“Generally, fear of bugs falls into the creepy-crawly category, and most times, this is fear with a disgust component,” he says. “Cicadas are especially unusual, and the less familiar things are, the scarier they can be.”
These feelings are likely part of an evolutionary mechanism to protect us. People are prone to avoid things that could carry disease or harm us, like bugs, rodents, and snakes, he says.
In addition, people don’t like things that are unpredictable that they can’t control. The result is often fear, revulsion, and even anger.
“When there are swarms of them and you’re not in control, that adds to a level of stress or frustration and fear,” Antony says. “Fear and anger are two sides of the same coin — both of them are responses to threat.”
Their appearance may also be a factor, he says. With their broad wings, wide-set eyes, and sizeable bodies — up to over 2 inches long — they likely aren’t winning any insect beauty pageants.
“They kind of look like aliens,” Antony says. “The bigger a bug gets, the more it looks like a monster.”
People also likely have negative associations with insects from depictions on screen, or from bad experiences they have had personally, he says.
For Vicki Dodson, a Baltimore-based art director and graphic designer who creates her own cicada art, it is quite the opposite. She was taught from a young age to appreciate bugs like cicadas, she says. And through the process of selling her products, she has realized there are many people who share her appreciation for them.
In fact, there is quite the cicada following. An insect enthusiast group dubbed the “cicada chasers” travels from other states and even other countries to track them.
“For me, I feel like humans are so detached from nature in so many ways now,” says Dodson, 57. “When I think about a billion insects coming out of the ground — sing, mate, die — it’s a phenomenal reminder there’s a natural world out there.
“Not to sound corny, but it’s kind of magic.”