We all know the phrase “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” Yes, beheaded chickens tend to flop around and generally spazz out for a while, but then they, y’know, die. They don’t actually run around like that for long. Except for Miracle Mike, who lived for a year and a half after being beheaded. The story is nearly 70 years old, but it’s one worth remembering, especially when we think about instances that seem to defy all possibility (i.e., most of the science stories you read on this site), and how almost nothing is truly impossible. As time passes, Mike becomes more and more of a legend, and has inspired a website and a festival. Of course, Mike’s story has also raised a bunch of questions. Among them: WTF?
After five years of loyal service (or at least clucking), Mike’s head was cut off by Lloyd Olsen, a farmer from Colorado whose wife planned on making some roast chicken neck for dinner that night. Because of the menu, Olsen made the cut a lot higher than he normally would, so as to preserve the neck. In so doing, Olsen missed Mike’s jugular, as well as his brain stem. The result is that Mike lived on, doing the crazy headless chicken thing at first, but then ultimately settling into life without a head.
The poor little guy tried to carry on as though he had all his parts. He tried to eat food the normal way, tried to crow, and tried to tuck whatever was left of his head under his wing. Olsen decided to help Mike eat by dropping food and water into his esophagus. The little guy eventually became a bit of a freak show hit, and earned mentions in the Guinness Book of Records and other publications. He even had a manager who helped him earn around $4,500 a month. Mike’s life ended when he choked on a bit of corn in a Phoenix motel. Geez, it sounds like the end of a rock star’s life or something.
After Mike died, an autopsy revealed a blood clot in his neck that stopped him from bleeding out after the initial cut. But it was really the shape of his skeleton and the position of his brain within it that allowed him to live. His cerebellum and brain stem rest below and behind his eyes, so he could continue breathing and functioning. Of course, others tried to replicate the feat, resulting in a bunch of headless chickens, but Mike was a singular bird. I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t try this at home.