"Was you ever bit by a dead snake?"

Of course, actor Walter Brennan, in the famous line from the movie "To Have and Have Not" was talking about dead bees, but a University of Pittsburgh emergency medicine specialist notes that while a dead bee can sting, a dead snake can kill.

Snakes, warns Sandra Schneider of the Montefiore University Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center emergency room, have a reflex that stays functional for about an hour after the snake has been killed or even decapitated. The reflex can trigger a bite and the release of venom from a dead snake.

"It doesn't happen very often," Schneider concedes, "but it's in the literature, and emergency personnel who get any sort of training involving snakes are always warned to keep away from them even after they're dead."

Pittsburgh is not the snake capital of the world but, she notes, "more than half of the snake bites we see are from people who keep them as pets, often under their beds." Usually, they've forgotten to feed their pet cobra or puff adder its monthly live mouse and the hungry reptile will lunge for the hand as well as the rodent.

Schneider was in Texas recently and says she was tempted to buy "one of those freeze-dried rattlesnake heads they make into ashtrays."

But, she says, she was dissuaded because of a case in which a man was mildly poisoned after he scratched his hand on the fang of a snake-head ashtray.