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Snakes use smell to track their prey. They smell by using their forked tongues to collect airborne particles, then passing them to the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ in the mouth for examination. The fork in the tongue gives snakes a sort of directional sense of smell and taste simultaneously. They keep their tongues constantly in motion, sampling particles from the air, ground, and water, analyzing the chemicals found, and determining the presence of prey or predators in the local environment. In water-dwelling snakes, such as the Anaconda, the tongue functions efficiently under water.
Snake vision varies greatly, from only being able to distinguish light from dark to keen eyesight, but the main trend is that their vision is adequate although not sharp, and allows them to track movements. Generally, vision is best in arboreal snakes and weakest in burrowing snakes. Some snakes, such as the Asian vine snake (genus Ahaetulla), have binocular vision, with both eyes capable of focusing on the same point. Most snakes focus by moving the lens back and forth in relation to the retina, while in the other amniote groups, the lens is stretched.
Pit vipers, pythons, and some boas have infrared-sensitive receptors in deep grooves on the snout, which allow them to “see” the radiated heat of warm-blooded prey mammals. In pit vipers the grooves are located between the nostril and the eye, in a large “pit” on each side of the head. Other infrared-sensitive snakes have multiple, smaller labial pits lining the upper lip, just below the nostrils.
The part of the body in direct contact with the ground is very sensitive to vibration; thus, a snake can sense other animals approaching by detecting faint vibrations in the air and on the ground.