Insects Feel Pain: Groundbreaking Study Unveils Profound Implications for Their Treatment

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Insects Feel Pain: A Groundbreaking Study Reveals Important Implications for Treating Them

A new, ground-breaking study makes a strong case that insects may feel pain in a way that is similar to how humans do. Scientists have long thought that insects can’t feel pain, but this study challenges that idea by using behavioural observations, neuroscientific results, and molecular evidence.

Because of concerns about ethics, there are tighter rules for studies that use vertebrates in science. Researchers have to get permission from ethics committees because the value of the study has to be greater than any harm that might be done to the subjects. Recently, similar safety steps have been made for cephalopods like octopuses and squids. However, insects have not been subject to many of these rules because it is thought that they do not feel pain like higher animals do. In spite of this, a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B questions this reason.

Researchers haven’t looked into whether insects feel pain much because they don’t want to face the possible consequences of such a finding. A lot of neuroscientists agree on the idea of nociception, which means that the nervous system stores information about things that are dangerous or unpleasant. These messages are used by animals, including insects, to protect their bodies from harm and stay alive. When insects feel pain, does it go through their central nerve systems or is it only felt in certain places, like an injured limb?

Insects’ central nervous systems aren’t as complex as humans’; only a small portion of their brain cells are used to process these kinds of stimuli. Notably, insects don’t have the opioid receptors that humans need to control their pain. Matilda Gibbons, a PhD student at Queen Mary University, and her co-authors say that this doesn’t necessarily mean that insects don’t have any similar skills.

Praying mantises’ famous sex lives has important implications for whether they, and other insects, can feel pain. Image Credit: 夏爱克 CC-By_2.0

It is important to know the difference between nociception and pain, as they are not the same thing. The body can change the level of pain without changing the nociceptive responses. This is especially useful in emergencies where too much pain could make it impossible to do what needs to be done. Pain often shows up later, which is why we don’t use an injured leg, for example. It’s also been seen that nociception can increase without a change in pain levels, which is an interesting phenomenon.

At the same time, we still don’t fully understand how nociception and pain work in insects. The study’s authors look into how insects can control nociception as a possible sign, if not direct proof, that they can feel pain.

The paper talks about behavioural study that shows insects can change their nocifensive behaviour. The central nervous system is involved in processing information that helps them decide what to do first. According to the authors, certain neuropeptides are made by insects during traumatic events that may work like opiates in people to dull pain.

Another piece of proof is the fact that insects, like other animals, can become more aware of certain threats. When fruit flies are exposed to high temperatures over and over again, they react faster to them. Some of the molecules that make us more sensitive are also found in people, and scientists have found ways for pain signals to get to the brain.

Even a well-known behaviour in insects, like female praying mantises eating each other for food, could help answer this question. Even though their mates chew off the tops of their heads, male mantises keep mating. In order to do this, males have to hold back their natural defensive reaction.

The study points out that this behaviour, which is usually seen as proof that insects don’t feel pain, is actually more likely to show that they can put other behavioural needs ahead of nocifensive behaviour in some situations. This points to a centralised reaction, which makes it more likely that insects can feel pain, not less likely.

The main focus is on figuring out how our reaction should change if it turns out that insects can feel pain. The exact ways that insects’ brains process pain are still unknown. If it turns out that insects can feel pain, it will change how we treat them now. As a result, we think about what our actions mean in terms of ethics and whether we can keep treating bugs the way we do now.


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