Welfare Dilemmas Created by Keeping Insects in Captivity

  • Michael Boppré
  • Richard I. Vane-Wright
Part of the Animal Welfare book series (AWNS, volume 18)


The challenging issue of animal welfare has focused mainly on furred and feathered vertebrates. However, unnoticed by most people, literally billions of insects are kept in captivity, in increasing numbers, and traded for a great variety of purposes. Arguably the most successful animals on Earth, insects are ignored or actively disliked by most people. Not just the different appreciation of insects by humans but the diversity of insects, and the diversity of their ecosystem services, shows that a discussion of insect welfare requires different criteria than vertebrate welfare. Their biology is very different, and insects are far less tolerant of suboptimal conditions. As a result, successful insect breeding programmes must necessarily fulfil basic welfare requirements. Insect natural history illustrates the complexity of practical welfare, even without fundamental consideration of insects as animals that have intrinsic value and their own agency, and the extent to which they are conscious or not and may or may not suffer pain. The great variety of insect lifestyles and lack of accessible information about industrial breeding mean that it is impossible to set general standards for insect welfare or provide meaningful evaluations of current practices. The best guidance that can be offered is to ‘keep insects under as natural conditions as possible’. However, even this cannot be adhered to. Conditions in live butterfly exhibits involve compromises. Insects released in billions as biocontrol agents often involve x-ray sterilisation or transgenic procedures and pose environmental risks. For insects bred for human food and animal feed, euthanasia is a pressing issue. Numerous questions and ethical and welfare dilemmas are raised. Despite this, formulation of an Insect Welfare Charter based on respect, and the need to pay more attention to insects, is encouraged, preferably also addressing insects living in the wild.



We thank Ottmar Fischer and Philipp Klein for interesting discussions and comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Several colleagues, including Donald Broom, Martin Hall and Paul Williams, helped us with literature, for which we are very grateful. We also thank the reviewers and editors for suggestions that have led to improvements in the text.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Boppré
    • 1
  • Richard I. Vane-Wright
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Forstzoologie und EntomologieAlbert-Ludwigs-UniversitätFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE)University of KentCanterburyUK
  3. 3.Life SciencesNatural History MuseumLondonUK

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