Recently, a video of a cottonmouth water moccasin went viral after a family in Texas discovered the snake in their flower beds. The family then decapitated the snake and recorded how the head continued to bite after it was removed from its body. Warning: The following images are graphic.
The poor snake didn’t stand a chance against a pair of tree-pruning sheers. “We didn’t have a knife close to us, so Avery chopped it’s head off with some tree loppers,” wrote Jill-Scott Mollett, the woman who uploaded the video.
The snake was biting at the air and revealing its impressive fangs. “The girls’ favorite part was when the head kept trying to bite stuff for a few minutes after it was chopped off its body. #CountryLivingAtItsFinest,” Mollett continued.
Most of the comments on the video were in support for the snake’s execution. However, some commentators were disturbed by the video. They were especially disturbed by the snake’s killers poking the snake and laughing at it as it laid dying.
“You know, it IS possible to kill a dangerous animal without being a p***k about it. How about not teaching your children to find death funny or cool? Remember …Dahmer started out by killing animals for sport,” said one commentator.
Other comments on the post brought up the fact that the snake can still be deadly, even when decapitated. Snakes can bite and transfer venom for up to an hour after decapitation. If a poisonous snake in your garden met the wrong end of a shovel, it’s best to keep away from the decapitated head for a few hours.
Back in 2014, a chef from southern China, Peng Fan, was preparing a meal out of a freshly killed cobra when the snake’s decapitated head bit Fan’s hand. The snake had been decapitated for 20 minutes. Mr. Fan died before medical services could reach him.
In 2016, firefighter Kyle Watson from Tennessee was airlifted out of the Creeks Bend Natural Wildlife Area after a decapitated snake head. He cut the animal’s head off with a kayak paddle and then picked up the snake’s head to show his children. He was unconscious within one minute. Luckily, Mr. Watson was saved in time, and he learned a valuable lesson.
While some commentators on the video insisted that they snake was dead and the biting was merely it’s nervous system firing off, the snake was in fact still alive. It was also in an immense amount of pain. This has to do with reptile’s metabolism.
"Some of the many ways in which reptiles are ‘killed’ are mentioned later on but one method which is quite commonly used is decapitation. Generally speaking, in mammals and birds, for example, quickly severing the head from the rest of the body may cause immediate or near immediate loss of consciousness and a very rapid death. It might not be describable as 'humane' but the period of post-severance life in the head is almost certainly short. Although meaning certain death, decapitation is certainly not a rapid or humane way of killing reptiles.”
The snake’s cold-blooded metabolism allows its brain to survive for much longer without oxygen when compared to warm-blooded animals. Warwick touches upon this more in his book:
“As hard to believe as it seems, the heads cut from reptiles live on well after the horrific event of decapitation itself. It is not a case of "nerves causing the head to move unconsciously" as most people think. The heads, and parts of the neck if still attached, are alive and some may attempt to bite objects which approach; the eyes may follow movement and the pupils contract and dilate in response to light and dark; they can blink and in the case of snakes and lizards, flick out and in their tongues to test the air for scent and even move slightly if enough of their neck is left.”
Decapitating a reptile is an unnecessary cruelty, as it causes the animal a great deal of pain. Just imagine the distress and pain you would feel as a detached head. Now imagine that feeling for up to an hour. Warwick writes:
“With what movement, they can manage they often writhe in agony from the massive severance of tissue. They are virtually helpless, frightened and going to die. If it seems too inconceivable to be true, then think of it as being a case of animals which have had most of their bodies cut away. One might think that suffering of this kind could not be endured for long. If only that were true. Unfortunately, a problem associated with the reptilian metabolism's ability to operate at relatively low oxygen and low blood pressure levels is that nerve tissue is, to put it simply, very tough. Therefore, the nervous system, which of course includes the brain, can function away from the rest of the body for some time. In fact, the activities of decapitated heads mentioned earlier have been recorded as present for around an hour or so.”
For your own protection, if you see a venomous snake on your property your best bet is to call animal control. They will remove the animal and deal with it accordingly and humanely. If you absolutely must kill the animal, be sure to completely destroy the brain (probably by smashing it with a blunt object). We really recommend the former approach.