Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

It’s an odd sort of entertainment: put two bugs in a glass aquarium and watch them fight to the death. Scorpions, tarantulas, huge wasps, mantis, centipedes, and other creepy crawlies are caught on film trying to defend themselves against their opponent. The fight is over when one bug is belly up.

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They may just be bugs, but I still had a very hard time watching these fights. While I of course know that in nature these bugs will suffer an equally ‘horrible’ end, under someone’s shoe, eaten by a bird, etc, there seems to be something grotesque about filming the death of any creature for the entertainment of humans. While I will certainly squash a roach or fly in my house if I see it, I do so out of cleanliness rather than for the delight of killing something. I had to stop watching the mantis-wasp fight because the match was so unfair. The mantis was trying to desperately defend itself or escape and was getting more and more tired. The wasp kept stinging over and over and finally ripped open the soft underbelly of the mantis, who was trying to crawl away. The one with the crayfish and the huge beetle was equally disconcerting, as the crayfish bled from its wound and cowered in the corner. It just seemed incredibly cruel.

Sure, thats me anthropomorphizing. But perhaps the distasteful thing about this isn’t as much what it is doing to the bugs/crayfish but what it says about the humans who make and consume it for entertainment.

Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think.

Link via Neatorama.


  1. #1 bug_girl
    January 5, 2008

    I found it very disturbing. I completely agree with you.

  2. #2 Left_Wing_Fox
    January 5, 2008

    Yeah, I ran into this just last night on a YouTube creep. Started watching an episode of “Spider-Man” called “The Spider Wars”. Searching for “Spider Wars” brought up this exact same sort of death match videos.

    I don’t mind so much when it’s a couple of stag beetles “sumo wrestling”, but the death matches are pretty sick. Part of me understands the human fascination with death being turned into entertainment (Slasher flicks, dogfighting, violent video games… even nature documentaries). But at the same time, it takes a rather sick next step to intentionally setting up a situation where something is going to die, as opposed to simulating it, or trying to observe natural behavior.

  3. #3 freds
    January 5, 2008

    As I understand it, arthropods don’t have enough CNS to include pain sensation but all the same, I’ll pass on watching the videos. It isn’t whether or not the insects are truely suffering; it’s the use of another living organism for enjoying gratuitous violence. There is an insensitivity (and thrill of watching the violent death?) that I find repellant.

    If I find a field roach in my kitchen, I capture it and release it to my garden. About the only arthropod I will kill in the house is a black widow.

  4. #4 Cuttlefish
    January 5, 2008

    “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
    They kill us for their sport.”
    (Lear, IV.i.37-38)

    Our hates, our fears, our cruel and heartless quarrels
    We thrust on God, then turn to Him for morals.

  5. #5 Sigmund
    January 5, 2008

    What happens at the end?
    Does the winner get to take on a humpback whale?

  6. #6 Bryce M.
    January 5, 2008

    I’ve noticed you always post the weirdest things earliest in the morning, like yesterdays videos of a brain tumor being removed.

  7. #7 Troika21
    January 5, 2008

    It is stomach-churning, I don’t care about squashing or spraying insects (still don’t) but thats just too artificial.
    If it was ‘just’ acting out what happens in the wild, we’d find it more acceptable I would think.

    I watched the Mantis vs. Wasp one too, and yes its grossly unfair, that wasp was clearly an insect that evolved to take down other large bugs. Anyone know what it was?

  8. #8 Ghosty
    January 5, 2008

    I didn’t have to watch it. That IS insensitive. It’s amazing how some people can take the most cavalier stance on the perspective of other living things.

  9. #9 psychman
    January 6, 2008

    The account for that site has been suspended. Of course, the suspension could have been due to excessive bandwidth rather than objectionable content.

  10. #10 Baratos
    January 6, 2008

    It would be better if they stopped the fight as soon as one of the contestants appeared to be dying. Most of them would probably still die, but at least it wouldnt look so coldhearted.

  11. #11 Lab Lemming
    January 7, 2008

    “It just seemed incredibly cruel…
    Anyway, check it out”

    No thank you.

  12. #12 RYH
    January 7, 2008

    Haven’t watched the video (connection not capable of it) but pitting stag/rhino beetles against each other is something of a regular summer time activity for boys in Japan. Of course, they’re usually not to the death.

    Forcing these things to fight, then televising the show isn’t very natural but then again, I’ll admit to being fascinated to the point of distraction from whatever I’m doing when I see similar clashes in nature. Saw a big orb spider taking down a really big wasp the other day and I thought that was pretty cool.

    Anyway, its not exactly cool, but on the grand scale of things, pretty harmless. In our really dumb bored moments, guys talk about what would win in a fight – tiger vs bear or orca vs white shark – and putting something like that together would be over the line.

    Personally, I would have much more sympathy for the rhino beetles if they would stop thinking my ear was a convenient place to latch on to every other time I take a shower. Really, these things are really strong and it takes quite a bit of effort to pry them off. Last one left a pretty good sized gash on my right ear.

  13. #13 J.G.
    January 7, 2008

    While this can be pretty hard to watch, it seems to be the obvious genesis for so many monster movies, as well as Pokemon.

    …Wait, that doesn’t say anything positive about it at all.

  14. #14 ChrisC
    January 7, 2008

    I did watch the video and in truth did find it quite distasteful. As many have mentioned, pitting living things against each other in a fight to the death is a bit twisted if not uncommon and our fascination with such spectacles perhaps says something about our nature. However, I find it even more revealing how we all tend to anthropomorphize these insects. It says a whole lot for our capacity for compassion that the sight of a beetle being killed turns our stomach. If we all took as much interest in the suffering that occurs outside of that terrarium,such as the genocide whole populations, the extinction of species, the exploitation of the disenfranchised – if we lent these problems the same compassion we offered the scorpion in that video we would all be better for it.

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    January 9, 2008

    As I understand it, arthropods don’t have enough CNS to include pain sensation but all the same, I’ll pass on watching the videos. It isn’t whether or not the insects are truely suffering; it’s the use of another living organism for enjoying gratuitous violence.

    It’s an interesting philosophical question — does a bug suffer in any meaningful way? Can it feel pain? What sort of answer to those questions is adequate, considering that the only real answer could only come from asking them, which is obviously impossible? Some would argue that arthropods and many other invertebrates lack the mental capacity to experience pain, but I find that doubtful. Whether it’s pain as we know it or not, they certainly seem to respond negatively to many things which a human would consider painful. I’ve boiled lobsters alive, and they struggle mightily the moment they touch the scalding water. Is this because they fear, or because the water hurts? Are they even aware of their surroundings, or merely responding on instinct? I don’t know. But not knowing makes me inclined to be as brisk as possible when I dispatch them. (Boiling is a near-instant death for a lobster; they are motionless by the time they hit the bottom of the pan.)

  16. #16 Phil
    January 10, 2008

    Far be it for me to condemn another culture for being odd, but if you have ever seen bizarre foods with Andrew Zimmer or even been to Japan…they do eat live lobster sushi and the still beating hearts of raw frog sushi. The attitude to animals is somewhat different to the anthropomorphic attitude we have. ( p.s. I am asian and have travelled quite a lot in asia). I personally don’t even want to watch this. I find no enjoyment in the suffering of living creatures ( unless you count Republicans but it’s arguable that they are actually alive LOL ). Yes I do enjoy fishing. But when I catch something, I conk it on the head to put it out of its misery as fast as I can. Also, what’s the difference between me catching my own fish and you going to the burger joint? We eat to survive. Needless cruelty reflects on the society that creates it. For Japan…animal cruelty. For the USA……I shall let you all name a few examples.

  17. #17 film izle
    December 1, 2008


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