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Consider the Sentient Lobster: Lobsters Feel Pain, Too


lobsters crabs feel pain Crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp are exoskeletal invertebrates, which means they look nothing like us, or cute animals like mammals and birds. But a new study presented at Behaviour 2013 in the UK shows that crustaceans like lobsters feel pain–and want to avoid it, too.

Researcher Robert Elwood sought to prove whether crustaceans feel pain or only act upon reflex as a response to stimuli, as conventionally believed. First, he gave shore crabs a choice of two shelters, one of which was designed to give electric shocks. Then, he retrieved the crabs and gave them another shot at choosing the shelters. The crabs that chose the electric shock shelters the first time around were far more likely to choose the safe one the next time, while the crabs that chose the safe ones never moved to the other–dangerous–shelter.

In another experiment, Elwood presented the crabs with two different types of shells, one of which was a favorite among crabs already. (Think rent-controlled apartment next to Central Park, but for crabs). But the favorite shelter was designed to give small electric shocks, once inside. When presented with a new shell, the shocked crabs were far more likely to take it, and also moved more quickly.

Robert Hubrecht, deputy director of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), noted that these findings are comparable to the lab results for mice, which became the basis for their protection under law. Hubrecht said that “we’re behaving in an illogical way” by protecting mice, but not crustaceans.


More animal news: These owls are being lured with song and killed by the US Fish and Wildlife Services


Juhea Kim
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Juhea now lives in NYC with her Oreo cookie cat, Zeus. When she is not writing, she enjoys running in Central Park, yoga, and teaching Barre classes. Follow Juhea on Instagram @peacefuldumpling, Google+ and Pinterest.
  • doctorzen

    See my posts and for more on crustacean pain.

  • Juhea Kim

    Dear Dr. Faulkes,
    I really enjoyed reading your critical analysis of the experiments, the statements by the scientists themselves, and the media hype. It is true that media reports greatly oversimplify the semantics of pain, sensation, and consciousness, and draw whatever conclusion they will without more careful consideration. On the other hand, there is a limit to the ability of journalists–and general public–that makes some loss of nuance inevitable, whether in science or any other subject. And our ability to make inferences from incomplete comprehension and limited information makes us capable of living fully. Thank you again for leaving a comment on our website and good luck to you on sparking an intelligent discourse on this topic.

    Peaceful Dumpling

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