Be kind to your claw-handed friends

Scientists in Northern Ireland have concluded that lobsters and crabs feel pain when they’re injured. I loved this quote from the Discovery news feed:

Robert Elwood, the lead author of both papers, explained to Discovery News that pain allows an individual to be “aware of the potential tissue damage” while experiencing “a huge negative emotion or motivation that it learns to avoid that situation in the future.”

Part of me wants to say “well, duh.”

The crabs observed in the experiment not only responded to pain by leaving the situation in which they were being hurt, but also behaved in ways similar to what many other animals do when in pain — grooming, stress-related fidgeting, and protective behaviours such as limping.

Is this an experiment that needed to be done, and will the results change the way people treat invertebrates? Or was it an unnecessarily cruel thing to do to a bunch of hermit crabs for the sake of an obvious result?

Given the number of people who do believe that these animals don’t feel pain, arguably because it’s a “nice” thing to believe when you like to eat a type of critter that is traditionally boiled alive, maybe a scientific result is needed to shake things up a bit and make people question commonly-held beliefs.

The next question might be: are there any members of the animal kingdom who don’t feel pain, who would not benefit from it as a sign of danger because they aren’t capable of evasive or defensive action?

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