Have you ever been horrified by the thought of cooking a lobster alive, fearing that it can feel the pain? According to a recent article in the Washington Post, scientist Robert Elwood has been working for the last eight years to uncover whether or not lobsters and other invertebrates do feel pain in the same way humans do.
When conducting tests on various kinds of shellfish, Elwood discovered some interesting results. According to the article, when Elwood brushed acetic acid of the antennae of prawns, the prawns began an intricate, prolonged grooming process - something that was diminished when the prawn were given a local anesthetic before the acid was placed on the antennae.
In the case of brown crabs, when crabs were touched with a brief electric shock, the crabs tended to rub at the spot for "an extended period of time." Similarly, if the crabs claw was removed, as it often is in fisheries, the crabs would rub and pick at the wounded area.
“These are not just reflexes,” Elwood told the Post. “This is prolonged and complicated behavior, which clearly involves the central nervous system.”
Elwood also researched another factor - how much pain is worth it for a great reward? In the case of hermit crabs, crabs that had located an ideal shell for their home were more willing to put up with greater increases in pain before moving out of the better shell. Elwood suggests that this behavior goes far beyond any reflex and could be a true relection that the animals are able to feel pain.
Despite Elwood's findings, the subject of pain remains a problem of consciousness. Pain remains "private to each individual." However, Elwood's findings have inspired change - some scientists have changed how they treat invertebrates in their labs and are encouraging others to do the same.
What do you think? Can lobsters and other invertebrates feel pain?