How Do Snakes Smell?

February 15, 2024

If you see a snake slithering around your yard or coiled up in the corner of your garage, it might give off an unpleasant smell that resembles cucumber. This musky odor is known as a defense odor and is secreted by a variety of snakes, including copperheads. The odor can be used to deter predators or warn potential mates of the presence of the snake.

Snakes have a special organ in their mouths called the Jacobson's Organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ. It works by sniffing chemicals and pheromones in the air or on the ground. To use this sense, a snake sticks its tongue out and flicks it rapidly. This allows it to collect multiple air samples and hone in on the location of the scents. Snakes use this sense to track prey, mark trails and even find dens.

The forks on a snake's tongue help it collect air samples and deliver them to the Jacobson's Organ. The organ then sends electrical signals to the snake's brain about the smells and pheromones it is sensing. The snake can then respond accordingly, for example by following a trail of pheromones left by potential mates.

Snakes are able to sense vibrations through the ground as well, but they lack outer ears and eardrums so they can't hear sounds at higher frequencies. They can however, pick up low-frequency noises like talking and yelling from humans or the sound of a snake charmer's flute.

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