Rigor mortis will be familiar to most – though it’s the the third in the defined stages of death, it is the most obvious to the layman, and the reason that some refer to dead bodies as “stiffs”. Chemical changes in the muscles cause the limbs of the corpse to stiffen. It starts about three hours after death, is strongest around 12 hours after, and slowly eases 48-60 hours after death.
Pallor mortis literally means “paleness of death”. This stage is more obvious in lighter skinned individuals, and it occurs right after death (within 15-20 minutes). The cause is the lack of surface circulation and the draining of capillary blood to lower parts of the body due to gravity.
Algor mortis refers to the cooling of the body, which will continue gradually until the body reaches the current environment’s temperature. This was once considered a very useful tool in determining the time of death, though considerable inaccuracy can introduced by a number of factors. The most disturbing of those factors in Mrs. Undertaker’s opinion is the creepy knowledge that the body’s internal temperature actually rises when decomposition kicks in. Ew.
Livor mortis, while not the final stage of death, is the last “mortis”. And while the end stages of putrefaction, decomposition and skeletonization are all fascinating in their own right, we’ll wrap this post up with livor mortis (and your bonus (mildly) naughty fact!).
Livor mortis refers to the discoloration caused by the settling of blood in the lowermost parts of the body. “Livor” literally means “bluish color”, and refers to the color of the body parts in which blood has pooled. But’s not only discoloration that this pooling can cause. A hanged man, or one who has somehow remained upright after death, or perhaps died face down – any of these men could show up at the funeral home with a terminal erection, or what embalmers call “angel lust.”
This post-mortem boner can also be caused by the embalming process, and I imagine that’s a great trick to pull on a new embalming apprentice!
This Death Fact has been brought to you by Mrs. Undertaker, who sincerely hopes you’ll still be alive when the next fact is published.