An Insect’s Life: How Do We Measure Insect Welfare?
When we debate the ethics of consuming animal products, we often assume the subject of the conversation is farmed animals or wild animals being hunted for food. However, insect consumption may be on the rise, as (a subject we have covered from numerous angles). As a result, the question of insect welfare will become an increasing subject of concern. Indeed, many people already consume insect products in the form of honey and affect insects in numerous other ways. So we should already be thinking about insect welfare, and more animal advocates are taking heed.
Part of the equation for what constitutes a “good life” includes how long that life lasts. But this can be a rather tricky measurement when it comes to insect lives, which are usually measured in days and weeks rather than years. Like other animals, not all insects live similar lives. Even within a species, quality and length of life can differ. Most honey bees, for example, are workers that live anywhere between 15-38 days. A drone’s life expectancy is slightly higher, between 20-40 days, while a protected queen may live up to 2-3 years “if she is long-lived.” This article examines insect welfare and life expectancy, beginning with honey bees, and compares their relatively protected lives in the hive to other insect species such as springtails, ants, midges, and mayflies.
The author differentiates between the terms life expectancy and life span, noting that, “from an ethical perspective, it is uninteresting how long an animal can live; the interesting question is how long it does live, which matters because it affects what its life contains.” This ties in directly to how the author analyzes quality of life: “I’ve avoided speculations about whether a bee might feel lonely, exhausted, or afraid. Instead, I’ve focused on … the most obvious sources of positive or negative experiences such as eating, mating, starving, being too hot or cold, and being subjected to severe bodily injury.”
While this article is brief and does not draw any particularly strong conclusions, it presents several interesting opportunities for future research and ethical exploration. If they are not doing so already, animal advocates would be well advised to take insect welfare seriously.