Snake Senses

By Hayley Murray

A snake’s senses are crucial for its survival in the wild. Snakes use their tongues for tasting, touching and smelling. They have very sensitive jaw muscles and are able to detect vibrations from their surroundings: an interesting alternative to external ears! Snakes use their eyes to see but sight is certainly not their best sense.

Gray Ratsnakes, just like other snakes don’t use their noses to pick up scents but instead use something called the Jacobson’s organ. The Jacobson’s organ is also known as the vomeronasal organ. It is located on the roof of the snake’s mouth. As the snake’s tongue rapidly flicks out of its mouth, it captures scent particles from the air. The snake then brings its tongue back into its mouth where it comes into contact with the Jacobson’s organ. The Jacobson’s organ’s sensory cells send chemical information from the scent particles to the brain. This helps the ratsnake to tell the difference between (and respond accordingly to) a potential rodent dinner or a threatening coyote.

Most people think that snakes don’t have ears, but that is not the case. They do have ears, just not external “ear flaps” (pinnae). A snake’s inner ear picks up vibrations from the jaw. How does this work? For example, vibrations from the step of an approaching human are picked up by the quadrate bone (where the lower jaw and the skull join), and are then transferred to the middle ear bone and finally the inner ear. This then allows the snake to “hear” you coming even before you can see it.

Snakes’ senses are what keep them alert and ready at all times. We can all do our part to help these snakes out by letting them go on their way when we see them. These snakes are harmless to humans so there is no reason to be scared of them.

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