Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

When an animal dies.

  1. Feb 17, 2004 #1
    Say you have an animal and you swiftly decapitate it. As an organism, it is now dead (right?), but in what level (below organism) does death immediately set in? When an animal is swiftly killed, do all of it's organs immediately stop functioning? Would that organism's epidermis continue to create new skin cells for a while after it's head was severed? Would food in the digestice system continue to pass through it? How long would it take for the individual cells of an organism to die, is it totally dependent upon how much ATP is available? Anything else you'd like to add about what happens/does happen after death?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    If you had ever had the good fortune to see a chicken with its head cut off running around spouting blood, you wouldn't have to ask that question. Modern kids miss so many delightful experiences.
  4. Feb 20, 2004 #3
    haha. while watching tv, there was a segment in some show (Max X?) that had the headless chicken. the people were able to keep it alive for weeks before they choked it while tryin to drop food down throat to feed it.
  5. Feb 20, 2004 #4
    Is that even possible? The only plausible explanation i could think of was that the brain stem (responsible for controlling all vital aspects of life such as breathing) was not cut off..

    wasteofo2 -

    Assuming all breathing/heartbeating ceases after animal is decapitated, individual cells will begin to die due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients are you supposed.

    Don't forget that cells not only contain ATP, but also glucose (used in ATP production) and other essentials. So death is not immediate.. only after these stores are exhausted.

    And when cells die in this way (necrosis), their internals are spilled into the surrounding areas. Enzymes and other chemicals (superoxides come to mind) from these cells could destroy other cells in the area too, causing a sort of cascade.

    Hm... thats all i can think of.
  6. Feb 20, 2004 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That's not possible. When a chicken has it's head removed, or even when a person dies, the nerves and muscles in the rest of the body continue to twitch until they run out of energy reserves. This doesn't last very long once the heart stops beating and distributing oxygenated blood to all the organ systems. Of course the organs don't die instantly, otherwise we wouldn't have the ability to transplant vital organs. But there isn't a huge window of time for that. Living tissues can remain alive about 4 to 6 hours outside of the body before significant cell death and deterioration begins to occur, and this does depend on the tissue. In a lab setting, small pieces of tissue can be kept alive in culture longer with nutrients supplied through the media, but since the tissue is bathed with nutrients, too large of a piece of tissue will start dying on the inside where the nutrients aren't being received.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook