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The Sciences

Baby Snake Shows Why The Dead Can Still Be Deadly

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Remember that story from last fall about the Chinese chef that died after being envenomated by the severed head of a cobra he was cooking? (Well, if not, here's a good summary.) Many dismissed the tale outright, thinking a snake couldn't possibly be lethal if it was no longer living. But a great photo taken this week by Lee Reeve shows just how dangerous venomous animals can be, even after death:

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A drop of venom on the fang of a dead baby Crotalus atrox. Photo by Lee Reeve Lee found this wee western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) dead this morning. It was the runt of a recent litter, and had struggled in spite of months of assisted feeding, so Lee wasn't surprised the little guy didn't make it. But just because the small snake was dead didn't mean Lee could be carefree about handling it, as he explained in a Facebook post:

"Looked like he hadn't been dead for very long, so I took the opportunity to show why they're dangerous, even when dead. The liquid coming from the fangs is venom, and will be just as toxic as it was when the snake was alive. Prick your finger on and the fang (or even the bottom teeth), and you got yourself an envenomation."

Even once dead, venom that is stored in the venom gland can be injected into an unsuspecting victim if pressure is applied. And snakes, like other animals (even us!), can exhibit muscle movements post-mortem, so even if the animal isn't alive, you can't be sure it won't move unpredictably. As someone who has worked for years with venomous animals, I've had to be careful with my study organisms even months after their demise (frozen venom can stay potent for a long time!). So should you come across a dead snake — or anything else with venomous fangs, spines, spurs, etc — be careful! Don't assume the dead are harmless to the living.

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