A guillotine can kill a person in seconds, so a chef could be forgiven for thinking that he could dispatch one snake with a whack of his knife. But that was not the case, as chef Peng Fan in the Guongdong province of China found out too late.
Peng was bitten by the decapitated head of an Indochinese spitting cobra 20 minutes after removing its head from its body. He had been preparing it for a Guangdong specialty diced snake soup when the incident happened.
“There is nothing very unusual about this case,” Wolfgang Wuster, a herpetologist (snake expert) at Bangor University’s school of Biological Sciences, told us. “This kind of thing seems weird to us because we humans, like other mammals, have a high metabolic rate and require a constant blood and oxygen supply to the brain, and if this is interrupted for just a few seconds, it's lights out. Snakes and other reptiles have a much slower metabolic rate, and their tissues, including the brain, can keep alive and functional for much longer after the blood supply is cut off.”
Snakes can stay active for about an hour after their head or another body part has been removed. Lee Fitzgerald, a herpetologist at Texas A&M University, told us that the active period after a snakes’ death is affected by temperature and how high up the body the head was severed from. “If the venom glands and nerves and muscles used in biting and venom delivery are not harmed then the head of a snake can still bite, has eye reflexes, and likely many other senses we cannot perceive," he added.
Unfortunately for Peng, this phenomenon spelled his death. The New Zealand Herald reported that he died before reaching the hospital.