Philosophical Entomology

You might not have noticed, but an entomologist won a Shorty Award for “Answer of the Year.”  Shorties are sort of like an Emmy Award…except for social media. The question asked was:

If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?
This happens to me all the time. I accidentally step on a bug and injure it. It sits there struggling and I’m always confused over if I should kill it to relieve it of pain or let it live in hopes that it may survive.

Shelomi’s answer?

“Looks like the philosophers and theists have made their cases. As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don’t feel ‘pain,’ but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don’t have emotions. If you heavily injure an insect, it will most likely die soon: either immediately because it will be unable to escape a predator, or slowly from infection or starvation. Ultimately this crippling will be more of an inconvenience to the insect than a tortuous existence, so it has no ‘misery’ to be put out of but also no real purpose anymore. If it can’t breed anymore, it has no reason to live. 

“In other words, I have not answered your question because, as far as the science is concerned, neither the insect nor the world will really care either way. Personally, though, I’d avoid doing more damage than you’ve already done. 1) Maybe the insect will recover, depending on how damaged it is. 2) Some faiths do forbid taking animal lives, so why go out of your way to kill? 3) You’ll stain your shoe.”

Interesting!
The other answers on that page are fascinating in terms of the ways people approach their duties to an injured insect.  They are far, far more compassionate than this story about the question in Gawker, which describes insects as “the bubble-wrap of nature.”  Schmucks.

You can find links to Shelomi’s other answers on Quora about insects in this news story, as well as some comments from the dude himself.  I liked the question “what is it like when your answer unexpectedly goes viral?

This also suggests that there is yet another platform I should be looking at for social media! Who out there uses Quora?

5 thoughts on “Philosophical Entomology

  1. So has it been proven without any doubt that insects can’t feel pain and emotions? I’m curious about what the evolutionary benefit of not feeling pain would be.

  2. I’ve read a similar explanation from Bernd Heinrich, and that since pain is an evolved mechanism for avoiding something that will kill you if you keep doing it or do it again, and that insects don’t need this mechanism as they usually have such brief lifespans. Fair enough, but would like to hear how exactly one tests the pain receptors of insects for curiosity’s sake. As for me, injured bugs get fed to my turtles (or toads when I’m rearing them each summer) which is usually a quick death.

  3. I’m with Emily–I don’t think we actually know if insects can feel pain. We may never know.

    Heinrich’s explanation is very plausible, but really…I don’t think we know.
    So if I have to kill a bug, I do it as quickly as I can, just in case.

  4. Thanks both. I’m not sure about the brief lifespans theory…some insects have fairly long lifespans….queen bees can live up to four years and from what I’ve heard cicadas can live up to 17.

    Rearing toads sounds fun!

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