Many types of bug can feel pain. Discuss.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London found that insects have an ability called ‘nociception’ which allows them to “detect potentially or actually damaging stimuli”. Humans have a similar process as the source of signals which translate into a sensation that we regard as pain. The acute discomfort of pain is a warning to find a way to stop it, which can mean fleeing or to stop doing the thing that’s causing the pain.

Green Fly, Yellow Flower
Green Fly, Yellow Flower. Photo by TOM IRWIN on Flickr using a macro 100 mm lens on a Canon Rebel T6i camera.
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It’s a protection mechanism for survival. It is interesting to see that this mechanism is present in bugs which leads Matilda Gibbons, a PhD candidate at Queen Mary and her colleagues to conclude “that a form of pain perception exists in insects and [it] can be modulated. [It is] at least plausible that insects have painful experiences.”

These painful experiences are modulated because they have a mechanism called “descending control” of pain. This allows them to control their response to painful stimuli.

A little while ago I wrote about flies feeling pain and this is a follow-up article on what I regard as an interesting topic. It’s particularly interesting because it might hopefully encourage humankind to be more sensitive towards other creatures and be less arrogant in their “dominion” over other animals. This might lead to improved animal welfare.

The word “animal” should apply to insects. Using pesticides and farming insects for food (which is becoming more popular as an alternative source of protein and ingredients in products such as cat food) might cause “mass suffering” because they are feeling pain.

When you want to squash that irritating spider or fly, in your home, you might consider this and try to remove it instead.

The researchers at Queen Mary worked with the London School of Economics. They analysed 300 scientific papers and found that there is accumulating evidence that insects feel pain.

As a consequence they suggest that animal welfare laws be extended to ensure that our treatment of insects is more humane when farming them and killing them or experimenting on them.

It raises a moral question. It also raises a very difficult response by humans because often humankind has difficulty treating much larger animals including mammals with respect and sensitivity. There will be difficulties in extending humane treatment to insects.

It’ll take a quantum leap in attitude change to get there. It’s nice, too, to note that research has been carried out into the possibility of insects feeling pain. Until recently it was unclear that insects experience pain in a way which causes distress.

The researchers discovered that fruit flies move away from a heated surface. Cockroaches flee when stung by a wasp. However, male mantids (the species including the praying mantis) do not try to escape while they are being eaten by their partner during mating.

And some insects carry on eating normally after they’ve been injured. But this could be explained by the fact that the desire to procreate or to feed overrides the pain experienced. It does not necessarily argue against the proposal that insects feel pain.

Matilda Gibbons, the co-author of the study, wrote “Pesticides kill trillions more wild insects every year. The actual cause of death is often paralysis, asphyxiation, or dissolving the internal organs. Sometimes over several days. If insects feel pain, insect farming and pest control could cause mass suffering. Yet animal welfare debates and laws almost universally ignore insects.”

They found that “Flies and cockroaches satisfied six of the criteria [for feeling pain]. This amounts to strong evidence for pain. Bees, wasps, and ants fulfilled four criteria, while butterflies, moths, crickets and grasshoppers fulfilled three”.

Comment: try and release that fly or spider in your home as you might be doing the ethically correct thing. Farmers will never accept that they need to treat insects more humanely. They’ll just laugh at it. As there are so many terrible problems concerning human behaviour for governments to deal with introducing laws to change humans’ attitude and behaviour towards insects is going to be very low priority. I would not expect anything to be done for a century.

Question: what has this got to do with cats! Not a lot except that cats eat flies and kill spiders causing pain 😊. The reason why I have diverged from cat topics is because there are getting on for 20,000 articles on cats. Enough perhaps?! And the fact that this research may help improve animal welfare which is at the core of this website.

1 thought on “Many types of bug can feel pain. Discuss.”

  1. This article certainly brings up an interesting and sometimes overlooked aspect of pest control: the question of whether bugs can feel pain. It’s a complex issue with ethical implications, and it underscores the importance of responsible pest control methods.
    In this context, I’d like to mention a company called Exterminating ants They specialize in providing professional pest control services that are not only effective but also designed with respect for the ecosystem in mind. Their methods aim to control pest problems without causing unnecessary harm.

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