Have you ever wondered if shellfish such as clams can feel pain? They seem such simple creatures, it is easy to believe that they may not, but do clams feel pain? We know about all sorts of other creatures and we try to make accommodations for their needs, but shellfish are often unacknowledged by animal rights campaigns.
So, let’s find out what we know about these shellfish and their ability to respond to injury.
We don’t yet know for sure if clams can or can’t feel pain. A lot of research has gone into the world of fish to try and determine how they deal with injuries and what they feel when they are hurt, but so far, the answers are lacking. We just don’t know yet. However, many people will avoid eating clams in case they can feel pain.
How Do We Process Pain?
Let’s start by understanding how pain works for other animals that do feel it. After all, we know that most animals feel pain in the same way – or at least in a similar way – to humans.
For people, pain is registered by sensors in the skin, which are the end of our nerve cells.
These receptors pass the message of pain up the nerve and into the spinal cord. There is a dorsal horn in the spinal cord, where the electrical signals are transmitted across neurons, and then the signal passes up the spinal cord and into the brain.
Next, the spine sends the signals into the right part of the brain, and your brain responds to the sensation. It is worth noting that a strong sensation of pain will generate a reaction, causing you to withdraw before you have even consciously noticed the pain.
This response actually occurs within the spinal cord, and it makes you move away from the source of pain immediately.
The signal continues up to the brain, and the pain registers there. Your brain continues to respond to the stimulus even after the source has been removed to encourage the body to heal injuries and direct blood to the area.
Animals often appear to have similar responses to pain. They will withdraw sharply from a source of pain, and will usually show distress or unhappiness as a result of ongoing pain. We know that most animals can feel pain, but it does require a brain and a nervous system – so can clams?
Do Clams Have Brains?
Clams do “sort of” have brains, although they are much simpler than our brains. They contain a few different elements, and they do have a nervous system that connects the nerves and organs. However, it’s unlikely that clams think the way that we do.
We don’t yet know for sure one way or another, but it is reasonable to assume that clams do not plan their days, or worry about the future. They probably don’t wonder about the meaning of the universe. A clam’s brain is not like ours, but is it capable of processing pain?
Can A Clam’s Brain Process Pain?
A brain does not have to be capable of complex thought to be capable of feeling pain. It just needs to be able to respond – and with the nerve receptors that a clam has, it can likely feel. If it can feel, it can probably feel pain, or at least respond to a painful stimulus.
However, this is entirely guesswork. Scientists do not yet know if clams have a sustained sense of pain, or if they process pain in the way that we do. Even if clams can feel pain, they may not feel it in the same way that other animals do, and they may not find it as unpleasant as we do.
All we have established thus far (from a scientific perspective) is that clams respond to touch and that they might be able to feel pain.
Do Other Kinds Of Shellfish Feel Pain?
Shellfish is a very wide term, so it may be that some do feel pain and others don’t, but it is certainly true that some shellfish feel pain. Lobsters and crabs have a central nervous system and can certainly feel pain, and the practice of boiling live lobsters is being increasingly called into question.
Whether other mollusks can feel pain is not yet certain. Many scientists believe that because invertebrates diverged from vertebrates such a long time ago, they are unlikely to have the same pain receptors that vertebrates have. They have relatively small nervous systems and brains, which could contribute to limited cognitive capacity.
Furthermore, part of the purpose of pain is to guide our behavior. We move away from actions that cause pain and therefore are more likely to survive in a threatening world. Whether mollusks (and other invertebrates) have the same power to reason, and thus the same use for pain, is doubted.
However, this is entirely speculation. Invertebrates may have developed pain receptors and a sense of pain that is similar to that of people, but we don’t yet understand it. Hopefully, in time, science will give us a better sense of the answer to these questions.
Should You Eat Clams?
Many people choose what they eat based on how little the food has suffered to get to their plate. That means some people choose to eat clams (and other shellfish) even if they won’t eat other meat because they believe that the animal has not suffered in being harvested and killed.
However, this is not yet an established fact, so it’s somewhat problematic to base an ethical judgment on it. If you want to avoid causing pain to animals, it may be better to avoid eating shellfish entirely.
After all, clams may indeed feel pain that we just don’t recognize, or they may have other sensations that we ourselves lack. Eating clams simply because we haven’t yet established whether it hurts them may be poor reasoning.
If you wish to avoid causing pain to other creatures, it is probably safest to stick to a plant-based diet. The harvesting of clams could cause harm to other creatures even if the clams themselves are not actively suffering.
A plant-based diet minimizes the harm that you do to other creatures and is the best option – regardless of pain receptors – for being kind to other animals.
Do Vegetarians Eat Clams?
Not by the strict definition of the word, no. Being vegetarian means that you do not consume any animals, including fish or shellfish.
Do Vegans Eat Clams?
No. Vegans do not consume any animal products, and some vegans take this further and also refuse to use animal products, even if the product can be gathered without direct harm to the animal. Vegans do not eat any fish, and that includes shellfish.
Overall, we simply don’t know whether or not clams feel pain, but future research may give us the answer. In the meantime, if you wish to avoid harming other creatures, the best option is to choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, and avoid consuming any other animals.