Torofy Blog

Depression and Heart Disease

Do Insects Feel Pain?

Inés: Some time ago I made a Halloween special
about cyborg beetles, which explained how scientists had applied their knowledge of
how the nervous system and the flight muscles of insects were connected to be able to make
them fly using remote controlled electrodes. It was definitely Halloween-worthy research,
and there were some very insightful commenters who wanted to know more about the ethics of
performing such an experiment on insects and whether insects were capable of feeling pain. So with these questions in mind, today I’m
joined by the wonderful Alie from Neurotransmissions [Alie: hi!] and we are going to be exploring
all things relating to insect pain and neuroscience! [intro animation by Caro Waro and Cristina
de Manuel] Inés: The short answer to this question is
that currently scientists do not have to clear any ethics forms in order to experiment with
insects and based on current research, it is likely that they do not experience pain
in response to harmful stimuli. Nonetheless, I’m sure you appreciate that
this is a very tricky ethical topic and that there is a lot more to it to arrive at this
conclusion. So first of all… what is pain? Alie: Well, in basic terms, pain is defined
as physical discomfort caused by illness or injury. From a neuroscience perspective, pain is a
sensation generated by our brain, usually when it receives stimuli that it interprets
to be a sign that something is potentially causing harm or danger. The type of nerve that transmits these signals
are known as nociceptors, which comes from the latin nocere, “to harm”, meaning they
are indicators of harm. Inés: Think back to any time you lent on
a radiator that was too hot, got your finger jammed in something or accidentally brushed
a nettle – the painful feeling you felt was originally transmitted by a nociceptor. However, our experience of pain is a bit more
complicated than that. Alie: Pain per se isn’t just the signal
transmitted from the site of the injury by nociceptors. It’s a combination of the injury signal
and the brain’s reaction to that injury. So when you feel pain, it’s both the physical
response to the injury, and also the emotional response generated by your brain. We don’t understand everything about the
process of pain in humans, precisely because it is an individual and internal response. Some of you might be familiar with trying
to explain to a doctor that you experience pain, and being disbelieved due to a lack
of obvious external symptoms, which doesn’t negate the fact that the brain is generating
the sensation, and so you’re feeling it. This makes understanding pain, suffering and
distress in other animals even harder, but it’s an important question in bioethics and
in the field of animal welfare, because we don’t want to cause other animals distress. Inés: Indeed! And it’s currently impossible for us to know
exactly what another animal’s experience is in response to a stimuli, and whether the
way they process the world is in any way similar to ours or not. However, the best we can do to tell if an
animal is in pain is to look out for external signs that could indicate distress and pain
in the animal. Alie: For instance, from the examples Inés
listed earlier, you might shout out loud when you burn yourself, or nurse a nettle rash
and avoid using the affected hand to prevent further pain. These are signs that we can recognise as pain
in humans, and we can observe similar reactions in most vertebrates. Inés: The most common sign of pain in animals
is lameness, which is generally an abnormal gait that minimises contact and pressure between
certain body parts and the ground. Other signs could be licking, scratching or
rubbing an injured site or vocalising when approached or when the painful area is touched,
as well as other changes in normal behaviour. Alie: While we observe these behaviours in
response to painful stimuli in vertebrates, most invertebrates don’t show the same behaviour. When an ant loses a leg, or when a beetle
is turned into a cyborg, they don’t display characteristic signs of lameness, nor do they
alter their behaviour after the injury or experiment. It’s worth clarifying that not displaying
certain external behaviours doesn’t necessarily mean that an organism isn’t experiencing
pain. Some animals might learn to hide their pain
well to avoid being seen as vulnerable and getting targeted by predators, and I’m sure
we’ve all successfully hidden a headache from our peers. But even bearing that in mind, it’s unlikely
that insects perceive harmful stimuli in the same painful way as we do, due to their external
behaviours and their substantially smaller nervous system. It’s difficult to say how “aware” insects
are – of themselves and the world around them. One could argue that their nervous system
just isn’t complex enough to both signal an injury and generate an emotional response
to it. Inés: Nonetheless, research into pain and
nociceptors is ongoing. Whilst most invertebrates don’t require
ethical clearance to be used in laboratory experiments, cephalopods do as they are known
to be intelligent animals and they do experience pain. There have also been plenty of studies suggesting
that basic nociceptor responses may exist in some insects. For instance, Drosophila larvae thrash violently
in response to being poked with a hot and piercing stimuli of a needle. However, this may simply be an innate response
against a potential sting from parasitoid wasps that are attempting to lay their eggs
inside them, and exhibiting such an avoidant behaviour will increase the larva’s survival
by reducing their risk of being parasitised. Therefore, one could expect such a behaviour
to evolve and become fixed. However, this does not necessarily mean that
the larvae is distressed or experiencing pain in the same manner as we may do, but is rather
performing a reflex. Alie: Likewise, there’s been inconclusive
research indicating that lobsters and other crustaceans, which are phylogenetically close
to insects, may experience pain. They have opioid peptides, which mediate pain
responses in vertebrates, and display certain aversive responses such as flicking their
telson when being boiled alive. The truth is we do not know conclusively whether
they do experience pain or not, but in Switzerland they elected to legislate for lobsters to
be stunned or knocked out prior to boiling them. Inés: And regardless of whether an organism
experiences pain in the same manner as we do or not, I will always advocate for treating
living organisms around us with respect. We believe that torturing or mutilating animals
for entertainment or because we expect them to be suffering is still sadistic behaviour
due to the intent behind our actions, regardless of whether the organism affected is experiencing
pain or not. In any case, I do hope we’ve been able to
provide further insight into the complexity behind this question – insects probably don’t
experience pain, but due to the very nature of pain itself, we might never know for sure! I’m also curious to know – what do you think
about this topic? Also, given you’ve made it this far I take
it you’re interested in this type of question which means that you should go check out the
video we made over on Neurotransmissions’ channel, which is all about whether insects
have brains or not – I mean, what even is and isn’t a brain?! So for more cerebral content, go head over
there and please let us know what your brain thinks about it. And as always, thank you so
much for watching us and I’ll see you in the next one – bye! Alie: bye! Inés: claps [Channel art & Animation: Caro Waro & Cristina
de Manuel] [Music by Thastor & CryoSleepKitten]
[Scripting and Hosting by Alie Caldwell (Neurotransmissions) and Inés Dawson]
[Subtitled by {your name} into {language}]

95 thoughts on “Do Insects Feel Pain?

  1. I hope you found today's video interesting – I'd love to hear your opinion on the matter.
    Before you go – don't forget to check out the video we made over on Neurotransmissions: Do Bugs Have Brains?
    It's very interesting and expertly edited!

  2. I love your video, thanks a lot ! I just think you could do something about the audio, it is always weird on your videos

  3. Every organism with a nervours system, I think, feels pain because it's a defensive mechanism and when you still feel pain while you keep moving and don't know what causes you pain, it's panic. My guess is those insects are panicking but are not able to display in another form than running away (but you could try hurting a centipede, he got some interestings ways to display his discomfort). But I'm no neuroscientist, it's just my two cents.

  4. I spy with my little eye a clip (5:30) shot in the Philippines, where I live. That was a really nice looking lobster. I know she was going to be eaten, which I am sad about but not entirely morally opposed to, so I hope she provided whoever ate her with some good nutrition and a happy dinner with friends and/or family.

  5. Interesting…
    Then a Bee understands the concept of zero, but probably can't feel pain. Well I learned something today.

  6. It was so great collaborating with you, Inés! Can’t wait to do it again! Maybe next time we’ll come to your side of the pond!.😜

  7. I feel like you skipped over reflexes to harm. Do humans take action through their reflexes to move their body away from a source of harm, before or after they feel pain?

    Also how did different kinds of larvae respond to a hot needle?

  8. According to your conclusion, it's more ethnically correct to avoid eating/ killing mammals than insects.
    The order of animals, or even living things on that matter, which where it is oke to be killed because of human individuals, seems to me like an open question, which itself could and should be answered, just like you did in the video! <3
    I hope that everyone thinks about what gets taken out of life for their own day to day living.

  9. wait, wut..
    1. you say they don't display symptoms that indicate pain.
    2. you show a larvae being burned and it shows symptoms of being in pain…but it may not be in pain and just move around a bit because that aids survival. But that's one of the main reasons why people think we have pain: to increase survival by giving us a motivation to move (away).

  10. You mention that crustaceans have opioid peptides. Would that imply that it's a shared trait with vertebrates, derived from a common ancestor? Or is it something that could feasibly have independently evolved twice (or more)?

  11. Well, I have to say my brain says thanks a lot for this informative scientific content! What I worry about concerning insect's instinctive behaviours is more that so many people apply our basic knowledge of the topic to humans: pretending human reactions and experiences are somehow genetically predisposed, as in an ant, and all the associated racist pseudoscience. Humans have instinctive behavioural and emotional responses, but as far as I can tell our brains are really only "hardwired" for a specific subset of stimuli and neural pathways, with a lot of our conscious experience being the result of much more complex, learned, and culturally conditioned and constructed brain structures.

    Thanks for the video!

  12. I have pondered this and related topics for a while. I believe that insects & other animals don't interpret pain in the same way as humans or other animals. If I thought fish interpreted pain as I do, I couldn't fish anymore. The laying of eggs inside an insect has always amazed me as well as numerous other horrendous manners in which insects slowly die. I believe that on that level, they simply react and are incapable of having a complex interpretation of the event. Additionally, I think humans can also have a reduced or numb reaction to pain when under extreme conditions. One Viet Nam vet told me of a Marine who had his arms blown off in a battle and yet still tried to pick up a rifle & keep fighting. He couldn't understand why he couldn't pick it up and was angry. I also knew several physicians who believed that babies do not feel pain as adults do. Other than people who are incapable of feeling physical pain, perhaps we have a limit on the amount of pain perceived and for those who can still think at that point, are able to work with it. At that point we are very much simple animals. Great topic. (By the way Inés , your hair is stunningly beautiful.)

  13. Just watched the Neurotransmissions video and it was superb as well. Both of these videos would be very useful in classrooms. I would enjoy listening to a discussion between Dr. Alie and Temple Grandin regarding this topic.

  14. I feel that an insect probably does feel pain – just not in the same way we do obviously. Therefore approaching them on the assumption that they do feel pain is more humane. In any case, great video – enjoyed it!

  15. I don't know that opinions are very useful on this question. As you said, the science comes down on the not complex enough to feel pain side of the question. I see no reason to doubt that until new evidence appears. In the meantime, if you have to kill an insect, kill it quick, don't prolong the potential for suffering. Just in case.

  16. You can dress it up however you want, all living things have to experience pain, their survival literally depends on it. If a bug lands on a hot stove top and it doesn't experience pain, how would it know to leave that surface? Its just going to stand their and get cooked? Cmon…

  17. perhaps, as insects breed much faster than us, a pain response wasnt needed to ensure species survival? and so didnt evolve in insects. I wonder if there are other fight or flight related adaptations that may also have not evolved in insects for the same reason? intresting x

  18. Hi Inés Hi Alie 🙂
    I love the point you make towards the end. Pain or no pain, treat animals with respect.
    Awesome collab!

  19. I don't understand why 'pain' requires an emotional response.
    Pain is your brain telling you that something harming you. If a bug steps on a hot surface it will jump or fly off. Because it is causing harm. It doesn't just stand there and fry.
    An emotional response to pain is just that: 'an emotional response' to pain. It's a Cause and Effect. But the emotional response is only an effect and not the only effect of pain. It's does not work backwards: if you feel pain, then you cry does not mean if you cry then it's because you feel pain.
    So, YES, they feel pain because pain is a sign of harm being done and bugs will avoid things that cause harm.
    That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

  20. Great collaboration, guys! I’ve always wondered this, given how far bugs can fall off a person and seemingly be fine. They’re definitely very interesting!

  21. Maybe we are “humanizing” the experience of other animals. As you pointed out, they must be treated, above all, with respect. Though I’m not a biologist, probably their “pain”, “discomfort” (human terms, restricted to our experience) or whatever, follows a mechanism we won’t ever be able to tell or understand completely since we can’t feel it.

    Great video!

  22. The S sounds are hurting my ears when listening to this with headphones on. Any chance of fixing this? Good video otherwise

  23. Lobsters could be an interesting test case for an even bigger ethical headache. Lobsters have about 100,000 neurons (says Wikipedia), which is small enough it can already be replicated (as an artificial neural network) on a normal home computer, a few hundred times faster than real-time.

    I understand that it's difficult to be sure, even in the case of biological neural networks such as lobsters, yet we need to be able to say with confidence if things are capable of suffering, just to make sure we don't accidentally make AI which can suffer without realising what we've done.

  24. How could I know that you can feel pain? I can't feel your pain, and signals can be misleading. I can't feel either insects' pain, but I think they feel it. They, like us, needed pain to survive, to avoid the dangers.

  25. From evolutionary perspective, these emotional responses to sensations are probably too complex to have evolved just in primates.

  26. This has nothing to do with insects, but your long thick hair, large braids, is absolutely beautiful. Had to comment on that.

  27. You answer or cover very interesting questions. I really enjoy the format you have chosen to present the information in a interesting way that warrants further investigation. Keep up the good work.

  28. Hi…big compliment!!! Your hair looks amazing….very thick beautiful braid! !!! Can you make a hairvideo please??? All the Best. … ..

  29. I have the impression that the insects can be afraid so have mental pain. If we say it is just a reflex, why no say that about us?

  30. بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
    قال تعالى: إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يَسْتَحْيِي أَنْ يَضْرِبَ مَثَلاً مَا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَيَقُولُونَ مَاذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِهَذَا مَثَلاً يُضِلُّ بِهِ كَثِيراً وَيَهْدِي بِهِ كَثِيراً وَمَا يُضِلُّ بِهِ إِلاَّ الْفَاسِقِينَ (26). صدق الله العظيم
    كل نفس وما خلقه الله عزوجل يشعر بالألم
    حتى الحجر عندما يصهر في النار يتألم.. سبحانك يا الله..

  31. It feels weird to see video trying to answer question on existence of pain without asking first if necessary prerequisite for pain – the consciousness ("inner" world of subjective experiences) exists in insects : /. Nonetheless it was an interesting video!

  32. To me it seems logical that the capacity to feel pain must have evolved alongside mobility. And insects are certainly mobile. It is true that we can't know exactly how another being with an anatomy very different from our own is experiencing reality, but I definitely think we should err on the side of caution.

    At least some insect species, like bees, have shown signs of great intelligence (among other things they even seem to have an understanding of the concept of zero). I realise that the capacity of intelligent thinking doesn't necessarily mean that being also has the capacity to feel pain, but it certainly does mean awareness of some kind.

  33. I think all species do feel pain because feeling pain is too important to avoid harm and evolution favors those behaviors

  34. Vegans live longer and healthier on average, while animal-based diets correlate to 14/15 leading causes of death.

    A vegan diet is also the only diet shown to reverse heart disease, our number one killer. Check out sources to Cowspiracy for more info on environment, and Caldwell Esselstyn, Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard (pcrm dot org), Michael Greger (nutritionfacts dot org), Joel Kahn, John McDougall, and various other experts on health.

    Bottom line, there's no justification to be consuming animals when it is such an unnecessary act of overlooked violence to the planet, our bodies, and most importantly the animals who get raped into existence by the billions and stabbed in the throat every second.

    We will put someone in jail for hurting animals for no good reason, yet here we are consuming meat and dairy simply because we won't give up the taste, or because of some endless list of easily debunked nonsense people rather believe first before a peer-reviewed, unbiased consensus: Meat and dairy suck for our bodies, while beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables don't. No need to get sucked into corrupt "magazine miracle" diets. Healthiest people on earth = Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables.

    If you have any respect for the peaceful animals we exploit — fish, chicken and everything else — please go vegan.

  35. In relation to this subject, I often think of a statement made by a former coworker, regarding the attractions at a Hormel pork processing plant open house. These included a spectacle of herding the pigs with electric shocks in the floor to the apparent distress of the pigs, and the delight of some of the human observers. This display has since been shut down due to ethical concerns brought by PETA or similar. My coworker voiced the opinion that the pigs had been brought there to be slaughtered for meat, so it didn't matter how they were treated. I couldn't think of anything to say at the time, but I have since thought that although we may conclude that we have the right to sacrifice some other vertebrates to enhance our own survival and quality of life, it is callous to deliberately increase their suffering before the time they are sacrificed. We do violence to ourselves by giving no consideration to the suffering of these beings.

  36. One thing that may be relevant to this is that many small arthropod species display responses which may be distress, even if its not physical pain. For example, Wolf Spider mothers have been observed as agitated when dealing with offspring that aren't their own, but will never kill them. If the baby is eventually accepted by the new mother, it is done after persistently being kicked away by the mother, who may also take out her stress by attacking nearby small objects. Likewise, a species of stick insect I can't remember the name of has been known to mate for life, and may die shortly after its mate does despite there not being an evolutionary incentive to. They live fairly long in ideal conditions (3 years), so there's no evolutionary reason they'd be doing this rather than seeking a new mate. Similar to vertebrates known for strong emotional bonds with others, they may well be dying of stress from the loss of their loved one.

  37. I used to fish and I'd use fly larvae (maggots). When ever I'd put a hook through the tail end, the head would bite one of the fingers holding it. Why would the maggot not bite at the thing being pushed in to it but would bite at my finger? It has enough of a mind to put together, that my fingers and the hook were related and by biting at something soft (my finger) and not the hook, something hard, it might have the result of stopping the hook from stabbing it.
    I think that's complex enough behaviour, that the maggot is feeling pain.
    I'm not really explaining it right but that's the best I can do. Insects do feel pain but its impossible to see much because of its exoskeleton, so all we have to go on is how desperately it tries to avoid the thing giving it pain, to the point of attacking the thing preventing its escape (my fingers).

  38. This seems like an attempt to redefine pain as suffering, and then to argue that the emotional component is critical to the experience. Within the context of this specific definition as a combination of the physical and emotional reaction to noxious stimuli, do dogs feel pain? Do birds? I worry that this argument attempts to restrict the categorical scope of "pain" so that it applies almost exclusively to the human experience, but perhaps I'm mistaken.

  39. You know, this is something that I have thought about my whole life. Why would a creator make something like fish and land animals to feel pain really bad, if they need to eat eachother to live. If so, it's just really cruel. Today, I had a centipede in my room, and I scooped it up with a little cup, and put it outside my third floor window on a ledge. Me not thinking, it's hot outside, but was in the shade, put it on the ledge, and then it got caught in a spider web. I took it out of the spider web and did my best with a really small pair of scissors to untangle it, but then all of the sudden, it just stopped moving completely. I did not try to at all, but I don't know if the heat or the spider web had killed it, or it was playing dead, but I try to not hurt or harm anything, no matter what it is. If I knew that they didn't feel pain, well then I wouldn't have felt so bad. I sat it out front like I should have in the first place, but I just wonder if the heat or web killed it. I feel horrible for the centipede, cause I don't wish pain or cruelty on nothing anymore, I should have just left it be, but my scared of bugs ass didn't.

  40. From a stand point of logic and personal experience, I think they definitely feel pain. Considering how much we don't know I just can't get over how arrogant and ignorant humans are.

  41. Thanks for the very clear explanation. You may be interested in this: . Perhaps a more layman-oriented description of the same study is more appropriate for some (i.e., people like me!):

  42. if bugs do feel pain, i feel bad because i kill them but they also remind me of myself because most bugs don't do you any harm and are just there but the fact that they are 'ugly' and creepy looking like me so people criticize them and kill them. So if bugs do feel pain like humans.. and emotions like animAls and us i feel horrible bcuz they dont know any better and are probably like 'so because i'm creepy looking you want me to die im sorry i was born like this ):' i feel bugs pain.. if they do feel pain.

  43. I have to be honest, this REALLY bothers me. I saw your other video on cyborg Beetles, and it is kind of disturbing that the overall take you seem to be giving is "Insects probably don't feel pain, but we don't know. We've seen larvae twitch around in discomfort, but we're just going to say it was a reflex action, and hey!, there's no law against it, so we're all right! Sorry-that callous attitude is VERY disturbing! I also don't understand why you can say such things-I've seen insects die out of what you would call either pain or frustration when enclosed (that's why i stopped collecting fireflies in a jar as a little kid)

  44. Pain and discomfort by this definition are separate and discomfort plus bad thoughts equal emotional pain. I’m not saying insects have complex emotions but they do need feedback to move around so they must feel something. I imagine being torn apart by something can’t be pleasant. They wouldn’t avoid it if it were pleasant right?

  45. If you hide your headaches, how do you get everyone to shut up?

    Sometimes I pretend I have a headache just so people will shut up.😐

  46. I've always wondered this, so it was interresting, but you and your friend should perhaps work on looking less like a lesbian couple.

  47. speaking of pain… and since this is something I discovered today, though not on topic necessarily, I cured my problems with painful and hurt anus and even the pin worms seem to have gone away by not using toilet paper anymore. I just rinse with water (popular in Japan with their automated toilet seats and of course any cultures where people cannot afford to buy toilet paper… Philippines is one I know from first hand experience) and use a dedicated cloth to finish and oil if needed. It only took a week of that to eliminate sore feelings and even worms. Could it be there was something being added to toilet paper to cause people discomfort ? Judging from so many dis-eases in todays world coming from food additives and drug side effect additives, it is not a stretch to realize this possibility. Try it if you have such discomfort. I am 66. Thanks for the videos ! Such miracles of life going on all around us deem this to be good news in my opinion and worthy to share !

  48. After Watching this video i'm feeling little bit good, i'm feeling good to know that "Probably insects don't feel pain" because seeing them dying by the hands of people n mine too sometime makes me sad. not to feel pain is like god gift to them atleast they don't have to suffer Pain given by others. Lord give them showers of blessing. 🙂

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