Northern Ireland

Queen's University Belfast study finds crabs feel pain

Crabs being boiled
The professor said the experiment should change the way the crabs are treated by the food industry

Crabs probably feel pain and take action to avoid it, a study by scientists at Queen's University Belfast has discovered.

The study looked at the reactions of a particular type of crustacean to small electrical shocks.

It came about after a chance encounter with the chef Rick Stein, who asked Professor Bob Elwood if he knew whether crabs felt pain.

The professor's experiments show they feel more than just a reflex reaction.

It has led to warnings that the food and fishing industries should reconsider how they kill live seafood.

"In contrast to mammals, crustaceans are given little or no protection as the presumption is that they cannot experience pain. Our research suggests otherwise," Professor Elwood said.

"More consideration of the treatment of these animals is needed as a potentially very large problem is being ignored."

The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

One way to cook crabs is to plunge them into boiling water on the assumption that they do not feel pain, although many modern chefs stun them first.

The Queen's University experiment was designed to distinguish between pain and a reflex reaction.

Ninety crabs were put individually in a tank with two dark shelters and some were given electric shocks after they chose one.

This process was repeated and by the third time most shocked crabs went to the alternative safe shelter.

"Having experienced two rounds of shocks the crabs learned to avoid the shelter where they received the shock," Professor Elwood said.

"They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain."

More on this story