August 19, 2018
Worst fear factor: Spiders or scorpions
RIVERSIDE – (INT) – Entomoligist Rick Vetter hears fear when he tells people about his work as an arachnologist at the University of California, Riverside.

“It doesn’t matter if I say spiders are beneficial, many people just want them dead,” said Vetter, a retired research associate who spent 32 years in UCR’s entomology department. “Even some of the entomologists I’ve worked with are incredibly afraid of spiders.”

Spiders and snakes reign supreme in the world of animal phobias, but the evolutionary reason for spider fear isn’t well understood.

Some psychologists believe it has an innate foundation, since humans may be genetically programmed to fear animals that can cause them harm.

But such visceral reactions to spiders have always intrigued Vetter, who said most of the long-legged arthropods are “easily squishable” and few are harmful to humans. Even those that bite often leave nothing more than a pinprick at first, with more severe symptoms developing hours or days later.

The danger of spiders pales in comparison to another member of the arachnid family: scorpions, whose venomous stings cause immediate searing pain, severe reactions, and sometimes death.

With this in mind, Vetter and colleagues from five universities across the U.S. studied the fear of spiders and scorpions among 800 students in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Cookeville, Tennessee; Athens, Georgia; Tucson, Arizona; and Riverside. The Wisconsin site is the only location devoid of scorpions, while the Arizona location is the only one to host a potentially deadly scorpion, Centruroides sculpturatus, commonly known as the Arizona Bark Scorpion.

The researchers used the well-known “Fear of Spiders” questionnaire, which they adapted to measure fear of scorpions. The participants were asked to agree or disagree with statements, such as, “If I saw a spider now, I would leave the room,” and “Spiders are one of my worst fears.” The scientists predicted spider fear would be higher than scorpion fear overall, with students in Arizona being the most fearful of scorpions, and those in Wisconsin the least fearful.

The results surprised them: respondents from all locations reported being more fearful of scorpions than spiders.
Story Date: June 25, 2018
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