Why Do Snakes Flick Their Tongue?

Have you ever wondered if a snake is curious about the world around them or not?

Have you heard a snake’s vision isn’t the greatest?

Snakes are not known for their vision, so they have evolved to navigate the world in other ways.

You might have wondered:

Why do snakes flick their tongue?

Because the snake’s eyesight is so poor, they learn about the world around them by flicking their tongue into the air and “tasting it.” By doing so, they capture small scent particles. These tiny particles rub against a unique organ called the Jacobson’s organ. The snake then can identify what is going on in their environment, like if the animal is approaching is a predator, other snakes, or food. 

You probably have noticed your pet snake flicking their tongue in and out repeatedly.

If you have and want to learn more about why they do this, keep reading.

why do snakes flick their tongue

Why Do Snakes Flick Their Tongue?

You probably have noticed your snake flicking its tongue in and out repeatedly each day.

If you don’t own a snake, the flicking tongue is a widely recognized stereotype of snakes, often seen in films and cartoons.

But they aren’t just doing this for fun or to appear threatening to you or a predator.

Snakes flick their tongue in and out to get a better understanding of their environment. 

When they do this, their tongue “tastes” the air, gathering very tiny chemical particles.

These particles make up all kinds of scents the snake might encounter in the world around them.

Even though they have nostrils, a snake uses their tongues to pick up scents. 

And the flicking motion is so important because it helps to stir up the air.

This creates vortices or masses of whirling air.

Think of it as a very tiny whirlwind.

These mini whirlwinds allow the snake’s tongue to inspect so much more air for different particles. 

They would only get a tiny sample if not for the flicking motion.

The flicking gives a snake the ability to detect particles 100 times more air than if they just extended their tongue downward. 

Once the scent particles gather, the snake brings their tongue back into their mouth and passes it over their Jacobson’s organ.

The Jacobson’s organ is a highly developed scent organ and sits inside the roof of the snake’s mouth.

The snake rubs their tongue along the opening of the Jacobson’s organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ.

Jacobson’s organ sends sensory messages to the snake’s brain, and the brain interprets them as specific scents. 

This is how snakes find a mouse for eating or be alerted to a predator in their area.

Snake’s ability to smell these tiny building blocks of smells allows them to smell things like pheromones and even sweat from you as you walk around the house and near their enclosure. 

Eating, mating, and staying alive drive snakes.

Flicking their tongue in and out to gather these smells helps with each one of these motivations. 

If you own a snake and have seen it start flicking its tongue when you walk into the room, it is curious about what has just come into their environment.

They are attempting to figure out what you are, friend or enemy. 

Why Do Snakes Have Forked Tongues?

The tongue flicking in and out might not have been the only thing you have noticed when it comes to your snake’s tongue.

If you look closely, you probably have seen snakes have a forked tongue.

This trait is another widely used stereotype when it comes to portraying snakes in T.V. shows, movies, books, all sorts of toys, and just about every image of a snake you might come across. 

But, it isn’t just for show.

Like the flicking, a snake’s forked tongue has an actual purpose. 

Once the snake has sent out their forked tongue to collect the molecules, they bring it back in, as discussed above, but this is where the forked part comes into play.

The tips of the forks fit perfectly into two small ducts in the Jacobson organ. 

Particles on the prongs of their forked tongue are then transferred to the vomeronasal organ and analyzed. 

The forked tongue is so essential to getting the molecules to the organ, and without it, smelling by tasting wouldn’t be as easy. 

Do Snakes Even Use Their Noses?

Have you noticed your snake has nostrils?

So if a snake uses their tongue to smell by tasting the air, you might be confused as to why they even have nostrils. 

Do they use them?

A snake’s tongue does most of the smelling, but snakes also smell with their noses by inhaling air through their nostrils, just like we do.

The snake’s tongue collects most of the scents, but airborne odors in the world are continuously breathed in through the nostrils. 

In addition to collecting some scents, the snake uses their nostrils to take in oxygen.

Much like pretty much every animal on Earth, the snake needs oxygen to survive, and the nostrils do most of the work getting oxygen into the body.

Even though their nostrils aren’t playing a massive role in smell, they are necessary and used daily.


After reading this, we hope you have a better understanding of why snakes flick their tongue in and out. 

Many snakes might not have the best vision, but they still find ways to get a sense of their surroundings. 

Collecting scent particles on their tongues is vital as it alerts them to predators, helps them find food, and find a mate.

Flicking their tongues in and out has become a well-known trait of snakes, but films or television shows don’t always represent why accurately.