Why Do Snakes Lick the Air

Why Do Snakes Lick the Air?

Snakes are fascinating creatures that have captured the interest and curiosity of humans for centuries. They have a unique way of experiencing the world around them, and one intriguing behavior they exhibit is licking the air. This peculiar action may seem strange to us, but it serves several important purposes in a snake’s life.

Snakes lack the ability to smell the same way humans do. Instead, they have a specialized organ called the Jacobson’s organ, located in the roof of their mouth, which helps them detect and process scents in their environment. When a snake flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, it collects chemical particles present in the air, which are then transferred to the Jacobson’s organ for analysis.

So, why do snakes lick the air? Let’s explore some of the reasons behind this behavior:

1. Sensory perception: By licking the air, snakes can gather information about their surroundings. They use their tongues to sample the air for any scent trails left by potential prey, predators, or even potential mates. This behavior helps them navigate and find suitable habitats.

2. Tracking prey: Snakes rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate their next meal. By flicking their tongues and analyzing the scents in the air, they can follow the trail of prey and increase their chances of a successful hunt.

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3. Communication: Snakes also use scent as a means of communication. By licking the air, they can leave behind their own scent markers, which act as a form of territory marking or as signals to other snakes in the area.

4. Courtship and mating: During the breeding season, snakes release specific pheromones that signal their readiness to mate. Licking the air helps them detect these pheromones and locate potential mates.

5. Environmental cues: Snakes often lick the air to gather information about the temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors in their surroundings. This helps them adjust their behavior and physiology accordingly.

6. Shedding preparation: Before shedding their old skin, snakes may lick the air more frequently. This behavior aids in the detection of moisture levels, which is crucial for a successful shedding process.

7. Investigating threats: Snakes are also known to lick the air when they sense a potential threat nearby. This behavior allows them to assess the presence of predators or other dangers in their environment.


1. Do all snakes lick the air?
Yes, all snakes possess this behavior as it is crucial for their survival.

2. Can snakes taste with their tongues?
No, a snake’s tongue isn’t used for taste. Instead, it collects odor particles for analysis.

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3. Will a snake bite if it licks the air near a human?
Licking the air near a human doesn’t necessarily indicate aggression. Snakes primarily use this behavior for gathering information, not for attacking.

4. Can snakes smell underwater?
No, snakes cannot smell underwater since their Jacobson’s organ requires contact with air to function properly.

5. Do pet snakes lick the air?
Yes, pet snakes also exhibit this behavior. It’s a natural instinct that remains even in captivity.

6. Is it safe to handle a snake that is licking the air?
It’s always best to exercise caution when handling any snake. Observe the snake’s body language and seek professional advice if unsure.

7. Can humans mimic a snake’s tongue-flicking behavior?
While it may not serve the same purpose, humans can imitate the action of flicking their tongue, but it won’t provide the same sensory information as it does for snakes.

In conclusion, snakes lick the air as a means of gathering crucial sensory information about their environment. This behavior helps them locate prey, identify threats, communicate, and navigate their surroundings. Understanding why snakes perform this action adds to our appreciation of these remarkable creatures and their unique adaptations.