Snakes are not so different from us.
Sure, they look completely different. But we actually share many characteristics.
We both have eyes and tongues and bones and even ribs.
But do they have ears? Can snakes hear?
A quick glance will tell you they don’t have ears. But does that mean they can’t hear anything?
Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about snake hearing.
Can Snakes Hear Sound?
Snakes might not have ears, but they can hear nevertheless. But they don’t hear in the same way we do. They sense sounds in their environment through vibrations.
Snakes “Hear” Through Vibrations
Snakes have inner ear structures. They’re just missing eardrums.
The lack of external ears might lead us to assume that snakes are deaf, but research has found that this is not the case.
A study conducted by Aarhus University in Denmark found that snakes hear via vibrations. They manage to hear sounds, because the inner ear is connected to their jawbone.
The jaw bone makes contact with the ground when they move along it. As vibrations travel through the ground, they vibrate the snake’s jawbone and those signals travel to the snake’s brain via the inner ear.
Snakes have a small ear bone called the columella which detects vibrations of sound waves. This is what allows the snake to “hear.”
This type of hearing ability comes in very handy for a hunter like the snake. It can sense even slight vibrations, so it can easily detect any prey scurrying about.
Even the smallest prey causes some type of vibration as it moves and the snake can sense those vibrations in the ground. The only way to stay safe is to not move at all.
A Snake’s Hearing Is Similar To A Ship’s Movement
Research published in Physical Review Letters has given us a way to better understand how snakes hear. They compared to the way a ship bobs up and down on the waves in the ocean.
In the study, the researchers used equations that served to measure a ship’s movement to also calculate the way in which a snake’s jaw moves in response to vibrations on the ground.
A ship can move in many different directions, such as heaving and pitching, and a snake’s jaw move in the same way.
When the snake’s jawbone senses a vibration, the vibration moves to the inner ear which interprets it and sends a signal to the brain via the nerves.
Even more interesting, snakes have two jaws – an upper and a lower one – which allows them to “hear” things in stereo.
Can Snakes Hear Sounds In The Air?
Now we know that snakes can sense vibrations on the ground, like our footsteps, for example. But can they also hear sounds in the air?
Researchers at Aarhus University studied ball pythons by attaching electrodes to their heads to monitor the neurons that connect the inner ear to the brain. They then played sounds through a speaker that was put above the snake’s cage.
The researchers found that the snakes didn’t show any behavioral changes or responses to the sounds, but their nerve pulses changed according to the sounds.
When the sounds had frequencies between 80 and 160 hertz, the snakes’ nerve impulses were the strongest.
This range of frequencies is the bass range in music, so they can definitely hear low sounds in their environments. This makes sense, because lower sounds cause stronger vibrations.
Can Your Pet Snake Hear You Talk?
We all know that snakes aren’t exactly loving or cuddly pets. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves talking to our pet snakes.
Is there any point to this? Can your snake actually hear the words you speak?
It’s difficult to get a definitive answer to this question. Snakes don’t respond at all when we talk to them, so it certainly seems like they don’t hear us.
But we’re just not sure.
Some research has shown that snakes can detect both ground vibrations and airborne frequencies that are in the 50 to 1,000 hertz range.
Others say that snakes can only hear sounds in the 200 to 300 hertz range. Others still, think that the hearing range is even more limited. They say snakes can only hear sounds in the 80 to 160 hertz range we mentioned above.
The human voice is around 250 hertz, so it’s still unclear if your snake can hear what you say when you speak, much less whether it can actually recognize your voice. But it’s nice to know that some researchers think they can!
Do snakes have external ears?
They don’t have external ears, but they do have tiny holes on either side of their head that are thought to be ear openings.
Are snakes the only type of animal that hears in this way?
There are other animals, like frogs and salamanders, that don’t have eardrums either and that hear in the same way snakes do.
Snake Hearing: Conclusion
While snakes don’t have outer ears, they do have inner ears and they use them to hear things through vibrations in their jaws.
This is very different from the way we hear and they likely can’t hear many of the sounds we can. But they are very sensitive to the vibrations caused by animals walking around on the ground. This ability helps make them highly efficient hunters.