For as long as I can remember, my life has been plagued by an unexplainable fear towards live butterflies. I said “live” only because they don’t make me cringe when all they do is lying around dead or pinned onto the board as specimens. I do think most species of butterflies are really lovely and I love specimens, images and butterfly-shaped or -inspired things. Oohhh but present me with a live fluttering butterfly out of nowhere without prior warning, an immediate involuntary shudder will hit me as I unconsciously give a short sharp gasp and stand very still struck with horror as I wait for the thing to flutter past me. If it flies towards me, I’ll duck here and there or even run away, even if I look silly doing so.

lovely as a painting…

these are not if placed right in front of me…

Oh, you can laugh all you want. It sounds ridiculous for someone who will keep iguanas and snakes as pets if she can, to be afraid of a fragile and seemingly beautiful insect like a butterfly, but neither can I help it if I can! I blame it all on my mum who incidentally, well, guess what, loves buterflies. I don’t understand how anyone can like something as disgusting as the butterfly but my mum’s one of these crazy people. I suppose I didn’t grow up with an intrinsic phobia of butterflies, but I think it grew when my mum started taking me to her favourite place on Sentosa whenever we went there during the public and school holidays – the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom.

The Insect Kingdom didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it was the sanctuary I would run to from the butterflies! The stupid Butterfly Park hosts like 1,500 live butterflies from over 50 species. How disgusting is that to have so many butterflies of all sizes and colours fluttering all around you, brushing their disgusting powdery wings against you and even *shudder* landing on you! Gross! But to my horror, my mum loved them!!! I would have to keep pushing her to finish up with the park so that I could run to safety in the specimen museum. And when you were like seven, no parents would listen to you, so I was forced to spend an unbearably lengthy time with the creatures.  

But I think what really snapped me was when the Fragile Forest at the Singapore Zoo opened many years ago and we went in. Honestly, I still remembered how I took more than one minute to go in. There were double gates at the entrance to prevent the animals in the exhibit from escaping. Outside the gates, I could already see butterflies the size of an adult’s hand fluttering behind the gates! Hence I started doing the cha-cha at the gates as my phobia (eeekkkss butterflies!) and my curiosity (go in, there’re a lot of animals) fought a tough battle. Neither of the two won because it was my parents who finally managed to persuade me to go in. Or did they drag me in? I can’t remember but well, I was younger then, so again there wasn’t much of a choice but to follow them. These days I would decline to go in and rather wait outside.   

It became a screaming session for me and a pretty tiring one at that because I ended up dashing around the place as I tried to avoid all the disgusting butterflies trying to fly into my face. It was no different for the subsequent years even though I was older. Still screaming like a little girl when there were too many butterflies to my liking, much to my parents’ amusement. Actually we visit the zoo on a yearly basis but the experience in the exhibit was too scary for me to remember much. A year when my parents weren’t around when my sisters and I visited the zoo, we gave the exhibit a miss haha. I went there last year again and I wore my cap very low so that I wouldn’t see the butterflies. Apparently as long as I can’t see them or if they can’t touch me (like in a glass exhibit, or dead), I’m not afraid.

As much as I’m terrified of butterflies, I love the Fragile Forest. A rainforest-themed, open concept exhibit housing many tropical mammals like the giant fruit bats, the lemurs, tree kangaroos and sloths, and magnificent birds like the parrots, aside from the creepy crawlies, what’s there not to like about it. You get to see the cute giant fruit bats roosting and eating while hanging upside down from the tree up close and personal from the platform. The fluffy lemurs and sloth usually rest near there too.  

There has been no formal nomenclature for the phobia of butterflies but informally it has been known as Lepidopterophobia since the butterfly is an insect of the order Lepidoptera, just like how the phobia of spiders (order Araneae) is called Arachnophobia.

My lepidopterophobia was reluctantly showcased a couple of days ago as I went out for lunch with my colleagues, G, E and X. We were walking along the sheltered pathway to the MRT station when we spotted this HUMONGOUS brown butterfly fluttering under the shelter! The span of that bloody thing was easily more than twenty centimetres! It was open air on both sides of the sheltered pathway with lots of trees, shrubs and grass. I have no freaking idea why the thing kept fluttering underneath the shelter when it could have just flown into the open space back where it rightfully belonged! The pathway was narrow and shrubs lined both sides, giving me no other way to get past that thing but with it flying above my head.

For a good half a minute, I was doing the cha-cha thing again some five metres away from where the butterfly fluttered about, all the time saying “oh my god” quite loudly over and over again, with my eyes fixated on the creature in case it decided to zoom over, so that I would have the time to run. My flight or fight response was full blown. Coincidentally, E and I were discussing about our lepidopterophobia a few days ago. Hers was a lot worse. She can’t take anything that resembles a butterfly even if it’s a pair of earrings. Hence while I was subconsciously doing my own cha-cha, taking a step forward and then backward over and over again, torn between whether to make a run past the thing or run away from it, my colleague G was pulling me forward urging me to just run past it quickly and E was pulling me back together with her. X was just standing behind us, extremely amused but not making any helpful contribution.

LOL. Had they been more forceful, I would have literally been torn.

In the end, my sensibility won by a tiny fraction and I ran past it without taking a second look. In my three-inch heels nevertheless. 

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