Friday, April 16, 2010


This crab is one tough MF. And why not? He is a representative of mighty Crustacea. This subphylum has been offering up super-weird armored animals for at least 350 million years. The exoskeleton has proven to be a great adaptation for crabs, especially the ones that spend at least some of their time on land. The exoskeleton provides some protection from predators and it also helps the crab maintain moisture. Lots of crabs live a mostly terrestrial existence but a dried out crab is a dead crab.
OK. So the crab has armor plating, some claws and evolved from a good family. But I also have some firsthand knowledge of this particular crab's never-say-die attitude and Relative Pinchiness. (RP is a standard qualitative field measurement.) When I first grabbed him on the beach in Mexico on a fine moonlit night he pinched me in his dominant claw. I shook him off, cursed him a little. Picked him up again. Got pinched again. I decided that I liked his vim and his moxie. I stuffed him in an empty cigarette pack and carried him back to my hotel room. When Wes and I got back we dumped our crab haul in the sink and grabbed some test tubes from our luggage. We didn't have enough isopropyl alcohol to use for killing and preservation. But we did have a lot of tequila around. It was truly foul stuff, to be sure, and we thought that using it to kill the crabs would serve a dual purpose: it would preserve the crustaceans and it would save us from drinking any more of that cactus-rot. So we dumped the crabs in cups of the stinking amber liquid and retired to the balcony to drink the rest of the bottle.
After 20 minutes we decided that our new specimens were probably ready to be transferred to test tubes. They were not. They were still as pinchy and upset as ever. So we waited a little bit. Went back to the sink and discovered that they were still alive. Wes and I stuffed them into the test tubes, trying to ignore all the frenzied pinching.
Was this cruel? Conventional wisdom and early research traditionally supported the view that an animal like a crab was incapable of feeling pain. This was good news for everyone that wanted to pretend that they were not responsible for a lot of suffering because of their diet and habits. But it turns out that this view may be wrong. Are you surprised? Animals with complex nervous systems having no perception of pain seems a little convenient and far-fetched to me. I offer you some words from Professor Bob Elwood from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's University, Belfast, whose research into pain led him to use crabs as research subjects.
"The results are consistent with the idea of pain being experienced by these animals."
Researching pain in non-mammals gets pretty complex, introducing all sorts of thorny biological and philosophical questions to deal with, so this quote shouldn't be read as fact. It is offered here as something to think about, Wes Hunting, the next time you, Wes Hunting, kill animals in such an unreasonable way for such spurious reasons, Wes Hunting.

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