluttering or rapid flapping accompanied by an unpredictable change in direction that can be seen in butterflies, bats, and small birds can startle many people. This reaction is instinctual, but some individuals are so sensitive to this type of movement that they develop a fear of these animals.
Butterflies often swarm, or fly together, during migration season. Someone who may not usually be bothered by a single insect may have a traumatic experience when faced with a cloudlike swarm of thousands of butterflies. This fear also may be related to a fear of other insects that exhibit swarming activity, such as locusts.
Some individuals suffering from Lepidopterophobia may have a fear of insects in general. Many people fear being touched or crawled on by insects because of the itchy or creepy way it feels to come in contact with an insect, or because they fear contamination by the germs that the insect may carry. While a wariness of insects is normal in our society, prettier creatures like butterflies tend to be exempted from that cultural prejudice. Many people who fear butterflies may have a phobia of insects in general. These people may especially worry that the unpredictable path of a butterfly may bring them into contact, or that a butterfly brushing against their skin may be unpleasant or painful.
Delusional parasitosis is a condition in which sufferers imagine that there are bugs or insects crawling over or under their skin, laying eggs in their body, or otherwise constantly infesting them. Occasionally, sufferers of delusional parasitosis may experience the sensation of being covered with or infested with butterflies.
Many people who are afraid of butterflies may have had another kind of traumatic butterfly incident. This incident does not even need to have directly involved a butterfly. The presence of butterflies or butterfly-related images in the area at the time of the incident may trigger a stressful memory, which can quickly create an association between the fear of butterflies and the fear of that traumatic event in the mind of the sufferer.
The most common method of treating Lepidopterophobia is through exposure therapy. This method of treatment exposes the patient to their fear by degrees, desensitizing them to their fear in a controlled and safe environment as the therapy progresses. Patients who choose exposure therapy may begin by interacting with a toy butterfly or image of a butterfly, and may eventually work up to being able to sit in a butterfly garden.
Some therapists offer hypnosis as a cure for deep-seated phobias. During hypnosis, the patient goes into a light daze or trance in order to travel into their subconscious mind. The therapist guides them through mental exercises to discover the hidden source of their phobia, revealing the core trauma and helping the patient work through the experience that led to that trauma.
Many cases of Lepidopterophobia are caused by a traumatic exposure to butterflies early in life. One of the best ways to prevent Lepidopterophobia is to introduce children to butterflies gently, emphasizing their harmlessness. Children’s stories that personify butterflies and moths, such as Eric Carle’s classic “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” may help children to familiarize themselves with butterflies and other insects.