You may have noticed that, excepting the occasional zombie apocalypse, we humans tend to function best with our nervous systems intact and our brains, limbs and major organs all connected and happily communicating with each other. Well, we feel it's our duty to inform you that not all creatures are quite so picky when it comes to the intactness of their bodies. (And it's not at all because we get a cheap kick out of giving our readers bed-pissingly horrible nightmares. Honest.)
#6. Headless Snakes Can Still Kill You
When faced with a venomous snake, most people's natural reaction would fall into one of three categories: fleeing, freezing on the spot or OH GOD OH GOD KILL IT CHOP OFF ITS EVIL POINTY HEAD.
While the latter course of action may seem like the surefire way to avoid getting bitten, it turns out that might not be the case. Don't believe us? Well, here's a new one for the Nightmare Department:
If you did not or could not watch that video, we will spoil both it and your dreams: It's a video of a snake head not only refusing to do what any severed head with a shred of common decency should do (die), but also rearing and trying to bite the living shit out of anyone dumb enough to get too close to it.
If you're anything like us, cutting off a deadly snake's head is your best and only move. If that doesn't work, our only follow-up attack is bowing respectfully and doing whatever the hell that severed head wants us to do.
So, What Makes This Abomination Possible?
The snake has heat-sensitive pits at either side of its face, which it uses to detect threats -- and let's face it, if you're close enough for your body heat to be detected, you're close enough to be considered a threat. Oh, and also what the hell are you doing standing so close to a venomous snake's face?
These heat-sensitive pits are capable of detecting a threatening presence for hours after death, which means the snake may continue to defend itself, zombie-style. And yes, this applies even if the body is no longer attached. So anyone dumb enough to poke and prod it to assess its level of deadness may quickly find themselves with a sudden increase in the level of pissiness of their pants when the snake's movement sensors kick into action.
But don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom, because a snake's venom loses its toxicity after its death. Except that's a total lie, which means that getting bitten by a dead snake can make you just as dead as getting bitten by a living one, but add to the excruciating pain the severe humiliation, because who the hell loses a fight to a dead animal?
"We vasectomied you after applying the antivenom. Everyone agreed it was the most ethical choice."
Well, a Washington man known as Anderson, for one. The 53-year-old and his son tag-teamed a rattlesnake outside their house and pulled a Walking Dead on it with a shovel, only to have the head rear up and bite him when he went to check out the success of their mission. In his own words: "When I reached down to pick up the head, it raised around and did a back flip almost, and bit my finger."
So what we're telling you here, we guess, is that a severed snake head not only refuses to die, but its svelte new bodiless form can perform freaking acrobatics to get at you with its poisonous bits.
#5. Octopus Tentacles Don't Know How to Quit
Say you've always had a burning curiosity to know what it would feel like to chew on Cthulhu's face. Hey, we're not here to judge. Anyway, here's what you do: You travel to Korea and order up a nice heaping plate of sannakji.
Here's what you'll get:
In case you're smart enough to entirely avoid clicking on videos in a Cracked article about zombie animal parts, the main ingredient of sannakji is extremely fresh (it doesn't get much fresher than "still squirming") sliced-up octopus, usually served with sesame seeds and a tasty dip -- presumably tasty enough to help you forget the fact that your food is not only moving, but actively trying to escape.
Or possibly using up your minutes.
If you've ever wanted a food that fights you on its way down your throat, this is the food for you. Also, if you've ever wanted a food that fights you on its way down your throat, please get help and stay far away from us.
So, What Makes This Abomination Possible?
First up, you need to understand just how well-developed an octopus tentacle actually is.
"Cooler than your lame-ass arm."
Say you want some food. Your arm is likely going to be the limb you rely on to help you achieve this goal, but it's incapable of doing anything on its own -- your brain has to supervise the movement of your arm every step of the way. To put it another way, your brain is the Michael Jordan of your body, and all of your limbs are the obedient, supportive and essential Scottie Pippens.
Yes, art department. That's exactly what we were talking about.
Now let's say an octopus wants some food. The only command issued by the octopus's brain is "FOOD NOW" -- the tentacle already knows what it needs to do in order to fulfill that goal without any further input from mission control. The movements of the tentacles are controlled by the tentacles themselves, which means there's no need for the brain to still be connected in order for those movements to happen. This is because more than half of the neurons in the central nervous system of an octopus are located in its tentacles.
In fact, James Wood, a leading octopus expert, says that the tentacles are able to process information themselves, with little of that information ever reaching the brain.
In that video above, do you remember watching that sucker latch onto the plate in a last-ditch attempt to save itself from mastication? Here, let us remind you:
That sucker doesn't care that there isn't a brain telling it what to do. It's just doing what it would do anyway -- in this case, trying not to get eaten. Or perhaps actively trying to kill you, as in the case of the six or so unfortunate sannakji eaters who die every year as the result of an unchewed suction cup deciding it's too young to be digested and latching on as some poor sap attempts to swallow it.
Watching it writhe in the sauce is damn near pornographic.
So ... anyone up for sushi?
#4. Frogs Can Swim, Croak and Fight, Brain or No Brain
As those of you with ticklish feet are only too aware, if something unexpectedly brushes against your foot, your foot will automatically move away from whatever's touching it. Whether or not you then punch whatever was touching it in the face depends on just how ticklish you are.
The exact same withdrawal reaction can be seen in frogs, except the frog doesn't even need to have a head in order for the reaction to happen. Don't believe us? Check it out:
There you have a video proving that a decapitated frog is able to dance a jig upon the demand of not-at-all-evil scientists. It's like a crossover event between Michigan J. Frog and whatever your biggest fear is. That's fairly damn impressive on its own, but let's face it, there's only so much any creature without a head can do. So what happens if you leave the frog's head intact but take out its brain, you ask?
Well, thanks to the "let's chop out its brain and see what the hell happens" approach to science taken by 19th century neurologist David Ferrier, we can tell you. A headed but brainless frog actually behaves very similarly to a frog with its gray matter perfectly intact: If you turn it upside down, it will right itself; if you pinch its feet, it will hop away; if you put it in water, it will swim to the side and climb out. And perhaps most disturbing of all, it will even croak contentedly if you stroke its back.
Frogs 1, Highlanders 0.
So, What Makes This Abomination Possible?
The first factor that results in frogs' zombielike tendencies is the power of the reflex reaction, which fires the necessary electrical impulses that cause a muscle to expand or contract. These reactions bypass the brain -- going back to the human foot moving away from an unexpected tickle, you don't think, "Argh! Something's tickling my foot and I really must move it," you think, "Argh! My foot just jerked, what the hell was tickling it and does it have a face I can punch it in?!"
But it's important to note that this automatic withdrawal action will not continue if a human doesn't have a brain -- we simply cannot survive without our gray matter, because our behavior relies so heavily on input from the cerebral master of our central nervous system. Even breathing, which we don't need to consciously control and could be considered a reflex action, is regulated by (and therefore reliant on) our brainstem.
Otherwise known as the designated driver to our permanently drunken consciousness.
So this is where the second factor comes into play: the relative simplicity of a frog's anatomy. The lack of brain results only in a lack of spontaneity, and Ferrier noted that if energy can be artificially supplied, the frog will continue to respond to external stimuli for an indefinite period. So all the brainless frog needs is energy and the occasional scientific prod in order to act like a regular animal -- indefinitely, or at least until science gets bored with poking a zombie amphibian. (Which will never, ever happen. Science lives for that shit.)
What's even more interesting, though, is that studies have shown that a frog sans brain will react more consistently than one with a brain, which suggests that the brain, while it doesn't control these impulses, may actually suppress them. Frogs could coldly and effectively run shit if their pesky brains weren't getting in the way.
Oh, and by the way, frogs aren't the only creatures for whom heads are an optional accessory ...