Although snakes have tongues, they do not have taste buds like we do. The way snakes sense taste is different and unique from other species. They have a sensory organ called the Jacobson’s organ that is found on the roof of their mouth that collects smells and processes taste.
The snake’s tongue is a tool that it uses to collect chemicals from the air or ground. Collected chemicals are then transferred to Jacobson’s organ located at the top of the mouth for analysis. Other animals use their tongues to taste, clean, capture, manipulate prey, or make sounds. However, snakes do not use their tongues for any of these reasons.
Do Snakes Enjoy Their Food?
There are different snake species, and each species has a preference for what they eat. Thus, they clearly enjoy certain foods compared to others. For example, snakes won’t like a certain food that you feed them, but applying a scent of the food they like might increase their appetite.
Therefore, it is clear that they have a preference. Furthermore, even before feeding your snake, it usually flicks its tongue to have a scent of the food you are providing it. This is an indication that there are certain scents and tastes that snakes are attracted to.
However, if a snake does not eat what you feed it, this does not mean that it does not mean like that food. Other factors include loss of appetite due to stress brought about by the habitat conditions, illness, or shedding process.
Why Do Snakes Flick Their Tongues?
This is something you might have encountered, seeing snakes extend their forked tongue out of its mouth, waving it around rapidly, then retracting it back inside the mouth.
There have been several myths around this creepy behavior, with some stating that it was a way of cleaning its nose, catch flies or other animals between the forks of its tongue. There is also another myth that it uses its forked tongue to sting humans. All of the above hypotheses are not true.
Most animals, including humans, use the tongue to taste, capture or manipulate prey, clean themselves, or make sounds. However, snakes do not use their tongue for any of the above reasons.
The reason why snakes flick their tongue is to collect chemicals from the air or ground. The chemicals are then analyzed internally through other internal organs allowing the snake to smell them. Therefore, the snake’s tongue alone cannot taste or smell because it does not contain a receptor that facilitates the sense of smell or taste.
It is through the chemicals collected that snakes can locate prey. Furthermore, flicking of the tongue also allows the snake to find mates. Female snakes usually deposit pheromone on their trail. Therefore, male snakes can use their tongue to gather the pheromone and slither towards the female.
On the other hand, through flicking of the tongues, snakes can practice scent trailing. This helps locate prey that had been bitten or tracking down fresh prey.
For snakes in captivity, flicking of the tongue can also indicate that your snake is hungry. For example, if you notice your snake flicking a lot more than usual, it is an indication that it wants to be fed.
How Do Snakes Use Their Tongues?
Snakes lack receptors in their tongue to have a sense of taste or smell. However, they use their tongue to collect chemicals from the air and the ground. The taste and smell buds of snakes are located in the Jacobson’s organ situated on the roof of its mouth. The snake touches its tongue to the Jacobson’s organ to experience taste.
When the collected chemicals are transmitted into Jacobson’s organ, each chemical generates a different electrical signal then conveyed to the brain. The exact location of Jacobson’s organ is at the base of the nasal cavity hence the name (vomeronasal). The organ contains two ducts that travel down to the roof of the mouth.
The tongue does not directly deliver collected chemicals to Jacobson’s organ. Chemical transfer occurs when the tongue flicks back into the mouth, and the tips of the forks come into contact with Jacobson’s organ ducts.
The ducts then transfer the smells particles to the organ, relaying the electrical signal generated by each chemical to the brain enabling the snake to smell.
How the Snake Tongue Works
The snake’s tongue is forked to collect chemicals from places simultaneously so long as they are close to each other. This feature will enable it to have a sense of direction.
Therefore, the snake can pick up and follow traits left by its prey, another snake, or a mate. There are two tongue flicking behaviors in snakes, including the one the snakes use to pick chemicals from the air and the one that it uses to pick chemicals from the ground.
The oscillating tongue flicks in snakes make them collect and analyze 100 times more chemicals from the air than the simple downward extension of the tongue. Therefore, making it easy to locate prey and detect pheromones left behind by a female.
Snakes have evolved over the year to be able to taste and smell differently from other creatures. Although they lack taste buds, they can taste things through the Jacobson’s organ on the top of their mouth, which creates a link between the tongue and the brain to decipher scents and tastes.