Have you ever wondered what would happen if you cut a snake in half? You’re not alone – it’s a common curiosity, especially among young children who may see a snake wiggle around after its head has been chopped off.
The short answer is yes; cutting a snake in half will kill it. But the longer answer gets more complicated depending on how and where the snake is cut. Let’s dive into the details.
Will a Snake Die if You Cut It in Half?
Both halves will die if you completely sever a snake’s body anywhere along its length. That’s because the basic body systems that keep the snake alive – like circulation, respiration, and digestion – are cut off from working together.
However, just because both halves die doesn’t mean they die simultaneously. The half with the head may continue slithering around for some time after being cut. This muscle movement doesn’t mean the snake is still alive – it’s due to residual nerve reactions. The muscles react to the nerve impulses and stimulation as the body shuts down.
How Long Can Injured Snakes Survive?
An injured snake that has been partially cut or had part of its body removed can continue living for a surprising amount of time – from several hours to even a couple of weeks, depending on the severity and location of the injury.
That’s because snakes are remarkably resilient creatures. They can regulate their metabolic rates as needed to prevent starvation. A snake with an injury that removes part of its digestive system but leaves the head intact can still survive using energy reserves stored in other parts of the body. An injured snake often becomes less active to conserve energy as well.
However, a fatally injured snake that has lost a significant portion of vital organs and systems will eventually die once it has used up its remaining energy reserves. A snake with no head may retain reflexes that make parts of its body wiggle for a day or two due to nerve reactions, but it cannot survive.
Can Snakes Heal From Cuts?
Minor cuts and abrasions that don’t severely impair body systems or functions can heal over time – much like similar injuries would heal in humans. Snakes have a fantastic ability to regenerate their skin during moulting cycles. Damaged scales, scars, and tissue damage from small cuts are replaced when the snake sheds its skin.
However, a severe cut that amputates part of the body or damages internal organs beyond repair is not something a snake can heal from. The complex systems that allow a snake to live simply cannot function if a major cut or injury severely disrupts them. Severe cuts or tears anywhere along the body are also prone to infections that can further threaten the snake’s survival.
Why Do Snakes Move After They Are Dead?
You may have seen a dead snake’s body – or just the severed tail end – continuing to wiggle and twitch after dying. This happens because snakes have a decentralized nervous system. There is no single “brain” that controls the entire body. Instead, they have multiple nerve centres called ganglia spaced out along the spinal cord.
After death, these localized nerve centres can still fire off involuntary muscle reflex reactions, leading to twisting movement even though the snake is dead and no longer conscious. The action gradually stops as the muscles run out of the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule that provides energy.
How to Tell if a Snake Has Broken Bones
It’s pretty difficult to tell if a snake has suffered broken bones or fractures. Here are some signs that may indicate a possible fracture:
- Swelling or bruising along an area of the body
- Reluctance or inability to move part of the body
- Visibly misaligned or bent body, spine or tail
- Obvious open wound with bone protruding
Snakes are remarkably flexible and can sometimes sustain dislocated joints or even fractured bones with little impairment to their movement. Unless the break severely compromises their mobility or ability to eat, breathe, or carry out other vital functions, the fracture may heal on its own over time as the snake goes through its natural moulting process to regenerate skin and scales.
However, severely damaged bones, especially to the head or spine, can be fatal if they interfere with the snake’s basic functioning.
What Happens if You Cut a Snake’s Tail Off
Many lizards can self-amputate part of their tails when threatened as a defence mechanism, but a snake can’t voluntarily detach its tail. Cutting off a snake’s tail will cause serious harm.
Snakes use their tails for balance, propulsion, and even communication. Losing the tail would severely impact a snake’s quality of life in these areas. It could lead to difficulties moving effectively, hunting prey, defending itself, and reproducing.
The severed tail may continue twitching after being cut off due to involuntary nerve reactions, but it cannot regrow a new body. The snake would be left with a stump that will heal over with scar tissue during the moulting process.
Removing a large portion of the tail could expose the sensitive cloaca and disrupt the snake’s ability to excrete waste normally. An infection could set in. Overall, the snake’s health and chances of survival would be greatly diminished without its tail.