Despite their knight-like appearance, lobsters are actually sensitive and delicate animals. Although they can't see or hear very well they do have an exquisite sense of touch, thanks to hundreds of thousands of tiny hairs that stick out from gaps in their shells. Lobsters are also sensitive to changes in temperature — detecting temperature shifts as small as one degree — which is partly why they migrate up to 160 kilometres every year to find the perfect breeding ground for their fragile babies. This certainly puts death in a scalding pot into perspective.
Contrary to what we see in cartoons, lobsters use their claws for much more than just pinching! Lobsters can be left-'handed', right-'handed' or ambidextrous, and have several receptors on their claws and their legs, which they use to locate and recognise any food that is around them.
Indeed lobsters are not only able to feel pain, scientists have also discovered that crustaceans can learn to anticipate and avoid pain — a reasoning historically thought of as a trait unique to vertebrates (animals with backbones, including us).
When other animals, including humans, experience extreme pain, their nervous system may shut down as a coping mechanism. Zoologists have found that lobsters and other crustaceans don't have this ability to go into 'shock' so when they are exposed to cruel procedures (such as having their claws or 'tail-meat' torn off or being boiled alive) — their suffering is prolonged.
The lobster does not have an autonomic nervous system that puts it into a state of shock when it is harmed. It probably feels itself being cut. ... I think the lobster is in a great deal of pain from being cut open ... [and] feels all the pain until its nervous system is destroyedInvertebrate zoologist, Jaren G. Horsley PhD.
Scientists have found that it can take lobsters between 35 - 45 seconds to die when plunged into a pot of boiling water — and if they are dismembered their nervous system can still function for up to an hour.
Every year, millions of lobsters meet their fate in a cooking pot. It's enough to make any lobster anxious ... and yes, new research has revealed crustaceans may experience anxiety — considered a complex emotion — in much the same way humans do. And they react to it just like many of us, too — by seeking out a safe space! French researchers have even discovered that stressed crayfish (a relation to lobsters) react positively when dosed with anti-depressant drugs — the very same ones used to treat anxiety in humans.
Well, not in the human sense of the word! The perfect example of 'ageing gracefully', lobsters don't seem to suffer from any decline in strength or health and can just keep on keeping on, with adult lobsters retaining the vitality of youth and able to regrow limbs even at a century (or more) old!
The fact that lobsters are voiceless in the human understanding of the word doesn't mean we shouldn't listen to what scientists are telling us about them. It is clear that lobsters are unique creatures who have caring social bonds, feel pain and anxiety, and experience life in many of the same ways that we do. Now, more than ever, it's time to recognise that these extraordinary animals are as equally worthy of the care and protection we give to our household companions.
Lobsters, crayfish, crabs, prawns and other marine animals are the often forgotten and silent victims of the fishing and 'seafood' industries. But you can help these animals who are just as deserving of compassion. Here's how:
- Order your FREE vegetarian starter kit and discover a world of lobster- (and animal-) friendly cuisine!
- Did you know that fish have feelings too? Discover more remarkable facts about fish.
- Find out how to save our oceans — and the creatures who call them home — with our top five tips to save 'the blue heart of the planet'.
- It's easy to save lobsters, crayfish and prawns from being boiled alive by taking a pledge to leave sea creatures in the water and off your plate!