Ever since I first saw the film "Charlotte's Web" as a kid, I've loved spiders. To me, they are beautiful, vaguely magical creatures that construct pieces of art with which to hunt their prey — most of which are biting, annoying bugs.

So I don't understand why people hate spiders: They don't fly into your face or transmit diseases or suck your blood while you sleep; they don't maddeningly buzz around your head at 2 a.m. or fly into your soda can. They just sit quietly in corners knitting while waiting for mosquitoes, flies, chiggers and gnats to fly into their webs. Sure, if you sit on one or roll over on one in your sleep, a spider will defend itself, but dogs and cats can be far more aggressive and we don't demonize them.

People hate some insects with such intensity that it's clear the dislike isn't entirely logical. Until I lived in a city with roaches, I thought they were awful, disgusting creatures. But they are just insects that thrive on our dirtiness and waste — so smooshing them is just killing the messenger. They're just (attempting) to clean up after us!

ladybug on flower Because ladybugs are cute and small, people tend to like them. (Photo: Peter Waters/Shutterstock)

Very few insects are beloved. Ladybugs (or ladybirds, as they're called in the United Kingdom) are practically welcome in people's homes, and while they're cute, small and round, they are the same order as any other beetle, coleoptera. Water skeeters, dragonflies and, of course, butterflies are all insects that people love for the way they look or move. Few people go out of their way to kill them — or to invent giant plastic devices to deal with them.

Learning to fear insects

In defense of their bug-hating ways, people often say certain bugs bring on a visceral reaction. For others, all bugs elicit the eeeks. But if you travel, you'll find that reactions to various types of bugs completely depend on the local culture's relationship with them. There are plenty of people, myself included, who aren't afraid of six- and eight-legged creatures. The truth is that your feelings about bugs are learned, not innate.

Researchers at Rutgers proved this in 2010 when they exposed infants as young as 7 months old to images of various animals, spiders and snakes. The children were no more or less afraid of a snake as compared to an elephant. However, young children very quickly learn to fear things that adults fear. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective; children are more likely to survive if they pick up heightened awareness about whatever is most dangerous in a given environment, whether that's cars on a busy street, a large predatory canid or a poisonous snake.

Insects were not demonized by my nature-loving grandma when I was growing up, so I developed an appreciation for them, especially ants and spiders; they seem about as scary to me as the cats and dogs I grew up with. I spent hours tracking ants around the forest as a kid and know how tirelessly they work, and how determined they can be in carrying things many times their own weight. The idea of killing them just because they're walking across the kitchen floor (because someone left food out) strikes me as an overreaction.

Close on an ant pushing a giant boulder up a hill, Sisyphus-style. Ants live in complex societies, travel a great deal, and work very hard most of their lives — just like humans. (Photo: Andrey Pavlov/Shutterstock)

In fact, the only insect I used to hate were roaches, and that's something I can trace directly back to people's reactions to them when I was a very young child in New York City. Later, when I lived among roaches and watched them, I got over my fear. Based on how much I liked other bugs, roaches aren't much different, and I realized I didn't even know why I hated them.

Conquering your fear

Getting over a fear of insects involves the same techniques as dealing with any other irrational fear. If your fear is relatively minor, learning about the fascinating lives of bugs is one good way to override what you learned as a child. Lie on the ground and watch ants as they work, or leave a spider in the corner of your home — maybe give it a name, and check out what it's doing each day, including how many other bugs it catches for you! It takes time, but you can get more comfortable with insects. As a bug-loving woman, I have helped my partner get over his fear of insects, and now we have several spiders living happily alongside us. (We call them Spideyroo and SpideyToo.)

If you have an extreme fear of insects, you might need to work with a qualified psychologist who specializes in phobias. The alternative is to continue to be terrified by the thought that you might get bitten by a spider, which is just uncomfortable and will be a little itchy or sore for an afternoon. Even when it comes to poisonous spiders, it's rare that a spider's venom kills, and spiders that are venomous are also the most shy.

It makes much more sense to be afraid to ride in a car, an activity that kills 1.3 million people a year.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.