The wide geographic distribution, large size and ease of capture has led to decapod crustaceans being used extensively in laboratory experiments. Recently in the United Kingdom decapod crustaceans were listed as sentient beings, resulting in their inclusion in animal care protocols. Ironically, little is known about how captive conditions affect the survival and general condition of wild decapod crustaceans. We used the green shore crab, Carcinus maenas, to investigate the effects of stocking density and shelter on survival and vitality indices during a 6 month period in the laboratory. Neither stocking density nor the presence of shelter affected survival. Stocking density also had no effect on the vitality indices (limb loss, claw strength, BRIX, righting time, leg flare and retraction). The presence of shelter did affect the number of limbs lost and the leg retraction response, but had no effect on the other vitality indices. All vitality indices changed, and mortality increased over time, independent of treatment: this became most apparent after 8 to 11 weeks storage in the laboratory. This decline in condition may have been due to repeated handling of the crabs, rather than the stocking conditions. In support of this, untracked, non-handled (control) individuals sustained a 4% mortality rate compared with 67% mortality in experimental crabs during the 6 month period. Although simple experimental monitoring of crabs with biweekly vitality tests only produced transient short-term stress events, the repeated handling over time apparently led to a cumulative stress and a deterioration in animal health. Bringing wild crustaceans into the laboratory and holding them, even with modest experimental manipulation, may result in high mortality rates. Researchers and animal care committees need to be aware that wild captive invertebrates will respond very differently to laboratory-bred vertebrates, and plan experiments accordingly.
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