Snakes have an unusual way of smelling; most people assume that because snakes have nostrils this is how the smell their surroundings.
This is not true; snakes use their tongue to gauge smells; this is the explanation as to why a snake’s tongue flickers repeatedly. Their tongue will flicker at different rates dependant on the situation.
For example, if something has moved close by and unnerved the snake, the tongue will repeat rapid flickers, this allows them to receive more information quickly and react accordingly.
The tongue does not rub on the inside of their mouth, snake have an organ called the “Jacobson organ” this is a hole that is in the roof of the mouth. When a snakes tongue retracts back into the mouth, the forked tongue will press into the holes, this is connected to the brain and the receptors registers the smells.
When the tongue is out in the open, a snake will wave it up and down, in doing so the particles in the air and smells stick to the tongue. The tongue will move up and down between 5 -10 times and then retract back into their mouth.
In most cases a snake has 2 curiosity’s, one is smells of anything that may be a threat to their life, in which case they should become defensive or wary of the surroundings. Most snakes are not an apex predator and will need to stay vigilant from nearby attacks.
Secondly is the primary use which is for hunting prey, snakes can smell a live rodent or prey item from a considerable distance (this varies from different snake species in the wild.).
Due to snake’s eyesight not being as strong as other reptiles, a snake is heavily reliant on the success of their smell.
The tongue of a snake is so delicate, a snake can pin-point the direct that is prey is located to track them down, from well over 100meters away. 80% of snakes are nocturnal hunters and this is an adaption to their hunting needs.
The Jacobson organ, also known as the “vomeronasal organ” is very sophisticated and can even gain smells of nearby mates which can ready a snake for breeding.
From the smells that it receives the snake’s brain will react accordingly.
Do snakes smell?
A snake has scales and can pick up parasites on the skin, these are often removed when the snake sheds its skin. But the snake itself does not smell or have any odour, they do not sweat and because of this are excellent stealth hunters.
The only time a snake will smell is when a snake has a poop or has a serve infection in the mouth or infected wound.