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Why do snakes have forked tongues?


Why are snake's tongues forked? I heard it was so they can get dirt out of their nostrils. Is that true?

4348 day(s) ago

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Answers (2)

ebilwabbit
Snakes have forked tongues because of the way they smell -- they use their tongues to capture trace amounts of scent and they quickly place the tines of the tongue to small holes in the soft palate in the roof of their mouth. This area is only a few cells thick and right above it is the olfactory (smell) part of a snake's brain. So essentially, they are capturing samples and sending them directly to the brain to be processed for "what it is".

Our sense of smell works in a similar way, but because we have to breathe in those molecules and our smell sensors are further away from our brain's olfactory center, it takes us much longer to process and a lot of information gets lost on the way.

Posted 4219 day ago

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bjones
No. What you were told is not true, but I see how such an answer could have come about. It is because, unlike mammals, snakes and many other reptiles actually smell with their tongues. Olfactory nerves in the upper part of the human nose are responsible for our sense of smell, but in snakes, the olfactory nerves are located on the tongue. The nostrils of snakes are only used for breathing. Snakes donít clean their nostrils with their tongue. This can usually be accomplished simply by forcefully expelling air from the nostrils, just as we do when we blow our nose.

Since snakes smell with their tongues and not their noses, they have to flick out their tongue frequently to sniff their surroundings. A snake relies much more on their sense of smell than people, and for good reason. Their sense of smell is much stronger than ours. Part of the reason, their sense of smell is so good is precisely because of their forked tongues. Human have only one set of olfactory nerves. No matter which nostril we breathe with, odors and scents all go to the same place. A snakeís forked tongue is like having two separate noses, just like having two eyes and two ears.

Because we have two eyes, we are able to use our eyes to judge depth or distance. Because we have two ears, we can tell from which direction sounds are coming from. Having two ears also allows us determine if a sound is moving away from us and in which direction. A snake uses its tongue in the same way. By sensing which of the forks a smell a reaches first, a snake can determine from which direction a smell is emanating without having to move its head from side to side to smell in each direction. Snakes can also detect very small differences in the strength of an odor from one fork to the other. This is used to tell which direction another animal is moving. Forked tongues are very useful for snakes in tracking their food because most snakes eat only live animals.


Posted 4316 day ago

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