Myrmecophobia is an intense fear of ants. This fear belongs to the more general category of Entomophobias (the fear of insects). But the fear of bees and fear of ants are more specific as the sufferers only fear those respective classes of insects.
Myrmecophobia is derived from the Greek word Myrmex meaning ‘ants’ and phobos which stands for the “Greek God of fear”. Myrmecophobic individuals are, in a sense, similar to Arachnophobes- (people who fear spiders) in that; they might shudder or cry at the sight of ants just like the latter might do at the sight of spiders. People with extreme ant phobia often believe that these bugs might enter their homes, contaminate their food or lead to massive destruction, damage, even death.
The fear of ants manifests in different ways and varies from individual to individual.
What causes Myrmecophobia?
Ant bites often known to cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals. Some kinds of ants called Fire Ants can actually kill larger animals and can also be fatal to humans. Movies like Indian Jones have depicted these ants. Fire ant stings can cause the throat to swell up due to which the victim might suffocate and choke. While this is rare, such news reports can cause panic waves among people. The report of a 68 year old South Carolina woman going into an anaphylactic shock after being bitten by fire ants whilst gardening was enough to trigger mass fear of ants in the area.
Ants come near residential areas in search of food. Fire ants can specifically react to human scents as well; they then crawl up the legs of their victims to bite them. Red ant stings cause intense pain, itchiness and might require immediate medical attention. Carpenter ants and black ants are attracted to wood and can cause destruction of property as well as landscaping. These facts could trigger Myrmecophobia in some individuals. In general, people with an intense dislike of insects tend to also dislike or fear ants.
The fear of ants might have evolutionary roots; early humans had to sleep and eat in the open where ants often bit them or contaminated their food. The human brains are thus pre-programmed to feel a disgust response at the sight of ants.
Ants found in the tropical areas are generally larger: their size helps them survive in the hostile conditions. These ants prey upon small and medium sized animals. Documentaries, TV shows or movies depicting swarms of killer ants could trigger fear of ants’ phobia.
As with other Entomophobias, Myrmecophobia might also occur due to a negative or traumatic event in the past. A child that has been stung by ants might remember the pain and over and over every time it is confronted with ants. Caregivers and parents might unknowingly instill the fear of ants in younger children by using warning statements about ants.
Symptoms of fear of ants
People suffering from Myrmecophobia suffer from variety of physical and emotional symptoms:
- Shuddering, trembling, feeling terrified at the sight/thought of ants. Some phobics might lose consciousness momentarily when they come in contact with an ant. Uncontrollable weeping, feeling like running away and hiding or having a full blown panic attack are some other symptoms of Myrmecophobia.
- Phobics might imagine “killer ants attacking and dragging them away to their Queen” over and over as seen in some movies/shows.
- They might avoid gardening or stepping outdoors in summer and spring when ants are rampant.
- Some people fear that ants will contaminate their foods or invade their homes. This leads to an obsessive compulsive behavior in the form of cleaning the house, locking the doors and windows, or being overzealous in the use of pesticides to prevent ants in their homes and yards.
While most cases of Myrmecophobia do not interfere with day to day lives, some can get so severe that the phobic requires medical help.
Treating and overcoming the fear of ants
Often, the fear of ants is confused with other health ailments; hence a proper diagnosis may be needed to ascertain the condition. A trained healthcare provider needs to determine the specific triggers of the phobia, specifically to see if the individual is suffering from general Entomophobia or from Myrmecophobia.
Once a diagnosis is achieved, the therapist might recommend a series of therapy/counseling sessions to help one overcome the fear. Gradual desensitization is one of the best known methods of overcoming the phobia. This involves a series of steps that start with slow exposure of the phobic to ants under safe circumstances until s/he is able to fully control the anxiety experienced. Mild doses of medication may be prescribed in case one’s Myrmecophobia is interfering with daily life.