Snakes do not have especially keen senses of sight or hearing. They rely instead on special sense organs to provide them with information about their environment.
Snakes have an eye on each side of the head, giving them a wide field of view, but they cannot focus them well and have sharp vision for only a short distance.
Snakes lack outer ears and eardrums, but they do have inner ears and can hear a limited range of sounds carried in the air. Certain bones in a snake's head respond to sound waves and transmit them to the inner ear.
A snake's tongue has few taste buds. It is used with an organ of smell called the Jacobson's organ, which, along with the nostrils, provides snakes with a keen sense of smell. The Jacobson's organ consists of two hollow sacs in the roof of a snake's mouth, each of which has many nerve endings that are extremely sensitive to odors. A snake sticks out its tongue to pick up scent particles in the air or on the ground or some other surface. When the snake pulls its tongue back into the mouth, theseparticles enter the Jacobson's organ. The organ enables a snake to follow the scent trail of its prey.
Certain snakes also have special heat-sensitive pit organs. Pit vipers have two pit organs, one on each side of the head between the eye and nostril. Some boas and pythons have many pits along the lip of the upper jaw. Pit organs enable a snake to detect the exact location of another animal by the body heat it gives off. As the snake moves its head from side to side, the pit organs detect changes in the air temperature. The snake can then accurately direct its strike, even in the dark. A snake with pit organs can sense a change in temperature near its head of less than 1° F. (0.5° C).
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This page was last updated on 01/09/2010.