Pitara Kids Network

Smelling Food with the Tongue

Snakes are smart. They move fast and without sound. And they know how to protect themselves against enemies by looking as if they are part of forest growth. And they do it so well that someone may just step over them thinking they are logs or the stem of a plant. That’s when they bite.

It is surprising then, to know that these reptiles do not have a powerful vision. They can see you move if you are close by, but not if you are standing at a distance. Their hearing, too, is not very sharp. They hear sounds from the vibrations that come from the ground.

Green snake with martini glass & olive.

But how do they move so fast to catch their prey, you might ask. Simple. They use their tongue to do that. Snakes use their tongue not so much for tasting as for catching the scent of prey like frogs, lizards and birds. How they do it is very interesting.

Inside their mouth, on top, is an organ or body part that has several nerve endings. It is called the Jacobson’s organ and its nerve endings are quick to catch any smell. So when snakes take out their tongue, what they are doing is catching interesting smells around them — like the smell of food, or a possible mate.

Green rat snake with blue tongue

The fact that snakes have forked tongues makes their lives easier. Each fork is like a messenger. It carries the smell back to the Jacobson’s organ, or the headquarter, which makes out if the smell is of food or of a friend. Then it gets into action.