Euthanizing animals during experiments is a hugely controversial topic, and while many researchers continue to insist that doing so is sometimes vital for the advancement of science, all are agreed that this should always be done in the most humane way possible. With that in mind, a pair of biologists have just published a paper revealing that snails tend to suffer a much less distressing death if given beer just before being killed.
Normally, arguments surrounding animal testing are framed with references to loveable vertebrates like chimps, beagles, or even lab rats, partly because the cuteness of these animals provokes an emotional response in humans, and partly because the workings of their nervous systems have been sufficiently studied to suggest that they feel pain. However, in the name of fairness, it is important to also consider the wellbeing of less voguish creatures – including slimy invertebrates such as snails.
Explaining their work in the Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, the researchers reveal that when snails are dunked into highly concentrated ethanol solutions in order to kill them, they often show signs of extreme distress. These can include defecating, secreting excess mucus, or retracting into their shells.
Given that there aren’t many guidelines on how to humanely kill invertebrates, study co-author Cody Gilbertson explained that “we wanted to see if there was a way to minimize suffering and minimize the tissue damage that occurs when you put them straight into 95 percent ethyl alcohol.”
The most obvious plan of action was to get the snails drunk, so the researchers set about intoxicating them with several different alcohols in order to see how this altered their pain responses. Plying the snails with either a 5 percent ethanol solution or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer – which has an alcohol content of 4.75 percent – was found to massively reduce their ability to feel pain.
To test this, the team scraped and pricked the snails with needles, discovering that they no longer retracted into their shells when under the influence. The snails also seemed much less crestfallen at the prospect of being euthanized, and tended to face up to the deadly ethanol solution without withdrawing into their shells, proving that Dutch courage is not limited to humans.