2018, May 27: The Snake's Revenge

The weekend of May 27, 2018, was a pretty rough one for Milo Sutcliffe. He and his wife Jennifer were doing yard work at their home near Lake Corpus Christie in Texas, USA, when Mrs. Sutcliffe spotted a four-foot long rattlesnake in the yard. Mr. Sutcliffe quickly cut the snake's head off with a shovel to end the problem.

The Rattlesnake's Head
The severed head. [Larger version here]

        Shortly afterwards, Mr. Sutcliffe picked up the severed head to throw it out... when the head bit him.

        The severed head injected the rattlesnake's full load of venom into Sutcliffe; normally, a live rattlesnake only injects a partial amount, because they reserve it for catching food and defense... but the snake was apparently in no mood to control the matter.

        Mrs. Sutcliffe called 911 [emergency services in the USA] and then set out to drive her husband the 45 miles to the nearest hospital; Mr. Sutcliffe soon lost his vision and started to have seizures, as well as bleed internally. Luckily, the Sutcliffe's were able to rendevous with an ambulance, and then Mr. Sutcliffe was airlifted to the hospital.

        For twenty-four hours, Mr. Sutcliffe's fate was a matter of luck. Whereas normal snakebite victims required between two or four vials of antivenom, twenty-six vials were used on Mr. Sutcliffe... but luck was in his favor, and he eventually stabilised.

What The Hell...?!?

        As it turns out, snakes biting after being decapitated is a well reported phenomena. A YouTube video of a decapitated snake biting its own severed body went viral in 2013 [Link Here], and a somewhat questionable story of a chef being bitten by a severed head made the weird news rounds in 2014 (questionable enough that I will have to examine it also sometime soon). There is also claimed to be an incident similar to the above account that dates from 2007, where a man severed a snake's head and was then bitten cleaning it up... I'll go digging for more on that someday.

        In 2013, James Murphy -- then head of the Reptile Discovery Center at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. -- was asked by National Geographic about the snake in the viral video. It turns out that snakes are capable of moving for upwards of an hour after they've been killed, and still have pre-programmed reflexive actions... such as biting and injecting anything that's in front of their face.

        Murphey was also pretty clear on what to do if you see a snake in your yard:

"Avoid it and do not try to kill it. That is when most snakebites occur. From the perspective of a herpetologist, I don’t want to see any snakes killed. If people try to capture or kill a snake and they don’t have experience, they can get bitten themselves."

You learn something new every day.