Why Do Snakes Flick Out Their Tongue?

snakes flick tongue

Photo via Flickr.

The few times that I have come across snakes I always see the snakes flick out their tongue.  Snakes do that in order to ‘smell’ the odors around them.

Spring is in the air in the Rocky Mountains, which means that many animals are coming out of dormancy or hibernation.  Bears, marmots, and other mammals are becoming active.  Birds are migrating north again and reptiles, including snakes are active.  One interesting thing that snakes do that really is unique to them is that they stick out their tongues a lot.

What Senses Do Snakes Have?

People have five senses – taste, smell, eyesight, touch, and sound.  In contrast to that, snakes have all five of these senses, but to different degrees.  They have poor eyesight and hearing.  To compensate or make up for this they have a very good sense of smell.  In fact, snakes breathe with their nostrils and ‘smell’ with their tongue.

Snakes Flick Their Tongue to ‘Smell’ Odors In The Air

As a child and now as a parent I always teach my kids not to stick out their tongues because it is rude.  Luckily for snakes they are not taught that.  In fact, they need to stick out their tongues all of the time.  They flick out their tongue in order to smell the air and sense what is around or near them.  Their tongue helps them tell what predators or prey are nearby.

snakes flick tongue

Photo via Flickr.

How Do Snakes Sense With Their Tongues?

Snakes flick out their tongues and gather odor particles on the tips of their forked tongue.  Then when the tongue returns inside their mouth the tips go into a special organ on the roof of their mouth, the Jacobson’s organ.

That special organ is able to interpret those particles as smell.

Snakes Have A Forked Tongue That Helps Them ‘Smell’

All snakes have a forked tongue.  They use this forked tongue to help them smell in three dimensions.  In other words they are able to figure out which direction a smell is coming from.

When snakes flick out their tongue they gather odors on both tips of their fork.  They know what direction something is if one tip of the fork has a stronger smell than the other.