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Lobsters may need painkillers, too

Who has not, when about to throw a handcuffed lobster in the boiling water, almost wanted to apology for doing it? Fortunately, science was there to clear our conscience, telling us that crustaceans could most likely not feel pain. But what if scientists were wrong?

According to Professor Bob Elwood of Queen's University in Belfast, crustaceans thrown live into boiling water may very well suffer for many seconds before succumbing. A set of experiments on crabs indeed revealed that the invertebrates would rather give up a comfortable, dark hiding place if it avoids them an electric shock. According to the researcher, such reaction points towards an indication of pain.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, also reveals that crabs tend to avoid a shelter where they have repeatedly received a shock. If Elwood admits it is impossible to be 100 per cent sure that crabs feel pain, he considers the results as "consistent" with pain and recommends caution when handling crustaceans.

'Crabs have their claws torn off and the live crab is thrown back in the sea. Lobsters and prawns have the front half of the body torn off from the abdomen which is kept for the meat. The nervous system in the head and thorax is still functional an hour later', Elwood told AFP.

The biologist said many people assumed that because crustaceans do not have a brain resembling that of vertebrate animals, they could not feel pain. 'More consideration of the treatment of these animals is needed as a potentially very large problem is being ignored,' he said.

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