Spiders are the source of fear for thousands because of the shape of their legs and their colour, scientists have claimed.The creatures inspire a phobia because they are associated with things we expect to fear and we do not understand their behaviour, according to studies.
Professor Jon May, from Plymouth University, said colourful insects like ladybirds were seen as less scary than dark spiders with angular legs.
Their fast movements scuttling across floors into dark corners also tap into deep-rooted fears, it was claimed.
"Spiders just tick all these boxes, and like any phobia, when it builds up in someone’s mind they can become scared even seeing a picture," Professor May told the Daily Mail.
"We like bright-coloured butterflies and ladybirds, but spiders are dark coloured with long angular legs – and the shape and colour both have strong negative associations.
"We are also very sensitive to seeing things moving out of the corner of our eye and immediately notice it, and insects move quickly and unpredictably.
"People scared of spiders will often report them being bigger than they were or say they saw one crawl into someone’s mouth, which spiders never do. We don’t understand their behaviour."
He said fears could be dealt with by learning more about spiders and trying to sympathise with them.
Professor May and Dr Adam Hart, from the University of Gloucestershire, will be hosting a public session about why people are afraid of insects at Cheltenham Science Festival on Sunday.
Dr Hart said one way to appreciate bugs was to eat them and he will be cooking a mealworm stir fry for visitors.