By Rebecca Morelle
Crustaceans may be able to experience some emotions, a study published in the journal Science suggests.
Researchers in France have found that crayfish seem to show anxiety, a feeling previously thought to be too complex for these primitive animals.
It follows a number of studies that suggest that crustaceans can also feel pain.
Some experts say the seafood industry may need to rethink how it treats these creatures.
Dr Daniel Cattaert, from the University of Bordeaux, who carried out the research, said: “Crayfish are primitive, they have been around for hundreds of millions of years.
“The idea that this animal could express some anxiety didn’t seem possible, but with our experiments we’re more and more convinced that this was the case.”
To investigate, the scientists exposed the crustaceans to a stressful situation – in this case an unpleasant electric field.
The creatures were then placed into a cross-shaped tank. Two of the arms of the cross were dark – an environment that most crayfish prefer, while two were light.
Dr Cattaert said: “When you have a naive crayfish (one not exposed to the electric field), you observe that the animal will go in all of the arms, but with a slight preference for the dark arms.
“But when we place a stressed animal in the maze, we observe the animal never goes in the light arms.
“The light arms are perceived as too threatening.”
The researchers found that the crayfish produced high levels of serotonin, a chemical that is released by the brain to counteract anxiety.
They also discovered that when they injected the stressed creatures with an anti-anxiety drug, they stopped being so wary and began to explore the light arms of the tank.