Can Snakes Taste?

can snakes taste

If you’re anything like us, you have a lot of questions about your pet snake!  Snakes are interesting pets that seem to always keep us on our toes!  One of the most intriguing things about snakes is what and how they eat!  Sometimes they want their food and sometimes they don’t.  Do you ever wonder if your snake just doesn’t like the taste of its food?

Can snakes taste?

Snakes actually can taste, just not in the same way that we do!  Snakes lack a sufficient amount of tastebuds but are able to taste and smell through a specialized organ in their mouths.  It sounds complicated, but in this way, snakes can get a taste of their food and their surroundings! 

In this article, we’ll talk about how snakes are able to taste and how that affects their day-to-day life.  Before we get to the details, let’s discuss how taste works in general.

How Does Taste Work?

Taste is something that is hard to explain.  Sweet, salty, sour, and bitter are all tastes that we humans experience.

Taste is a combination of both taste and smell.  Thes senses together give a good representation of how something tastes.  The human tongue is covered with thousands of tiny tastebuds that distinguish salty from sweet.

To put it simply, tastebuds receive chemical signals from food and transmit that to the brain.  Smell plays a part in taste.  If you’ve ever been sick with a stuffy nose, you’ll probably notice that things don’t taste as vibrant!  When you breathe through your nose, you take in smells and more information about the food you’re eating to give you a deeper understanding of the taste!

So, Can Snakes Taste?

Snakes can taste!

Snakes are able to taste their food but don’t experience flavors in the same way that we do.  Thank about how different the process of eating looks for humans versus snakes.  Humans take small bites and can take 10-60 minutes to eat a meal!  Snakes strike at prey and swallow them whole.  But, even though snakes are so different from us does not mean they don’t taste their food!

Does It Work The Same Way In Snakes?

As you’ll find with many senses, snakes go about things in a very different way!  Plus, snakes don’t generally chew their food!  Snakes actually have a very special organ located in the roofs of their mouths that gives information to their brains all about taste.  We’ll talk more about this organ and the science behind it below!

Do Snakes Have Tastebuds?

Snakes do not have tastebuds.

While some snakes might have a handful of tastebuds on the roofs of their mouths, most lack tastebuds completely.  Compared with the thousands of tastebuds that we have, it’s safe to assume that snakes experience taste in a very different way than we do.

How Do Snakes Taste And Smell?

So, how do snakes taste?  While we’ve answered our question of whether or not snakes can taste, the more interesting part of the equation is how they actually do it!

It all starts with a snake’s tongue.  Tongues are kind of funny.  A lot of animals have tongues.  Many animals use tongues to help chew food, clean themselves, or make noises.  snake tongues seem to have a long confusing history.

In the past, snake tongues were thought to be used for intimidation, noises, and even digging.  However, recent research shows to the most effective way to describe the role of the tongue is that of smell.  And we know from our brief taste education that smell and taste are extremely intertwined.

If a snake can smell with its tongue, it explains a lot.  Snakes often explore with their tongues first.  Usually, you’ll notice that their tongues are also forked.  The forked tongue actually serves a purpose other than looking a little creepy.  Having a tongue that forks in different directions actually allows a snake to pick up more information than it would normally be able to.  This is one of the reasons why you’ll see snakes flick their tongues in and out, and why your snake might enjoy licking you.

The reason why a snake’s tongue is so important to smell is that the tongue is used to collect molecules from the outside air.  What happens with those molecules?  We’ll explain that now!

Jacobson’s Organ

Have you ever heard of Jacobson’s Organ?

Jacobson’s Organ or the vomeronasal organ is an olfactory organ located in the soft tissue of the nasal septum.  Basically, this organ is a special organ found in the nasal cavity that helps animals to smell.  Interestingly enough, both reptiles and mammals have Jacobson’s organ.  While all snakes and lizards have a functional vomeronasal organ, some mammals have a functioning or vestigial organ as well.  Actually, some humans have a small non-functional vomeronasal organ.

So what does this organ do?

In snakes, this organ is responsible for collecting molecules from the tongue and sending them to the brain.  It’s a complex system of neurons and receptors, but this organ is the primary center for both smell and taste in a snake!

First, a snake moves its tongue out of its mouth.  You can think of this part as an air sampling.  Then, the tongue comes back into the mouth where receptors pick up molecules.  These receptors send signals to the brain and allow the snake to sense the world around them.

Snakes use this technique to follow prey, find mates, and even see in their own way.   A tongue is almost essential in a snake’s daily routine as it provides so much for them.  Although science suggests that snakes can taste through this process, they’re still not sure just how much!

Do Snakes Like The Taste Of Their Food?

It’s not clear at this time whether snakes like or dislike the tastes of different foods.  Snakes “taste” the scents on the air but it’s hard to tell whether they taste the food once it’s in their mouth.  Even though we’re not sure about a snack having a favorite tasting snack, they definitely have preferences!

Do Snakes Have Food Preferences?

It’s no surprise that snakes have foods that they prefer over others.  While this isn’t necessarily directly related to taste, it might be a factor.

Different species of snakes prefer different foods.  And, within a species, different individuals might prefer different foods.  It’s not uncommon to have two pets snakes of the same species and age prefer to eat two different things.  One might like pinkies and the other might like large adult mice.  Snakes certainly show preferences for different animal protein items- sometimes even showing interest in foods that humans eat too.

If you are trying to get your snake to eat a new kind of food, you can try rubbing the old food on it!  Snakes rely heavily on their sense of smell for eating so you might be able to trick your snake into trying something new by doing this!  Just remember to wash and sanitize your hands after handling their food so your pet snake doesn’t get confused.

Why Your Snake Might Not Be Eating

Snakes can taste, but they probably can’t taste well!  So, if the taste doesn’t really explain why your snake has stopped eating, what else could cause a loss of appetite?

Your Snake Might Be Stressed

One of the main reasons that snakes stop eating is because they are stressed.

Snakes don’t get stressed from jobs or family drama as we do.  Snakes can become stressed from things like inappropriate handling and environmental imbalances.

Handling is one of the biggest issues in the pet reptile world.  We want to hang out with our scaly friends, but it could actually upset them.  Handling is a process and should be approached with caution and respect.

An environment that is the wrong temperature and humidity for your snake will also cause stress.  You’ll want to make sure that you do specific research for your snake species.  Getting the wrong setup can mean putting your snake in a bad situation.  The wrong environmental conditions will not only stress them out but can actually make them ill.

Mainly, these are the two things that could stress your snake out enough for them to stop eating, but this video will give you a few more ideas.

Your Snake Might Be Sick

Another thing that might explain a change in your snake’s appetite is illness.

Snakes don’t show the same signs and symptoms of illness that we do.  Actually, for people with an unpracticed eye, it can be hard to tell when a reptile is ill!  Watch out for dull and saggy skin, sunken eyes, and general lethargy.  Plus, a respiratory illness might change their sense of taste and smell, which would really put them off of their food.

You Snake Might Be About To Shed

The last reason your snake might not be eating is that they’re about to shed.

Not all snakes stop eating around shedding time, but many do! The reason that many snakes stop eating before a shed is that it takes a lot of energy.  The energy spent shedding is costly and so they might spend days leading up to a shed burrowed away, saving energy.  If you’d like to read more about the eating habits of snakes around a shed, check out our extensive article here.

Final Thoughts

Snakes sample the air around them with a forked tongue.  This is how snakes smell, see and taste the world around them.  It’s incredible to think that snakes can do so much through just a couple of organs.  Though snakes can smell, it’s a different experience from the one that we have as humans.  If a snake isn’t excited about eating., there’s probably another explanation besides bad seasoning!  Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how your snake experiences taste and why else they may have stopped eating.