Severed Snake Heads Can Still Deliver a Fatal Bite
Stuart V. Nielsen
The cocoa frog is one of six new frog species that were recently found in a rainforest-dominated mountainous region of southeastern Suriname. “At a time when so many frog species are declining and undergoing extinctions worldwide, it is particularly uplifting to discover so many new frogs in a single area,” Trond Larsen, a tropical ecologist and director of the Rapid Assessment Program at Conservation International, told Discovery News. He and his team found about 60 new species in the South American country.
The tiny Lilliputian beetle measures just 2.3 mm long and could be the smallest dung beetle in the entire Guiana Shield and among the smallest in the world. “Dung beetles act as a cleanup crew in the forest,” Larsen said. “By burying dung, they not only control parasites and disease, including those that affect people, but also disperse seeds and recycle nutrients that enable forest regeneration.”
Leeanne Alonso, director of Global Biodiversity Exploration for Global Wildlife Conservation, went on the expedition with Larsen. She thinks this beetle might be small and red to look like a seed stuck in poo, thereby fooling predators. “Dung beetles in forest areas are a good indicator of mammal diversity,” she added. Without mammals providing their food source, there would be few such insects.
Stuart V. Nielsen
The collection of new animals includes 11 species of fish that are probably new to science. “Small, brightly-colored tetras similar to this one are popular in the aquarium trade, and sustainable exports of wild species could provide financial support to local communities and incentives to conserve the species’ natural habitat,” Larsen said.
Alonso added that, as new species go, fish are relatively rare. “It’s amazing that so many were found in this region, which I believe has the world’s best and most beautiful and pristine forests in the world.” She loved it so much that she took her family there on a vacation after the research work ended.
Bats are another “good indicator of habitat quality,” Alonso said. She explained that, in this case, the bat thrives on fruit, so the region must support plenty of healthy fruit-producing trees.
Genuine coral snakes are highly venomous, but this false coral snake’s name is itself somewhat misleading, as the researchers found out the hard way. Alonso said that a helicopter pilot transporting the scientists was bitten by one. “His arm really swelled up,” she said, explaining that all such snakes have sharp teeth and venom, just not as poisonous as the “real” coral snake this species resembles.
This extraordinary new insect displays waxy fronds at the end of its body that was built for jumping among plants. “Maybe the fronds are meant to resemble anthers of a flower, helping with camouflage?” Alonso said, admitting that nature sometimes works in still-mysterious ways. She continued, “So little is known about insects from this region, so this was a real find.”
Top-level predatory big cats, such as this margay, are yet another sign of healthy habitat. More of them generally means there are more prey animals to feast upon. “Margays love to sleep and hide in caves at the site,” Alonso added.
Six new katydids, including this one, were discovered. Larsen described it as a “gangly species with oversized, spiny hind legs.” The newly discovered katydids "are indicative of the pristine, healthy forests of the Upper Palumeu Watershed," Larsen said, "and the forests in turn help to ensure continued flows of clean, plentiful water used by people throughout the rest of the country.”
“Despite their generally diminutive size, water beetles can be useful indicators of water quality, and also help to filter and keep water clean,” Larsen said. “Many of the 26 new water beetle species discovered on this survey are probably restricted to isolated habitats, especially in the mountains of southeastern Suriname, and may occur nowhere else.”
Sandra J. Raredon
Eleven new fish species were found in the region, dubbed a "tropical Eden" by the researchers. Larsen said, “This new sucker-mouthed armored catfish was rare, and only encountered in the narrow, upper reaches of the Palumeu River.
“This delicate slender opossum is really cute,” Alonso said. “It’s hard to find small mammals like this, which are indicative of primary forest.”
is the largest of all South American dung beetles, Larsen shares. Despite its name, this species feeds more frequently on dead animals than on dung. A highly unusual case in the Animal Kingdom, both males and females of this species possess a long horn on their head, which they use during intense battles with other individuals of the same sex. The vast difference in adult body size seen here is primarily determined by how much food was available to the developing larva. This species is capable of rapidly burying large animal carcasses, providing an important ecological service that sustains rain forest health.
“Given the beautiful coloration, high visibility and popularity of frogs in the poison dart frog family (Dendrobatidae), most species in this group are relatively well known,” Larsen said. “Therefore, the discovery of this species potentially new to science is particularly exciting. The toxic secretions of poison dart frogs hold great potential to yield new medicines that could greatly benefit the world -- yet with frogs declining globally, their protection in the wild is essential.”
The researchers could have just scratched the new species surface in southeastern Suriname, given that other animals, fish, insects and more unknown to science could be found there. The region’s human population is currently small -- only about 500,000 -- but it’s growing and there is a threat of future habitat-destroying activities, such as mining and logging. Alonso hopes that the wilderness can be protected, with money-generating activities such as ecotourism allowing both humans and amimals to thrive there.
Venomous snakes are scary when they're alive, but there's also reason to fear these fanged creatures after they're dead, a recent news report suggests.
The tale of a chef in China who was preparing a rare delicacy known as cobra soup and was fatally bitten by the decapitated head of one of the snakes he had chopped up for this unusual stew was reported last week, in the U.K. Daily Mirror.
While this story might sound too weird to be true, scientific evidence suggests it is entirely plausible.
"Snakes in general are well known for retaining reflexes after death," said Steven Beaupré, a biology professor at the University of Arkansas. Many ectothermic, or cold-blooded, vertebrae— including species of reptiles and amphibians— share this quality, he said. [7 Shocking Snake Stories]
In fact, there have been previous reports, including in the U.S., of people being bitten by the severed heads of snakes.
For venomous snakes, such as cobras and rattlesnakes, biting is one of the reflexes that can be activated in the brain even hours after the animal dies, Beaupré told Live Science.
The bite reflex is stronger in venomous snakes than it is in some other carnivores because these snakes use their bite differently than other meat-eaters, Beaupré said. Unlike a tiger, for instance, which kills prey by sinking its teeth into an animal's flesh and holding on, snakes aim to deliver just one, extremely quick bite and then move away from their prey before getting trampled.
The rapid-fire attack can occur in less than a second, Beaupré said. In fact, rattlesnakes have been known to envenomate (inject venom into) prey in less than two-tenths of a second, he said.
It's likely that the cobra-chopping chef who reportedly died last week in China was a victim of the snake's quick reflexes, Beaupré said.
A rattlesnake poised to strike.iStockPhoto
Unfortunately for the Chinese chef, a cobra's bite reflex can be triggered even hours after the animal dies, Beaupré said. The man reportedly picked up the snake's head just 20 minutes after he had chopped it off.
"Just because the animals has been decapitated, that doesn't mean the nerves have stopped functioning," Beaupré said. The bodies of snakes have been known to continue rising off the ground in a menacing pose, and even to strike out against a perceived threat, after they've suffered a beheading, he added.
These eerie postmortem movements are fueled by the ions, or electrically charged particles, which remain in the nerve cells of a snake for several house after it dies, Beaupré said. When the nerve of a newly dead snake is stimulated, the channels in the nerve will open up, allowing ions to pass through. This creates an electrical impulse that enables the muscle to carry out a reflexive action, like a bite.
"The bite and envenomation reflex is triggered by some kind of information that comes into the mouth cavity," Beaupré said. "My guess is that this guy put his hand in the snake's mouth after he cut it off. He probably put a finger in there or something and it triggered this response."
And the Chinese chef is far from the first person to ever have been bitten by a dead snake. In January 2014, a man in Australia was bitten by a venomous red-bellied black snake 45 minutes after he had chopped the creature in half with a shovel, according to the Daily Telegraph. The man survived the incident, but reportedly spent two days in the intensive care unit.
In 2007, a man in Washington state decapitated a rattlesnake with a shovel before bending down to clean up the remains, according to a report by the Associated Press. The dead snake bit him in the hand, but the man survived the incident.
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The 12 Weirdest Animal Discoveries