Crayfish Feel Anxiety Too and Here’s Why it Matters

In the early 2000s, a television program accidentally forced New Zealand to rethink its treatment of crayfish: viewers were outraged that a crayfish was boiled alive on the popular show Masterchef.

Today new research is making us rethink our perceptions of the crustaceans — crayfish, lobsters, shrimp, krill, crabs and barnacles — by showing us that the creatures our chefs mercilessly toss alive into boiling water may have emotional lives.

Crayfish are More Than Our Food

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, there are 500 crayfish species, and 400 of them live in North America. Each year, 75,000 tons of crayfish “are farmed in ponds or trapped in wetlands” to drive the $50 million industry.

As commonplace as they may seem, crayfish are actually under threat. Their habitats are being destroyed by a number of things including dams, water pollution and foreign fish, to name just a few. In June 2014,  The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for “failing to protect four aquatic species from the Southeast under the Endangered Species Act,” and the slenderclaw crayfish was one of the four creatures close to extinction–but we can’t afford to lose crayfish.

Over 240 wild animals feed on crayfish and they play a vital role in the ecosystem, making organic material by chewing and crushing dead plants, essentially working as nature’s recycler. They are extremely sensitive to water pollution, and their health is a good gauge of how pure or polluted the water is.

Gauging Anxiety in Crayfish

As reported in The Independent, crayfish are also gauging something more human-like. A report, Anxiety-like behavior in crayfish is controlled by serotonin, published in Science’s June 2014 issue highlights that, like us, crayfish also have the ability to experience anxiety.

Anxiety’s traditionally been thought of as a mostly human, mammal and vertebrate thing, but that’s changing. The latest experiment led by a French team in the Science report created a deep level of anxiety for freshwater crayfish by giving the crustaceans “a series of mild electric shocks” for 20 minutes.  It was the kind of anxiety that humans need medication to control. It turns out, so did the crayfish–in this case the tranquilizer benzodiazepine.

As reported in The Independent, Daniel Cattaert, a neuroscientist involved in the report from the University of Bordeaux in France, explained that anxiety and fear aren’t interchangeable because, “Anxiety is a kind of fear of the fear, and animals who experience it will display adaptive behavior to minimize the threat,” and that’s what happened with the crayfish.

The stressed freshwater crustaceans “flicked” their tails in search for an escape. Unlike the unstressed crayfish, they didn’t venture into well-lit areas of their tank; they lurked in the dark sections instead. After observing the different behaviors, scientists gave the freshwater crayfish the tranquilizer, and the crustaceans began to explore the lit areas, too. Apart from demonstrating crayfish anxiety, the scientific experiment also showed that crayfish have “clear decision-making” abilities.

Crustaceans Arent So Different from Us

It is easy to think of crustaceans as so different from us that it can make some of us less guilty about exploiting, experimenting on, or consuming them. Yet, as Brain Connection points out, we may share a lot more characteristics than we thought:

There’s a lot more to explore in crustaceans’ emotional and conscious lives, and just because we don’t know everything about them doesn’t mean that we can ignore the facts we do have.

Take Action!

While we’re learning more about crustaceans everyday, as The Washington Post discusses, there are no legal protections for invertebrates because the popular belief is that they don’t experience pain.

At the moment no entity is voluntarily going to stop treating these sentient beings like objects: they are stacked one over the other, their legs and antennas are broken, and they are boiled alive–but we can put an end to their unnecessary and inhumane suffering.

Please sign and share this petition today to support efforts to have the Dutch government end the inhumane way in which crustaceans are treated.

Photo Credit: Niklas Morberg

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for the article.

Christine Jones
Christine Jones8 months ago

Petition signed gladly. I saw a cook toss a live crab into boiling water on a tv cooking show and was appalled. Even as a child I thought it was cruel to do that to crustaceans, and I had no scientific evidence, just a kind heart and common sense.

Dale O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.about a year ago

Mark D has mentioned that humans are nothing special. Interestingly enough, humans are members of the animal kingdom just as all other animals are. There are numerous members of this kingdom, be we mammals, or crayfish, birds and a vast assortment of other types of life, such as reptiles for example.

Some animals tend to eat meat, such as the polar bear, lions, along with other predators. There are some Utilitarian philosophers who believe that all carnivores in the wild should be 'eased into extinction' because they happen to prey upon herbivores in the wild.

They want to do with wildlife predators what Mark D wants to do with the humans that he designates as criminals..."and any means including force used to keep them from causing further damage."

I imagine that includes the usual suspects, poachers, those running annoying factory farms, etc., but what about anyone that happens to eat meat, even non-factory farmed meat?

Mark Donners
Mark Donnersabout a year ago

Not surprisingly, the animal sadists and killers have come out from their lairs here, objecting to saving the planet and protecting their rights to mass murder. Humans are nothing special.. as they have proved out, humanity is a unimaginably massive liability to earth and to all life on earth. Therefore when humans start babbling about their right to commit crimes against animals, that's when the line has to be drawn, and any means including force used to keep them from causing further damage. Just as humans do with their own criminals, serial killers and drug pushers, their rights are forfeited.

Josephine Ansaldo-Nixon
Josephine A.about a year ago

I have said all I have to on this subject, which has more than strayed from the original issue.

I would like to thank those of you for some very good reading, even if we didn't agree on certain things. I am going to uncheck the box so I receive no more comments. Best wshes to you all.

about a year ago

It's pretty clear to see that mark d leans toward speciesism and would be a genocidal compassion there.
At least there's no chance that he'll become a politician in a democracy though! Whew

Gerald L.
Gerald L.about a year ago

@ Mark D. could you explain your quote; those employed in the greedy criminal fisheries & greedy criminal animal husbandry rackets,

Just to clarify whether your are against sustainable fisheries controlled by quota's and grass fed, pastured ruminants?

Dale O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.about a year ago

Interesting comments, Gerald L.

"Apparently CAFO'S are banned in some European countries."

I certainly agree with the idea that any animal should be dead first before the animal is put into boiling water, many people tend to believe that already and don't need to be convinced, but I did not know about clams and their toxicity level.

Certainly, as you mentioned, Gerald L, there are a lot of different aspects and things to consider when it comes to a wide variety of farming, especially when it comes to drought and various climatic conditions.

Not too sure what Mark D was going on about with the 'blah, blah," Gerald, perhaps that is a new salad recipe? I am growing my own lettuce, as well as some purple lettuce too. Purple potatoes as well. I have heard there is a recipe for hyperbole salad dressing.

Dale O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.about a year ago

Sounds as if Mark D is in favour of rather drastic methods to stop some from fishing or whatever, but if someone had to live where the Inuit lived or other people in certain areas of the world, often that is all that they can grow in the area or raise. Jailing everyone objecting to the vegan way of doing things, I guess he would have to jail 97 percent of the planet.

That wouldn't exactly work out either, as they couldn't even build enough prisons to toss everyone into, even with the for profit prison system in the U.S. and a few other places to toss every omnivore or egg/dairy eating vegetarian in jail. By all means, end the nasty ways of factory farming, the massive over fishing and many other practices, round up Monsanto, but the rest of the world will go on as before. Birth control does help as well, the planet can't sustain too many billions of people.

Mark Donners
Mark Donnersabout a year ago

Gerald L: "global plant based diet by decree is totalitarianism. Displacing millions of people employed in fisheries & animal husbandry... " blah blah

When the earth dies because of humans, WHO HAVE NO RIGHTS TO BREED TO
MILLIONS to destroy the earth. HUMAN SHORT TERM GREED AT THE EXPENSE OF THE PLANET is what you want to have free rein, and any blockage to that GREED you call "totalitarianism". That totalitarianism as you put it is necessary to save the earth. Not only would I (without an reservation) bankrupt and render homeless those employed in the greedy criminal fisheries & greedy criminal animal husbandry rackets, I would jail the ones who object. They are the terrorists destroying the earth, no sympathy for their destruction of the earth whatsoever, how do you like that?