Experts At Odds After Study Indicates Bumblebees Do Feel Pain

A scientific survey suggesting that insects do feel pain has drawn mixed reactions from experts.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) examined the behaviour of 82 buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to settle the issue, which has been discussed for decades.

They touched the antennae of the animals in one of the three groups they had set up with a heated soldering iron with a temperature of 65 degrees centigrade.

Prof Lars Chittka said that afterwards, the affected bumblebees had groomed their antenna more than their untouched antenna, more than bees that were touched on the antenna with an unheated probe and more than control bees groomed either of their antennae.

Picture shows Queen Mary University of London campus, undated. A scientific survey suggesting that insects do feel pain has drawn mixed reactions from experts. (NewsX/Bee)

The renowned zoologist concluded: “Our findings thus refute arguments that claim that insects do not feel pain because of their lack of displaying this behaviour.”

While some non-involved scientists acknowledged the effort, others outrightly doubted the findings.

Dr Heather Browning is an animal ethics expert at the University of Southampton. She told the New Scientist: “This study provides an important part of the overall picture.”

The philosophy lecturer and her team revealed that the QMUL research referred to one of the eight criteria she and her team had established concerning whether animals experience pain.

Prof Nicholas Humphrey is a neuropsychologist at the London School of Economics (LSE). He argued that the grooming of an injury was not necessarily a sign of pain. Instead, it could be an evolved reaction meant to diminish long-term damage.

The New Scientist quotes the LSE expert as saying: “We could think of it as a continuation of the immune response to tissue damage which is nearly universal in animals.”

Study co-author Prof Chittka meanwhile argued: “This grooming in itself is not direct evidence for pain. But it’s an important dent in the argument that insects obviously don’t feel pain.”


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