Insect suffering

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Abundant evidence indicates that all invertebrates with a brain can experience pain. ~ Joan Dunayer

Insect suffering is the suffering experienced by insects due to harms such as disease, desiccation, parasitism, starvation, injury, predation and industrial agriculture.

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  • I know that stepping on a crack won't break my parents' bones. However, there is a chance that bugs can suffer, and that their suffering is of immense proportion. We live in either World 1 or World 2. In the coming years, decades, and centuries, we will discover which of these worlds we inhabit. Let's make sure that if (or when) we realize we live in World 2, we are satisfied that we have a plan in place and are able to do all we can to improve the lives of bugs.
  • To let go from my hand a flea that I have caught is a kinder act than to bestow a dirhem on a man in need. There is no difference between the black earless creature which I release and the Black Prince of Kinda who bound the tiara (on his head). Both of them take precaution (against death); and life is dear to it (the flea), and it passionately desires the means of living.


  • Among insects, most of the pieces of the evidence required to say that insects feel pain appear in some groups to some extent. However, they do not appear in all groups to the extent which would result in a definitive answer. It would not surprise me to learn that some insects, particularly some of the social insects, would posses [sic] all the pieces of evidence.
  • During the rest of that day there was no other adventure to mar the peace of their journey. Once, indeed, the Tin Woodman stepped upon a beetle that was crawling along the road, and killed the poor little thing. This made the Tin Woodman very unhappy, for he was always careful not to hurt any living creature; and as he walked along he wept several tears of sorrow and regret. These tears ran slowly down his face and over the hinges of his jaw, and there they rusted. When Dorothy presently asked him a question the Tin Woodman could not open his mouth, for his jaws were tightly rusted together. He became greatly frightened at this and made many motions to Dorothy to relieve him, but she could not understand. The Lion was also puzzled to know what was wrong. But the Scarecrow seized the oil-can from Dorothy's basket and oiled the Woodman's jaws, so that after a few moments he could talk as well as before.

    "This will serve me a lesson," said he, "to look where I step. For if I should kill another bug or beetle I should surely cry again, and crying rusts my jaws so that I cannot speak."

    Thereafter he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.

  • [W]e propose that at least one invertebrate clade, the insects, has a capacity for the most basic aspect of consciousness: subjective experience. In vertebrates the capacity for subjective experience is supported by integrated structures in the midbrain that create a neural simulation of the state of the mobile animal in space. This integrated and egocentric representation of the world from the animal's perspective is sufficient for subjective experience. Structures in the insect brain perform analogous functions. Therefore, we argue the insect brain also supports a capacity for subjective experience. In both vertebrates and insects this form of behavioral control system evolved as an efficient solution to basic problems of sensory reafference and true navigation. The brain structures that support subjective experience in vertebrates and insects are very different from each other, but in both cases they are basal to each clade.
  • Life is life's greatest gift. Guard the life of another creature as you would your own because it is your own. On life's scale of values, the smallest is no less precious to the creature who owns it than the largest.
  • The Spider sits in his labourd Web, eager watching for the Fly
    Presently comes a famishd Bird & takes away the Spider
    His Web is left all desolate, that his little anxious heart
    So careful wove; & spread it out with sighs and weariness.
  • A worm or mollusc that is injured, and perhaps writhing, may be feeling pain but could be showing an automatic response. The change in scientific thinking is that the weight of evidence for some of these animals now indicates that they may be feeling pain [...] Some aspects of the pain system exist in leeches, insects, snails, and swimming sea-slugs. However, we cannot be sure that these animals feel pain, or that they do not feel pain [...] There is a case for some degree of protection for spiders, gastropods and insects.
  • Even if the probability of arthropods being sentient is considered much lower (e.g. less than 10%), the precautionary principle should be applied, because there are huge numbers of arthropods. At this moment, there are about 1018 terrestrial arthropods (mostly ants) and 1020 marine arthropods (mostly very small copepods as zooplankton). This can be compared with about 1010 humans. So if arthropods happen to be sentient and we erroneously believe they are not, we are neglecting huge amounts of welfare and suffering. When a lot is at stake, the precautionary principle is reasonable.
  • [A] lot of insects are parasites or predators that kill other insects. So if we (accidentally, intentionally or indirectly) kill some insects, especially predators, we might save the lives of many other insects. Or stated differently: saving one ladybird might mean killing hundreds of aphids. Second, insects in the wild can have net-negative lives, i.e. short lives with more negative than positive experiences. These are lives not worth living. This is due to their reproductive strategy: a fertile adult insect can lay thousands of eggs. If the insect population does not explode at an extreme exponential rate, it is logically required that almost all of the newborn insects will have to die prematurely. The ways of dying are often extremely negative experiences: coldness, starvation, predation, parasitism,…. If an insect is killed, it prevents the birth of many insects with net-negative lives. So, if most insects face very short lives anyway and die horrible deaths anyway, it is far from clear whether killing insects increases overall future insect suffering. We need much more scientific research to estimate the overall effect of killing insects on global welfare.
  • In the story of the life of the Buddha, in the early days of the saṃgha the monks had no fixed abode but wandered throughout the year. Eventually, the Buddha instructed monks to cease their peregrinations during the torrential monsoon period in order to prevent the killing of insects and worms while walking on muddy roads.


  • Whenever taking a step, always watch for ants and insects. Prohibit the building of fires outside (lest insects be killed) and do not set mountain woods or forests ablaze.
    • Attr. Wen Ch'ang, Yin-chih-wen (A Confucian-Taoist treatise, probably post 4th Century A.D.)
  • Bees also display optimistic and pessimistic emotional states. In such tests, bees first learned that one stimulus (such as the colour blue) is linked to a sugar reward, while another (such as green) is not. They were then faced with an intermediate stimulus (in this case, turquoise). Intriguingly, they responded to this ambiguous stimulus in a 'glass half full', optimistic manner, if they had encountered a surprise reward (a tiny droplet of sucrose solution) on the way to the experiment. But if they had to suffer through an unexpected, adverse stimulus, they responded in a 'glass half empty' (pessimistic) manner.
  • I would not enter on my list of friends
    (Though graced with polish'd manners and fine sense,
    Yet wanting sensibility) the man
    Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
    An inadvertent step may crush the snail
    That crawls at evening in the public path;
    But he that has humanity, forewarned,
    Will tread aside, and let the reptile live.


  • I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
  • Many insects stridulate by rubbing together specially modified parts of their hard integuments. This stridulation generally serves as a sexual charm or call; but it is likewise used to express different emotions [...] anger, terror, jealousy, and love.
  • When a worm is suddenly illuminated and dashes like a rabbit into its burrow—to use the expression employed by a friend—we are at first led to look at the action as a reflex one. The irritation of the cerebral ganglia appears to cause certain muscles to contract in an inevitable manner, independently of the will or consciousness of the animal, as if it were an automaton. But the different effect which a light produced on different occasions, and especially the fact that a worm when in any way employed and in the intervals of such employment, whatever set of muscles and ganglia may then have been brought into play, is often regardless of light, are opposed to the view of the sudden withdrawal being a simple reflex action. With the higher animals, when close attention to some object leads to the disregard of the impressions which other objects must be producing on them, we attribute this to their attention being then absorbed; and attention implies the presence of a mind. Every sportsman knows that he can approach animals whilst they are grazing, fighting or courting, much more easily than at other times. The state, also, of the nervous system of the higher animals differs much at different times, for instance, a horse is much more readily startled at one time than at another. The comparison here implied between the actions of one of the higher animals and of one so low in the scale as an earth-worm, may appear farfetched; for we thus attribute to the worm attention and some mental power, nevertheless I can see no reason to doubt the justice of the comparison.
  • Mental Qualities.—There is little to be said on this head. We have seen that worms are timid. It may be doubted whether they suffer as much pain when injured, as they seem to express by their contortions. Judging by their eagerness for certain kinds of food, they must enjoy the pleasure of eating. Their sexual passion is strong enough to overcome for a time their dread of light. They perhaps have a trace of social feeling, for they are not disturbed by crawling over each other's bodies, and they sometimes lie in contact. According to Hoffmeister they pass the winter either singly or rolled up with others into a ball at the bottom of their burrows.* Although worms are so remarkably deficient in the several sense-organs, this does not necessarily preclude intelligence, as we know from such cases as those of Laura Bridgman; and we have seen that when their attention is engaged, they neglect impressions to which they would otherwise have attended; and attention indicates the presence of a mind of some kind. They are also much more easily excited at certain times than at others.
  • The wing'd Ichneumon for her embryon young
    Gores with sharp horn the caterpillar throng.
    The cruel larva mines its silky course,
    And tears the vitals of its fostering nurse.
    While fierce Libellula with jaws of steel
    Ingulfs an insect-province at a meal;
    Contending bee-swarms rise on rustling wings
    And slay their thousands with envenom'd stings.
  • Once, indeed, Harry was caught twirling a cockchafer round, which he had fastened by a crooked pin to a long piece of thread, but then this was through ignorance and want of thought: for as soon as his father told him the poor helpless insect felt as much, or more than he would do, were a knife thrust through his hand, he burst into tears, and took the poor animal home, where he fed him during a fortnight on fresh leaves; and when he was perfectly recovered, turned him out to enjoy liberty and fresh air. Ever since that time, Harry was so careful and considerate, that he would step out of the way for fear of hurting a worm, and employed himself in doing kind offices to all the animals in the neighbourhood.
  • [I]f all sentient beings have equal moral status and insects are sentient, it would seem that we would be obliged to take insects quite seriously indeed. This is highly counterintuitive. Moreover, if all who have moral status have it equally, then we should right now be very invested in the question of whether insects are sentient. If they are, then we are routinely harming trillions of beings with full, equal moral status—a very serious matter. The commonsense reaction that we need not be so concerned with the question of whether insects are sentient suggests that, if they are, their moral status is less than ours, implying that not all who have moral status have it equally.
  • The egg of a parasite chalcid wasp, a common small wasp, multiplies unassisted, making ever more identical eggs. The female lays a single fertilized egg in the flaccid tissues of its live prey, and that one egg divides and divides. As many as two thousand new parasitic wasps will hatch to feed on the host's body with identical hunger. Similarly—only more so—Edwin Way Teale reports that a lone aphid, without a partner, breeding "unmolested" for one year, would produce so many living aphids that, although they are only a tenth of an inch long, together they would extend into space twenty-five hundred light-years. Even the average goldfish lays five thousand eggs, which she will eat as fast as the lays, if permitted. The sales manager of Ozark Fisheries in Missouri, which raises commercial goldfish for the likes of me, said, "We produce, measure, and sell our product by the ton." The intricacy of Ellery and aphids multiplied mindlessly into tons and light-years is more than extravagance; it is holocaust, parody, glut.
  • In any case, abundant evidence indicates that all invertebrates with a brain can experience pain. Like vertebrates, numerous invertebrates produce natural opiates and substance P. These animals include crustaceans (e.g., crabs, lobsters, and shrimps), insects (e.g., fruit flies, locusts, and cockroaches), and mollusks (e.g., octopuses, squids, and snails) [...] Also, crustaceans, insects, and mollusks show less reaction to a noxious stimulus when they receive morphine. For example, morphine reduces the reaction of mantis shrimps to electric shock, praying mantises to electric shock, and land snails to a hot surface.


  • The implications of the foregoing discussion, for insects and other invertebrates, need to be considered with caution. Clearly, it is not possible to provide a conclusive answer to the problem of pain in lower animals, as any subjective experience of an organism cannot be directly experienced by another and a means of communicating with lower organisms is not available to us.


  • Bee-eating Wasps [...] feed their larvae on Hive-bees, whom they catch on the flowers while gathering pollen and honey. If the Wasp who has made a capture feels that her Bee is swollen with honey, she never fails, before stinging her, to squeeze her crop, either on the way or at the entrance of the dwelling, so as to make her disgorge the delicious syrup, which she drinks by licking the tongue which her unfortunate victim, in her death-agony, sticks out of her mouth at full length [...] At the moment of some such horrible banquet, I have seen the Wasp, with her prey, seized by the Mantis: the bandit was rifled by another bandit. And here is an awful detail: while the Mantis held her transfixed under the points of the double saw and was already munching her belly, the Wasp continued to lick the honey of her Bee.
  • [H]aving worked out the markers that identify both aspects of consciousness in the vertebrates, we apply these same criteria to the invertebrates, and find that the arthropods (including insects and crabs) and cephalopods (like the octopus) meet many of the criteria for exteroceptive and affective consciousness. This would mean that consciousness evolved simultaneously but independently in the first arthropods and first vertebrates over half a billion years ago.
    • Todd E. Feinberg & Jon M. Mallatt, The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience (2016), p. 9 ISBN 978-0262034333
  • I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
    On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
    Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
    Assorted characters of death and blight
    Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
    Like the ingredients of a witches' broth
    A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
    And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

    What had that flower to do with being white,
    The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
    What brought the kindred spider to that height,
    Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
    What but design of darkness to appall?—
    If design govern in a thing so small.


  • Y: What are your opinions concerning the propriety of using silk?
    Z: I disapprove of the act of depriving the living grubs of their silk. I however understand, that numbers of them generally die naturally while enclosed in their silk; also that the silk of these is the most esteemed; and this of course may be used. Though I am averse to the act of depriving the living ones of their natural clothing, and substituting bran in its stead; but I severely censure the usual mode of baking them to death in an oven.


  • Observe, too, says Philo, the curious artifices of nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are bred on the body of each animal, or flying about infix their stings in him. These insects have others still less than themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and destruction.
  • One cool autumnal night, while lying by his camp-fire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny [Appleseed], who wore on his head a tin utensil which answered both as a cap and a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire, and afterwards remarked, "God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort, that should be the means of destroying any of His creatures."


  • We are unable to give life, and therefore ought not wantonly to take it away from the meanest insect, without sufficient reason; they all receive it from the same benevolent hand as ourselves, and have therefore an equal right to enjoy it.


  • Several scientists and philosophers argue that because invertebrates such as insects, spiders, worms and snails may very well be able to feel pain or suffering, our moral concern should be extended to such beings. Different kinds of evidence have been used to infer whether they can feel pain, including facts about their nervous systems, observations of behavior that indicate learning to avoid harm, and evolutionary arguments about whether feelings of pain would give a fitness advantage. Despite a growing number of studies on invertebrate pain, the evidence is not conclusive, which raises the political and ethical question of what to do under this uncertainty. The uncertainty supports that we should care about the potential suffering of invertebrates such as insects, and take and avoid at least some actions to reduce their potential suffering in case they can suffer. Potential invertebrate suffering is worth paying attention to, even if it is unlikely that they can suffer, primarily because of the large number of individuals involved and the severity of the harms that they endure. For instance, thousands of insects can be killed by boiling to produce one piece of silk clothing. This means that if such invertebrates can suffer substantially, their suffering would be a large-scale ethical disaster. In addition, the fact that invertebrates are so neglected should appeal to effective altruists and others looking to have an outsized impact.
  • If I died and was offered to be born again as an insect or cease to exist, I would definitely choose not to exist [...] There is enormous inequality among the fates of insects. Some die very young, either as larvae, pupae, or just after having emerged from the pupa stage as adults, and it is difficult to see how most such lives can be good on balance. Death often seems very painful so, because their lives are so short, they do not include enough positive wellbeing to compensate their suffering.
  • We have literally no idea at what level of brain complexity consciousness stops. Most people say, "For heaven's sake, a bug isn't conscious." But how do we know? We're not sure anymore. I don't kill bugs needlessly anymore. [...] Probably what consciousness requires is a sufficiently complicated system with massive feedback. Insects have that.


  • So, given that we can't be sure whether insects experience pain, how should we treat these creatures? When I was teaching insect anatomy and physiology I insisted that the students anesthetized insects before conducting experiments that we would expect to inflict pain on a mouse. [...] It seems ethically obligatory to guard against the possibility that insects feel pain. If we use anesthetic and it turns out that insects don't experience pain, the material cost of our mistake is very low [...] However, if we don't use anesthetic and it turns out that the insects were in agony, then the moral cost of our mistake is quite high.
  • Considerable empirical evidence supports the assertion that insects feel pain and are conscious of their sensations. In so far as their pain matters to them, they have an interest in not being pained and their lives are worsened by pain. Furthermore, as conscious beings, insects have future (even if immediate) plans with regard to their own lives, and the death of insects frustrates these plans. In that sentience appears to be an ethically sound, scientifically viable basis for granting moral status and in consideration of previous arguments which establish a reasonable expectation of consciousness and pain in insects, I propose the following, minimum ethic: We ought to refrain from actions which may be reasonably expected to kill or cause nontrivial pain in insects when avoiding these actions has no, or only trivial, costs to our own welfare.


  • Jumping spiders (Portia spp.) plan routes towards their prey; and hermit crabs (Pagurus berhnardus) show evidence of motivational trade-offs during shell choice. Furthermore, if their brains are implanted with electrodes, garden snails (Helix aspersa) will learn to displace a lever, an action new to their behavioural repertoire, to stimulate those neural regions involved in sexual behaviour. None of these represent concrete evidence of conscious emotion, but they at least suggest that if cephalopods are to now be protected across Europe, then arachnids, decapod crustaceans and gastropods should be too.
  • The ant is the most pugnacious of all animals, and the most muscular compared with its size. It will boldly attack the biggest creature that walks if this creature invades its home. It will fasten its mandibles into an enemy, and allow itself to be torn to pieces without relaxing its hold. Among some savage tribes, certain species of ants are said to be used as surgeons. Infuriated ants are allowed to fasten their mandibles on the opposite edges of a gash, and in this way the wound is closed. The ants are decapitated, and their bodiless heads with their relentless jaws serve as stitches to the wound.
  • Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
    And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
    And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
    While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.


  • This could potentially reduce consumption of vertebrate meat, moving farming away from intensive agriculture towards higher welfare organic systems. Yet entomophagy can only make a significant difference if insects are mass-produced [...] What if these trillions of insects also suffer? If we neglect this possibility, it is feasible that we will move from one intensive poor-welfare system to another, where conscious organisms are inhumanely farmed in greater numbers than anything we have seen before.
  • Ultimately, we don't know for sure that invertebrates suffer in a comparative way to other animals, but given that at any moment the earth contains a billion billion insects, it seems prudent to take the precautionary principle. The potential for these insects to consciously experience some kind of suffering must have an impact on how we interact with them, and our crop fields are a very good place to start.


  • In conclusion, recent results from neurophysiological, neuroanatomical and behavioral sciences prompt caution when denying consciousness, and therefore the likelihood of presence of pain and suffering or something closely related to it, to insects. This strongly underlines earlier statements that while awaiting results of further research one should consider the possibility that at least some insect species might suffer pain and, as a precaution, always ensure humane handling of these animals, including the application of anesthesia and analgesia for painful procedures and humane killing techniques.


  • Hurt no living thing:
    Ladybird nor butterfly,
    Nor moth with dusty wing,
    Nor cricket cheering cheerily,
    Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
    Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
    Nor harmless worms that creep.
  • Their experiences may be more simple than ours, but are they less intense? Perhaps a caterpillar’s primitive pain when squashed is greater than our more sophisticated sufferings.


  • "Crush not yonder [ant] as it draggeth along its grain; for it too liveth, and its life is sweet to it."
    A shadow must there be, and a stone upon that heart, that could wish to sorrow the heart even of an [ant]!
    Strike not with the hand of violence the head of the feeble; for one day, like the ant, thou mayest fall under the foot thyself!
    Pity the poor moth in the flame of the taper; see how it is scorched in the face of the assembly!
  • The fundamental commandment of ethics, then, is that we cause no suffering to any living creature, not even the lowest, unless it is to effect some necessary protection for ourselves, and that we be ready to undertake, whenever we can, positive action for the benefit of other creatures.
  • A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to help all life which he is able to succor, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred. He shatters no ice crystal that sparkles in the sun, tears no leaf from its tree, breaks off no flower, and is careful not to crush any insect as he walks. If he works by lamplight on a summer evening, he prefers to keep the window shut and to breathe stifling air, rather than to see insect after insect fall on his table with singed and sinking wings.

    If he goes out in to the street after a rainstorm and sees a worm which has strayed there, he reflects that it will certainly dry up in the sunshine, if it does not quickly regain the damp soil into which it can creep, and so he helps it back from the deadly paving stones into the lush grass. Should he pass by an insect which has fallen into a pool, he spares the time to reach it a leaf or stalk on which it may clamber and save itself.
  • I too am subject to division of my will-to-life against itself. In a thousand ways my existence stands in conflict with that of others. The necessity to destroy and to injure life IS imposed upon me. If I walk along an unfrequented path, my foot brings destruction and pain upon the tiny creatures which populate it. In order to preserve my own existence, I must defend myself against the existence which injures it. I become a persecutor of the little mouse which inhabits my house, a murderer of the insect which want to have its nest there, a mass-murderer of the bacteria which may endanger my life. I get my food by destroying plants and animals. My happiness is built upon injury done to my fellow-men.
  • That does not mean that we should launch a campaign for insect rights. We still do not know enough about insect subjective experiences to do that; and, in any case, the world is far from being ready to take such a campaign seriously. We need first to complete the extension of serious consideration to the interests of vertebrate animals, about whose capacity for suffering there is much less doubt.
  • The question of pain in invertebrates will be extremely difficult to resolve—if, indeed, it is resolvable. In the meantime, perhaps it can be agreed that it is most appropriate to concentrate efforts on maintaining and improving the general well-being of invertebrates used in research, that is, to ensure that these animals are kept in the best and most appropriate conditions during their lives in the laboratory; given the benefit of the doubt in procedures which have the potential to cause pain and distress; and, when the time comes, killed in the most humane manner possible.
  • It is a sin against that God who created both them and you, to inflict unnecessary suffering upon any of his creatures. Ask yourselves, too, how you would like such treatment, from one stronger than yourself. If you meet a beetle or a caterpillar, step aside, and do not wantonly crush it. And should you see a poor earth-worm, lying in the dusty path, parched with the sun, and too much exhausted to regain his home, extend a kind hand to help him, and place him on the nearest cool and moist ground. He is a harmless little creature, though not pleasing to the eye or agreeable, but he is God’s workmanship: and while you are thankful for being endowed with reason, and with an immortal soul, let the inferior creatures enjoy their little lives while they may.
  • I'll not hurt thee, says my uncle Toby, rising from his chair, and going across the room, with the fly in his hand,—I'll not hurt a hair of thy head:—Go, says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his hand as he spoke, to let it escape;—go, poor devil, get thee gone, why should I hurt thee?—This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.
  • So, Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
    Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
    And these have smaller Fleas to bite 'em,
    And so proceed ad infinitum.


  • I saw that, though he was assiduously gnawing at the near foreleg of his enemy, having severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all torn away, exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black warrior, whose breast-plate was apparently too thick for him to pierce; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer's eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite [...] I felt for the rest of that day as if I had had my feelings excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and carnage, of a human battle before my door.
  • Insects are far more numerous than NPCs right now, and they're also far more sophisticated. Many insects have at least 100,000 neurons and exhibit not only reactive and goal-directed behavior like NPCs but also reinforcement learning, selective attention, memory, sleep-like states, cognitive generalization, social behavior, and so on. There are an estimated 1019 insects on Earth, compared with around 1010 humans or around 1011 to 1012 birds. Even if you count just raw number of neurons, insects outweigh humans by a few orders of magnitude. While humans may matter a lot more for instrumental reasons related to the trajectory of the far future, in terms of pure morally relevant amount of sentience, insects may dominate on Earth at the moment.
  • My personal conclusion is that we should give some weight to the possibility of bug suffering, especially until more evidence is available. Thus, considering the 1018 insects that exist at any given time, there is a huge amount of (potential) suffering in nature due to insects alone. We may also want to consider the ways in which humans impact insects, such as through insecticide use, although insecticides could potentially prevent more suffering than they cause if they avert vast numbers of future offspring that would have mostly died, possibly painfully, soon after being born.
  • There's a reasonable possibility that insects have some degree of consciousness and can experience suffering. Given how many insects each of us harms or helps by our choices, consideration of insect suffering should play a significant role in our actions. For instance, we should generally avoid buying silk and shellac, reduce driving especially when roads are wet, and minimize walking on grass or in the woods. Most insect suffering results from natural causes such as predation, parasitism, physical injury, and dehydration. We should encourage concern for wild-insect suffering and research ways in which human environmental policies can reduce it. Our descendants should also think twice before spreading insects and insect-like creatures to new realms, which could multiply suffering manyfold.
  • In debates regarding whether insects and other invertebrates can feel pain, conflicting evidence can be raised on either side. For example, it seems clear from many studies that invertebrates can learn to avoid electric shock, heat, certain chemicals, and so on. Meanwhile, there are examples of invertebrates apparently unconcerned by physical injury. In my opinion, this collection of evidence suggests that invertebrates plausibly suffer in response to some stimuli but maybe not others. If so, it seems useful to further explore which particular stimuli are unpleasant to invertebrates to what degrees, in order to inform ethical treatment of invertebrates.
  • Entomophagy (eating insects for food) is sometimes proposed as an alternative to factory farming because it has lower environmental impact. But entomophagy is not necessarily more humane than factory farming of livestock all things considered, and along some dimensions it's actually worse, because it involves killing vastly more animals per unit of protein. Rather than promoting insect consumption, let's focus on plant-based meat substitutes.
  • The spider was so contrived that she would not eat grass, but must catch flies, and such things, and inflict a slow and horrible death upon them, unaware that her turn would come next. The wasp was so contrived that he also would decline grass and stab the spider, not conferring upon her a swift and merciful death, but merely half paralysing her, then ramming her down into the wasp den, there to live and suffer for days, while the wasp babies should chew her legs off at their leisure. In turn, there was a murderer provided for the wasp, and another murderer for the wasp’s murderer, and so on throughout the whole scheme of living creatures in the earth. There isn’t one of them that was not designed and appointed to inflict misery and murder on some fellow creature and suffer the same, in turn, from some other murderous fellow creature. In flying into the web the fly is merely guilty of an indiscretion—not a breach of any law—yet the fly’s punishment is ten-thousandfold out of proportion to that little indiscretion.


  • The bias against small beings seems closely related to another bias we have, namely the bias to believe what is most convenient. For it would no doubt be much more convenient if small beings such as insects are not sentient. If they are, and if they can feel pain, the world suddenly becomes very complex and messy, and not least full of suffering beyond what we have imagined thus far. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suspect that our reasoning is somewhat motivated to jump to the conclusion that insects are not sentient.


  • [P]erhaps the most significant result of the 'Molecular Biology' of the past 25 years is the bond it has established between ourselves and the 'lower animals'. They have become so close to us. Indeed, nowadays one has the same feeling of unease in speaking of the 'lower animals' as one would in referring to the 'lower classes' [...] I am sure that insects can feel pain if the right stimulus is given. High temperature seems the clearest example, and perhaps electric shocks. For practical purposes why not assume that that is so? Most operations on insects are actually facilitated if the insect is narcotized.
  • Do you know the meaning of the word Goodness? I see you are unwilling to answer. I will tell you. It is, first, to avoid hurting any thing; and then, to contrive to give as much pleasure as you can. If any insects are to be destroyed, to preserve my garden from desolation, I have it done in the quickest way.
  • We have shown that the emotional responses of bees to an aversive event are more similar to those of humans than previously thought [...] Bees stressed by a simulated predator attack exhibit pessimism mirroring that seen in depressed and anxious people.
  • I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than "Mother Nature" was ever perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation. One thinks of wild animals as savage, but the fiercest of them begins to look almost domesticated when one considers the viciousness required of a survivor in the sea; as for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by 'Mother Nature.' Each species must strive to survive, and that will do, by every means in its power, however foul—unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.


  • Be kind and compassionate to all creatures that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in this world. Never beat nor inflict pain on any animal, beast bird or insect. Do not throw stones at a dog or a cat, nor kill flies or wasps.
  • Lo, the bright air alive with dragonflies,
    With brittle wings aquiver, and great eyes
    Piloting crimson bodies, slender and gay.
    I aimed at one, and struck it, and it lay
    Broken and lifeless, with fast-fading dyes.
    Then my soul sickened with a sudden pain
    And horror, at my own careless cruelty.
    That where all things are cruel I had slain
    A creature whose sweet life it is to fly:
    Like beasts that prey with bloody ciaw: Nay, they
    Must slay to live, but what excuse had I?

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