Insects probably do not experience pain. Discomfort becomes pain when it is an emotional experience. All organisms avoid harmful stimuli, even bacteria swim away from toxins. That does not mean they experience pain, it is called nociception. If you look at their ethology for example – if you badly wound a mammal you will see a chance in behaviour, while if you say remove the abdomen of a butterfly, it will behave the same. This is because an insect is the sum of its parts – even if you dehead a mantis or butterfly they can often still fly or pair because the entire body is controlled by decentralised ganglia – many of their movements even bypass the brain. Pain is an emotional experience and a state of being (suffering). Not only do insects lack the appropriate neurology or behaviour that points to them being able to feel pain, they also lack the brain parts responsible for suffering and emotion.I think that ascribing pain or emotions to insects is a form of anthromorphism. Of what we currently know of pain tells us it is linked to emotion. Plus the fact that insect behaviour does not change after experiencing damage or discomfort, they may only exihibit fixed action patterns to avoid the harmful stimuli. So all current behavioural research points to them not exihibiting the ability to suffer. “Pain = an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.
– International Association for the Study of Pain ( IASP)”
Of course we can never experience what insects feel or experience, that’s not possible unless you are a butterfly. But the same way we can not observe the big bang or the evolutionary history of all creatures on earth, but we can look at the clues our environment gives us – such as physics or fossil records that count as evidence to support some of our theories. In the case of pain vs nociception, the current evidence suggests they do not experience pain, so it is now regarded as the status quo unless new evidence emerges that states otherwise.
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