Nociception or pain in a decapod crustacean?

Stuart Barr, Peter Laming, J.T.A. Dick, Robert Elwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


Nociception is the ability to perceive a noxious stimulus and react in a re flexive manner and occurs across a wide range of taxa. However, the ability to experience the associated aversive sensation and feeling, known as pain, is not widely accepted to occur in nonvertebrates. We examined the responses of a decapod crustacean, the prawn, Palaemon elegans, to different noxious stimuli applied to one antenna to assess reflex responses (nociception) and longer-term, specifically directed behavioural responses that might indicate pain. We also examined the effects of benzocaine, a local anaesthetic, on these responses. Noxious stimuli elicited an immediate reflex tail flick response, followed by two prolonged activities, grooming of the antenna and rubbing of the antenna against the side of the tank, with both activities directed specifically at the treated antenna. These responses were inhibited by benzocaine; however, benzocaine did not alter general swimming activity and thus the decline in grooming and rubbing is not due to general anaesthesia. Mechanical stimulation by pinching also resulted in prolonged rubbing, but this was not inhibited by benzocaine. These results indicate an awareness of the location of the noxious stimuli, and the prolonged complex responses indicate a central involvement in their organization. The inhibition by a local anaesthetic is similar to observations on vertebrates and is consistent with the idea that these crustaceans can experience pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-751
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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