6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

If you're anything like us, cutting off a deadly snake's head is your best and only move, and sometimes not even that will work.
6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

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.)

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:

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

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.

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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?

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

"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.

Octopus Tentacles Don't Know How to Quit

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

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.

000OOO ODOMON 100o

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.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

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:


You're welcome.

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.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

Watching it writhe in the sauce is damn near pornographic.

So ... anyone up for sushi?

Frogs Can Swim, Croak and Fight, Brain or No Brain

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

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.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

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 ...

Headless Fruit Flies Are Actually More Responsible Than Headfull Fruit Flies

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

We couldn't put it much better than Herman T. Spieth from the Department of Zoology, University of California:

Female ... will live for several days after they have been decapitated. Such beheaded females assume an upright stance comparable to that of a normal fly and can and do engage in complex actions such as preening, flying and, under duress, walking.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

We're not sure what qualifies as "duress" for a headless fly, but moving on.

Although species-specific variations occur, males ... will court their decapitated females. All decapitated females of all species studied to date treat the courting overtures of the males as if they were noxious foreign stimuli.

That's right: Chop off a female fruit fly's head, and ... not much changes, really. If anything, it serves to make the flies' behavior more humanlike -- the males still just want to have sex with her, while she in turn treats their sexual advances as "noxious foreign stimuli."

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

"Man, Brenda used to be so cool before she got her head chopped off. What a bitch."

So, What Makes This Abomination Possible?

First of all, surviving without a head is not as impossible as one might imagine, provided one has something almost like a spare brain in their chest that manages walking, flying and other day-to-day things like circulation and respiration.

Now, here's a video showing some drugged-up headless fruit flies reacting to a light source.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

Wait a minute -- how can they react to light when, the last time we checked, their eyes are on their heads? You know, the heads they no longer freaking have? Easy -- they have a sort of backup set of eyes: light-sensitive cells in, of all places, their tiny little fly kidneys.

But why do the female flies turn into prudes as soon as science goes all Game of Thrones on them? The explanation is rather simple, really: Since they hear via their antennae -- antennae that they no longer have (what, no sound-sensitive cells crammed somewhere in the vicinity of their asses?) -- the females can't listen to the males chirping whatever the fruit fly equivalent of a Barry White song is. And no sexy, sexy music equals no fruit fly lovin'.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

A tragic loss for the world.

Turtle Hearts Will Outlive Us All

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It's probably not surprising that in some remote corners of the world -- like, say, Michigan -- snapping turtle meat is considered a delicacy of sorts. But what might surprise you is that when the aspiring chef de cuisine butchers a turtle, this can happen:

Since our marketing folks tell us that every last person reading this article has seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom multiple times, it's no surprise that the heart can still work for a few minutes after being completely removed from the body. But half an hour? That's ... something. But it turns out that, for a turtle heart, half an hour is nothin'.

So, What Makes This Abomination Possible?

The hearts of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals alike have their own pacemaker cells that take over when the signals from the brainstem are not coming through for some reason, which ensures that the heart still functions for a while, even when the brain doesn't.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

"Keep beating for a while. The kidney wants to see how this plays out."

Now the turtle takes the term "for a while" to a whole new level, and this is because, from their heart's viewpoint, being cut off from the oxygen and nutrients usually supplied by the blood is just a normal day at the office. Because these animals can dive for a long time. How long? Try 5,000 hours, in the case of the loggerhead musk turtle. Yes, you read that right -- that was a five followed by three zeros, and they survive that long by what oxygen they can take up from the water via their skin, throat and butt-end, as well as their bodies' amazing potential for producing energy without oxygen. Their hearts have their own fuel stash, and they just won't give up until every last fillip of that has been used up.

Add all this up and the end result is that, just like that Celine Dion song that we had finally managed to completely wipe from our memories right up until James Cameron had the bright idea to rerelease Titanic in 3-D, a turtle's heart just goes on and on.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead


6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

We've pointed out previously that male spiders tend to have some of the worst sex lives in the animal kingdom. The females not only control how long the sex will last, but in some species they more often than not terminate the males right in the middle of the act when they come down with a serious case of the munchies. Tough break for the spider dudes, huh? Well, as scientists have found out quite recently, instead of sulking in a corner and writing angsty poetry, some male spiders have stood up to fight this injustice.


"Never again, bitch."

What weapons did they choose to wield in this fight, you ask? Well, we're really glad you asked that question, because it gives us an excuse to say two words we almost NEVER get to say: zombie wangs.

So, What Makes This Abomination Possible?

Let's take a quick excursion into spider reproductive biology. Firstly, male spiders actually have two penises called pedipalps, and secondly, they're located far closer to the face than sex organs have any business being. Just look at them:

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

In the spider world, the cheerleaders' pom-poms hide a terrible secret.

So what happens during "remote copulation" is that during sex, the male either breaks off his own pedipalps while trying to get away or the female does it for him, and BAM! She's permafucked -- those little buggers just keep on keepin' on pumping sperm into her. It's called the eunuch phenomenon, and, believe it or not, the severed organ is actually faster and more effective than when it had the rest of the spider still attached. Sort of like that "little friend" you ladies hide in the back of your panty drawer -- if that little friend was capable of impregnating you with thousands of babies.

6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead
Smithsonian Science


Oh, and instead of acquiring a taste for fine foods and lacy fans and generally creeping out anyone who comes into contact with them, the resulting eunuchs become bad-ass fighters, thus introducing a secondary phenomenon known as "remote defecation" when they take on any wannabe courtiers of "their" female and proceed to hand them their own asses.

Baer's blog can be found here.

For more reasons Mother Nature delights in terrifying us, check out 7 Terrifying Prehistoric Creatures (That Are Still Around) and 8 Terrifying Skeletons of Adorable Animals.

Imagine being trapped aboard the doomed Titanic on an icy Atlantic. . . with the walking dead. Check out Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon's Deck Z: The Titanic.

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