Can a snakebite kill an elephant?

Beheaded snakes can also be fatal

A Texan was gardening on his property when he spotted a four-foot-long rattlesnake. He beheaded her with a shovel - but when he later wanted to dispose of the animal, the severed head bit him.

According to media reports, a relatively large amount of the snake venom got into his body. The man became seriously ill and had to be flown to a hospital by helicopter, where he was given several doses of an antidote. A week after the bite, his condition was stable again. The snake is said to have been a Texas rattlesnake.

The incident is probably not as rare as one might think. As with many other reptiles, a snake's reflexes function for hours after it dies. The bite reflex is particularly pronounced in poisonous snakes: Their hunting tactic is to bite extremely quickly and then withdraw and wait for the poison to take effect. The Texan experienced first hand that this can happen hours after the animal's death.

A snake's body often writhes around for some time after it dies, explains Bruce Jayne, a biology professor at the University of Cincinnati. The reflex behind it works in a similar way to headless chickens that can still run around for a short time, he says. The nervous system of some animals is simply programmed to perform certain movements without a signal from the brain.