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.
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.