Do Snakes Have Ears? Can They Hear?

Sacramento snake

Most people correctly assume that snakes don’t have external ears. After all, these reptiles are one long smooth line with few to no bumps or irregularities. It would be hard to picture a snake with ears. Despite this, snakes can hear some things thanks to their internal ear structure.

Internal Ears
You won’t find an eardrum on a snake, but if you looked at their anatomy, you will notice that they do have familiar inner ear structures. These include cochleas and let snakes hear through vibrations. They can feel these vibrations next to their jaws as they travel on the ground. Because the right and left halves of their jaws move independently, snakes are able to detect vibrations on either side. This lets them figure out which side of their body the sound came from.

Body And Spine Vibrations
In addition to their inner ear structure that lets snakes hear via vibrations, they have other systems that do the same thing as well. They have sensory nerves known as mechanoreceptors throughout their skin along their body. These nerves connect to the snake’s spinal cord so they can feel any vibrations that are carried by the soil or sound they travel on. The vibrations travel throughout the body and follow the spinal nerves until they reach the brain. The snake’s brain then recognizes them as sound. Since these mechanoreceptors are very sensitive, the animal can react to the sound instantly.

Skull Vibrations
Additionally, a snake’s skull will vibrate when sound waves hit it. This allows them to hear sound waves traveling through the air. Despite this ability, researchers have noticed that low notes are easier for snakes to hear compared to higher ones. That is likely because the impulses are able to go directly to the inner ear so the brain can sense them.

Using Sound Waves For Other Purposes
In addition to using sound waves to hear, snakes can use them to detect something moving on soil or sand from incredibly far away. They notice the waves in the form of tiny ripples along the sand which radiate from the source at about 50 meters per second, an incredibly rapid pace. This ability to perceive prey via sound waves is known as sensitive vibratory reception and is part of the reason snakes are such excellent hunters.

Despite their ability to hear and use sound waves, some experts still believe that the hissing snakes are famous for isn’t a form of communication between them; instead it warns other animals. These experts think snakes aren’t able to communicate with each other via sound and rely on other methods instead. Go back to the home page: Snakes of Sacramento