How Do Snakes Smell: The Jacobson Organ

How do snakes smell? Princess Talibah has stopped by the Sassafras Science blog to answer this question for us!Hi, Blaine here! Tracey let me have the reigns today thanks to stinky socks, an old friend, and a reptilian pet!

You see, I have this friend Pete who has earned the nickname “Stinky Pete” thanks to his smelly socks.

You are probably wondering why in the world would I be talking about stinky socks when the title of this post is about how snakes smell?

I promise it is not to make Tracey sweat because then her feet would stink too! (<-Sorry, Trace, but I got to keep it real for the peeps!)

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!

OK, seriously, Tracey and I learned all about the senses, including smell, with Chef Benaneli in our anatomy leg. We totally understand how and why we catch a knee-buckling whiff of Stinky Pete’s socks.

But, poor Stinky Pete has a python. And I promise you, every time Pete takes off his socks and leaves them near the snake’s cage, that python sticks out his tongue a couple of times and then slithers off to the other side of his cage. The problem is that we can’t find a nose like ours on the snake’s head!

So, we all got to wondering how do snakes smell stinky things like Pete’s socks?

We turned to our dear friend and local reptilian expert, Princess Talibah from our zoology leg, for answers. And she did not disappoint!

Here is her response:

How Do Snakes Smell?

Blaine and Tracey, as usual, you have sent me a wonderful question!

So, we need to discuss snakes once more. This time I am grateful that we are not doing so as we watch the very floor disappear beneath us!

It is quite a bit more relaxing, which makes is far easier to tackle the topic of how do snakes smell!

Snakes do in fact have a nasal cavity and how they smell is relatively similar to how we smell. Their “noses” are two small holes, known as pits, just above their mouths. The holes are very easy to miss, so be sure to look very close! (Well, maybe not super close, as snakes can bite if they feel threatened.)

Snakes have also developed a highly a specialized scent organ known as the Jacobson organ, which allows them to literally taste and smell the air!

The Jacobson organ is found at the base the snake’s nasal cavity. The organ has two ducts that reach down to the roof of the snake’s mouth.

The snake sends out his forked tongue and some of the moisture-laden smell particles lands on the tips of the fork. Then, the snake flicks its tongue back inside where the tips of its forked tongue can be dipped into the ducts from the Jacobson organ.

This allows the snake to smell even more scents, things like pheromones and sweaty, stinky socks!

So the next time you see Stinky Pete’s python flicking his tongue in and out, you know that he is not trying to catch a tasty meal. He is just smelling the stuff around him!

Princess Talibah from the Sassafras Science Adventures Volume 1: Zoology

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