Severed Head Of Rattlesnake Bites And Nearly Kills Man Who Decapitated It

Snake lives matter. alexander wong/Shutterstock

A man in Texas had to be airlifted to hospital for immediate treatment after being bitten by a rattlesnake – after he’d already killed it and cut off its head.

It was touch and go for the first 24 hours, but after an emergency helicopter ride and 26 doses of anti-venom, just over a week later the man is now recovering.

It all began on Memorial Day at the home of Jennifer Sutcliffe and her husband, near Corpus Christi, Southern Texas.

They were out doing yard work when Mr Sutcliffe spotted the 1.2-meter-long (4-foot) rattlesnake – which is quite common in Texas – and, using his shovel, killed it by decapitating it. What happened next took him by surprise.

As he picked up the severed head to dispose of the remains it “bit” him, releasing its potentially fatal dose of venom. Mrs Sutcliffe drove her husband to hospital but he started suffering seizures on the way. She met an ambulance halfway before a helicopter was called to get him to hospital quicker. His wife told local station KIITV that doctors told her he may not survive.

Luckily he was given the anti-venom in time and is said to be in recovery, though still with slightly weakened kidney function. Experts, however, are warning if you see a snake you don't have to kill it, and you definitely shouldn’t cut its head off.

“That’s kind of a classic mistake. People don’t realize that reptiles and mammals are wired differently,” Leslie Boyer, antivenom doctor and founding Director of the University of Arizona VIPER Institute, told Gizmodo. “The head end of a cut-up rattlesnake can continue to function, including the venom glands, for a long time afterward and, in fact, the other half continues to work. It’ll rise and rattle.”

It's a strange but true fact that snake heads can actually still move after decapitation (you can see it in action here, although be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted), though no one is really sure how long after death this continues. Some reports suggest up to 12 hours is possible.

Although rattlesnake bites can be deadly and require immediate emergency medical attention, of the 7,000 people bitten a year in the US, between five and 12 people die.

To be on the safe side, if you come across a snake, avoid it (it will be desperately trying to do the same) and certainly don’t cut its head off. “It’s cruel to the animal and it leaves you with a smaller piece that’s venomous to pick up,” Boyer said.

Don’t try to be an American hero, this is one fight you can’t win, even if you think you’ve already killed your foe. Call somebody – animal control, the fire department, the police – who knows what they're doing instead, it will be safer for all involved (including the snake). 

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