Snakes have some very interesting behaviors, and one of the most fascinating ones is their habit of sticking out their tongue. If you have ever watched a snake in its natural habitat, you may have observed that they do this quite often. But have you ever wondered why they do it? In this article, we will delve deep into the reasons behind this behavior and reveal some fascinating secrets about snakes.
The Anatomy of a Snake’s Tongue
Before we dive into the reasons behind this behavior, let’s first take a look at the anatomy of a snake’s tongue. A snake’s tongue is a forked, muscular organ that is located in the front part of its mouth. It is not used for tasting, but rather for sensing its environment.
The tongue is covered in tiny, sensitive cells called Jacobson’s organs. These cells play a crucial role in helping the snake to detect prey, predators, and other environmental cues. When a snake sticks out its tongue, it collects particles from the air or surfaces and retracts the tongue into its mouth where it transfers these particles to its Jacobson’s organs, which provides it with a sense of smell.
Why Do Snakes Stick Out Their Tongue?
To Smell Their Environment
As mentioned above, the primary reason why snakes stick out their tongues is to collect scent particles and transfer them to their Jacobson’s organs. Snakes have a highly developed sense of smell, and this behavior helps them to detect prey, predators, and other environmental cues.
Snakes can sense prey from a distance and determine whether it is safe to approach. They also use this sense of smell to locate potential mates during breeding season.
To Regulate Body Temperature
Some snakes, such as rattlesnakes, also use their tongues to regulate their body temperature. These snakes use a process called thermal radiation to detect heat. When they stick out their tongue, they collect heat particles from the surface and transfer them to their Jacobson’s organs. This helps them to determine whether the surface is warm or cool and regulate their body temperature accordingly.
To Avoid Danger
Snakes use their sense of smell to detect predators as well. When they sense danger, they will stick out their tongues to detect the predator’s scent and determine whether it is safe to stay put or flee to safety.
To Navigate in The Dark
Another interesting behavior that snakes exhibit is the ability to use their tongues to navigate in the dark. As snakes are nocturnal creatures, they rely heavily on their sense of smell and touch to navigate in low-light conditions.
When a snake sticks out its tongue and collects scent particles from the air or surfaces, it transfers these particles to its Jacobson’s organs, which helps it navigate in the dark by allowing the snake to detect different scents and textures that it can use to identify its surroundings.
The Different Types of Snake Tongues
One interesting fact about snake tongues is that they come in different shapes and sizes. Below are some of the different types of snake tongues:
- Forked tongue: This is the most common type of snake tongue. It is forked at the end and helps snakes to sense their environment and locate prey.
- Protrusible tongue: This type of tongue can be extended far beyond the snake’s mouth. It is usually found in chameleons and other species that catch prey from a distance.
- Non-protrusible tongue: This type of tongue can’t be extended outside the snake’s mouth. It is usually found in burrowing snakes that rely more on their sense of smell than vision to locate prey.
How Often Do Snakes Stick Out Their Tongue?
Snakes have been observed to stick out their tongues anywhere from once every few minutes to once every few seconds, depending on the species and the environment they are in.
For example, snakes that are in areas with a rich concentration of prey may stick out their tongue more frequently than snakes in an area with little prey.
The Bottom Line
Snakes are fascinating creatures, and their behavior of sticking out their tongue is just one of the many interesting things they do. By sticking out their tongue, they can detect prey, predators, and other environmental cues, regulate their body temperature, navigate in the dark, and avoid danger. With this knowledge, we can appreciate these reptiles’ fascinating behavior even more.
Common Questions Answered
- Do all snakes have tongues? Yes, all snakes have tongues, but they differ in shape and size.
- Are snakes’ tongues poisonous? No, snakes’ tongues are not poisonous. However, if a venomous snake bites you, it injects venom through its fangs, not its tongue.
- Can snakes smell underwater? Yes, some snakes can smell underwater by collecting scent particles from the water’s surface and transferring them to their Jacobson’s organs.
- Are snakes deaf? No, snakes are not deaf, but their sense of hearing is limited. They can detect vibrations from the ground and detect low-frequency sounds, but they can’t hear high-frequency sounds like birdsong.
- “Why Do Snakes Stick Out Their Tongue?” University of Arizona
- “Why Do Snakes Use Their Forked Tongue?” National Geographic
- “The Function of the Snake Tongue and Jacobson’s Organ” ThoughtCo