May 29, 2024

Lobsters can say Ouch!

Boiling live lobsters is an increasingly controversial practice, notwithstanding its epicurean outcome. The chef’s argument is that crustaceans feel no pain; animal welfare activists insist that they do. The latter viewpoint has received a boost with a report from Queen’s University Belfast of convincing evidence that prawns (shrimp to Americans) do feel pain.

Robert Elwood and colleagues dabbed acetic acid on one of 144 prawns’ antennae. The animals reacted by grooming and rubbing the affected areas for up to five minutes. This, he says, is “consistent with an interpretation of pain experience”. Other researchers retort that this is nonsense. “Even a single-cell organism can detect a threatening chemical gradient and retreat from it,” says Richard Chapman of the University of Utah. “But this is not sensing pain.”

Elwood responds that this is unlikely because of the evolutionary advantage that pain confers.