I love lobster and crab. Or, rather, I love eating melted butter on lobster and crab. Or at least I used to. A few years ago I decided that I couldn’t justify eating any animal with a brain that was boiled alive. And now a study has forced me to conclude that dipping bread in melted butter may be the best way to go.
From the April 17, 2009 issue of The Week:
The Agony of the boiled lobster
That scream you hear when you place a live lobster into a pot of boiling water is just the air escaping from its innards. But make no mistake, says new research, your lobster is feeling the agony of being boiled to death. Some scientists–and most lobster lovers–have long contended that with their primitive neural systems, crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters cannot feel pain. But a new study on hermit crabs in Northern Ireland has placed that theory into question. Researchers found that after they zapped the crabs with electric shocks, the animals did more than recoil in a reflexive manner–afterward, they exhibited stress reactions such as grooming (scratching their bellies with their legs) and tapping against the undersides of their shells, much like a human might lick a burned finger. What’s more, the crabs seemed to remember the pain. Even after the crabs migrated to other shells, their stress behaviors continued. As with other animals, study author Robert Elwood tells Discovery News, pain alerts the crab to tissue-damaging injuries and protects it by provoking such “a huge negative emotion or motivation that it learns to avoid that situation in the future.” He found that when shocked crabs were given aspirin, they acted relieved, and their stress-related behaviors subsided.
Sadly, pain is one of the most fundamentally important sensations in life. Rarely, cats and dogs are born unable to feel pain. They rarely survive more than a few weeks because they do not learn to avoid dangerous situations.
Meanwhile, I will hope that no similar studies force me to stop eating mussels. After all, their nervous systems are much less developed than crabs’.