Carol asks: Can ants feel pain?
I went crawling around for the answer with York University’s Eleanor Drinkwater…
- Ants can sense that they’ve been harmed and react but this is different to actually feeling pain
- Nociception is the sensory nervous system informing the brain that you’ve been hurt, whereas pain is an unpleasant sensation with a negative emotional response
- One can occur without the other eg. when playing sports you often don’t realise that you are injured until afterwards, or people who have lost limbs experience phantom limb pain
- Robots can also be programmed to experience nociception without experiencing pain, for example in the video game The Sims characters will jump around if they’re burnt by fire
- We currently know very little about insect expressions of pain, but we do know that the pain expression systems are different to those in mammals, meaning that insects are likely to experience pain in a different way to humans
- In short, the jury is still out, so best to be nice to any ants that you may come across!
Part of the Naked Scientists Question of the Week series – you can listen to the full version here.