Cockroaches are some of the most reviled pests. They’re ugly, gross, and have a tendency to infest our homes. They also have one of the more unusual defense mechanisms of any pest insect—the ability to shed their own skin as an escape mechanism. These and other characteristics have led many people to assume that cockroaches cannot feel pain. But do cockroaches feel pain? Let’s take a look at everything we know about these famous pest insects and their capacity for pain.
What is Cockroach Pain?
Pain is defined as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”. Cockroach pain would be the unpleasant sensory and emotional experience of actual or potential tissue damage caused by injury or illness. Insects, including cockroaches, have nervous systems that are very different from mammals. This makes it difficult to conclude whether or not cockroaches feel pain in the same way that we do.
Do cockroaches feel pain when we step on them?
Cockroaches are fast walkers (they can travel at 2.5 miles per hour) and can run as fast as 3 miles per hour. This means that they would be able to get out of the way of a person’s foot before they were injured. Cockroaches have been observed to be more active after being squished, which suggests that the cockroach may not have experienced actual damage from being stepped on. Insects have a general shutdown response to injury that may prevent the transmission of pain from one part of the insect to another. Insects also have less of the specialized cells that transmit pain, like we do.
What Does It Mean to Feel Pain?
Pain is an extremely complex sensation and scientists have only just begun to understand it. There are still many unanswered questions about the way that animals experience pain and the differences between them. There is also very little research that has been conducted on insect pain. Animal pain researcher Dr. Justin Liebling says, “Insects are different from us, they have different genes, they have different nervous systems, they have different ways of evolving, and their behavior is very different. There is no reason to believe that they experience pain in the same way that we do.”
Reasons why cockroaches may not feel pain
Cockroaches have less complex nervous systems than mammals, so they may not have the ability to feel pain in the same way as we do. Cockroaches also have external immune systems (they have no lymph nodes) and their blood vessels are very close to the surface of their skin. The closer blood vessels and external immune system may make it more difficult for them to experience pain. Cockroaches have short lifespans and may not have time to learn about and respond to pain. Cockroaches have been observed to have lower body temperatures than mammals. This may mean that cockroaches feel less pain than mammals.
Confirming that cockroaches can feel pain
Insects have different reactions to injury than mammals. Insects often have a general shutdown response to injury, while mammals have an inflammatory reaction. Studies have shown that mammals and insects have different reactions to drugs that would help alleviate pain in mammals. These studies indicate that insects do not have a reaction similar to that of mammals. Animal pain researcher Dr. Justin Liebling points out that these studies are not conclusive. “You can’t say insects don’t feel pain unless you know how they feel pain.”
While it is difficult to say for certain whether or not cockroaches feel pain, they do have many of the traits of an animal that can experience pain. Cockroaches have a nervous system that is very different from mammals and have external immune systems that may make it harder for them to experience pain. Cockroaches also have different reactions to injury than mammals do, which may make it more difficult for them to feel pain. More research will be needed before we can say for certain that cockroaches can feel pain, but there is reason to think that they can.