Reptile & Amphibian Center

Why Do Snakes Use Their Tongue?


Debunking the Myths 


There are a few ancient beliefs about the snake's tongue. One was that it had magical powers against poison, and indeed, collections of snake tongues were kept in the dining areas of upscale homes. In the course of story telling, snakes tongues were used in the making of witches brews, as in Shakespeare's Macbeth.


A myth still believed by some people today is that snakes have venom in their tongues, which is released when the tongue touches a target, or that the pointed ends of the tongue are in fact pointed and sharp and can be used as a stinger. Neither is true.


First, not all snakes are venomous, and those that are release their venom through their teeth (or fangs). Once a venomous snake has bitten its prey and released its venom into the animal's bloodstream, it can then track the stricken animal using the receptors on its tongue, consuming its meal when the animal finally succumbs to the poison. On the second misconception, a snake's tongue is as delicate and soft as any animal's tongue; it is neither able to hold poison, nor is it rigid and sharp.


In fact, the tongue is of such critical importance to the snake that this is clearly why it evolved to have a tongue sheath to protect this appendage from accidental injury.


Otherwise, it is believed that the taste buds in a snake's tongue are somewhat minimal, at least compared to ours. It is probable that the actual taste receptors are just enough to tell the snake whether the food is good, or whether it may be noxious.


Not So Lowly After All


Still, don't feel too sorry for the snake just because it can't properly enjoy the taste of its dinner. Remember that what its tongue lacks in some ways, it makes up for in other ways.


Try this: Stick your tongue out and try to figure out which way to go for dinner, or where to find your next date. Maybe then you'll have a little more appreciation for the lowly snake.