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A blow for fans of boiled lobster

Tom Feilden | 07:51 UK time, Friday, 27 March 2009

Not only do crabs and lobsters feel pain, they can remember it, and amend their behaviour as a result.

That's according to the latest research by scientists at Queen's University Belfast, who have been studying the reactions of hermit crabs to a series of electric shocks.

The finding overturns conventional wisdom: which holds that crustaceans like crabs, shrimps and lobsters can't feel pain because they don't have the highly developed central nervous system necessary to process the information.

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It was known that crabs could detect harmful environmental stimuli and move away from the source, but that was not thought to involve the inner "feeling" of unpleasantness we associate with pain.

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own, but make their homes in abandoned mollusc shells. Professor Robert Elwood attached wires to a series of shells, delivering small electric shocks to the hermit crabs inside.

The only crabs to get out of their shells were those that had received shocks, indicating that the experience was unpleasant. But crabs were also more likely to abandon inferior shells, leading Prof Elwood to conclude that neuronal processing was occurring rather than a simple reflex response.

When offered a new shell some time later, shocked crabs were also much more likely to change - indicating that they retained some memory of the experience.

It's bad news for seafood lovers, who may have to think again about boiling crabs and lobsters alive.


  • Comment number 1.

    Have these people nothing better to do than this???

    All the money invested in this professor's education and how does he spend his time? Try to ascertain whether crabs suffer when dropped in boiling water!! Like, who cares (apart from the crab)?

    I would have thought his time would be better spent on something a little more useful. There are much more pressing problems to be solved at present and his intellect could be put to much better use than this inane research!!

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Not much of a blow, How many Lobsters and Crabs are going to be placed in boiling water for a second time so they know they need to avoid it

  • Comment number 4.


    Who cares? I care.

    The root of all the so-called 'more pressing problems' can be traced back to our attitude and how we express it. Do we respect and have compassion for life? Or do we ignore the pain and suffering of others, human and animal alike, so that we can get what we want?

    Some other fairly famous people also seemed to care:

    "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet" - Albert Einstein

    "Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace." - Dr. Albert Schweitzer 1875- 1965

    "As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of animals, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other." - Pythagoras

  • Comment number 5.

    Once upon a time great thinkers thought non-human animals didn't feel pain- Descartes being a notable example. Luckily anybody still clinging to this position cannot be accused of being a thinker. In evolutionary terms, it makes no sense for mobile animals to not feel pain. If there are animals that don't feel pain it will be sessile invertebrates like oysters.
    While I don't like the use of painful stimulus in behavioural experiments, this study removes any doubt that crustaceans are suffering when they are boiled alive.

  • Comment number 6.

    Good heavens! Do you mean to say that we have finally found a subject on which it would be true to say that Hitler was right after all?

  • Comment number 7.

    I dont particularly care if they feel pain when boiled. The Blog suggests if they feel pain it should somehow keep me from eating Crabs or Lobster. That assertion or supposition is quite wrong. Not PC to say?....Not enlightened to have no empathy for shellfish?.....Whatever. Another classic case of ridculousness intruding upon common sense.

  • Comment number 8.

    Stop cruelty to living creatures! Save the bacteria! Ban antibiotics!


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