Bumblebees DO feel pain and should be included in animal welfare laws, study claims

While the idea of ​​getting stung isn’t exactly appealing, a new study might make you think twice before brushing off pesky bees.

Researchers at Queen Mary University London showed that bumblebees can feel pain.

In the course of the study, the team showed that bumblebees can change their response to “harmful” (painful) stimuli in the same way as other animals known to feel pain.

“If insects can feel pain, humans have an ethical obligation not to cause them unnecessary suffering,” said Matilda Gibbons, first author of the study.

“But UK animal welfare laws don’t protect insects – our research shows that perhaps they should.”

While the idea of ​​getting stung isn’t exactly appealing, a new study might make you think twice about killing pesky bees.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have found that bumblebees can feel pain.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have found that bumblebees can feel pain.

Fruit flies feel ‘chronic pain’ just like humans

According to researchers at the University of Sydney, chronic pain is defined as pain that continues after the original injury has healed.

Like humans, fruit flies feel a special kind of pain called neuropathic pain that occurs after damage to the nervous system.

People may feel this kind of pain after sciatica, spinal cord injuries, or a pinched nerve.

When a nerve in one of the legs was damaged in a fruit fly, the other legs reacted by becoming “hypersensitive” to dangerous stimuli.

The fly receives “pain” messages that travel through sensory neurons to the ventral nerve cord.

After that, their pain threshold is constantly changing, and they become “hyper-vigilant”, trying to detect potentially dangerous stimuli.

While previous research has shown that all vertebrates (animals with a spine) can feel pain, it has not yet been clear whether invertebrates (animals without a spine) can feel pain.

“Scientists have traditionally viewed insects as insensible robots that avoid injury through simple reflexes,” Ms Gibbons explained.

“We found that bumblebees respond non-reflexively to being harmed in a way that suggests they feel pain.”

In their study, the team used a “motivational trade-off paradigm” in which animals must flexibly compromise between two competing motives.

In this case, the bees were given the choice between an unheated feeder or one heated to 55°C – very hot.

Feeders contained different concentrations of sucrose and were marked with different colors.

When both feeders contained high concentrations of sucrose and one of them was heated, the bees tended to choose the unheated feeder.

But when the heated feeder contained a higher concentration of sucrose, the bees were more likely to visit it.

The researchers also made sure that the compromise depended on the signals (colors) that the bees learned to associate with higher sugar rewards.

Because the bees used learned color cues to make decisions, the trade-off was processed in the brain rather than in the periphery.

The researchers also made sure that the compromise depended on the signals (colors) that the bees learned to associate with higher sugar rewards.  Since the bees used learned color cues for their decisions, the trade-off was processed in the brain rather than in the periphery.

The researchers also made sure that the compromise depended on the signals (colors) that the bees learned to associate with higher sugar rewards. Since the bees used learned color cues for their decisions, the trade-off was processed in the brain rather than in the periphery.

In other words, the bees made the decision to experience some pain in order to receive a higher reward in the form of sugar.

Professor Lars Chittka, who led the study, said: “Insects were previously thought to be simple reflex automata, responding to noxious stimuli with only withdrawal reflexes.

Based on the results, the researchers propose to include insects in animal welfare laws.

Based on the results, the researchers propose to include insects in animal welfare laws.

“Our new work shows that bees’ reactions are more flexible and that they can suppress such reflexes when it suits them, for example, if there is a very sweet treat.

“Such flexibility is consistent with the ability to subjectively experience pain.”

Based on the results, the researchers propose to include insects in animal welfare laws.

“Insects (unlike vertebrates) are not currently protected by any legislation regarding their handling in research laboratories and in the growing industry that produces insects for human consumption or as food for ordinary livestock,” Professor Chittka added.

“It may be necessary to expand the legal framework for the ethical treatment of animals.

“The growing evidence that insects have some form of intelligence places an obligation on us to conserve the environment that shaped their unique and seemingly alien intelligence.

“We humans are just one of many species capable of both pleasure and pain, including painful states.

“Even miniature creatures such as insects deserve our respect and ethical treatment, and our duty to minimize suffering wherever we can.”

REDUCING BEE POPULATIONS

The decline in the number and health of honey bees has raised global concern due to the crucial role of insects as a major pollinator.

In recent years, bee health has been monitored closely as food sources available to honey bees have dwindled and pesticide pollution has increased.

In animal studies, researchers have found that the combined effects of pesticides and poor nutrition impair the health of bees.

Bees use sugar to fuel their flight and work inside the nest, but pesticides lower the sugar levels in their hemolymph (“bee blood”) and therefore reduce their energy stores.

When pesticides are combined with limited food supplies, cattle do not have enough energy to work, resulting in a dramatic reduction in survival rates.