Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why do snakes have a forked tongue?

The answer: tropotaxis, or a "surround sound" tongue


Tropotaxis simply refers to the targeted following of chemical cues by an organism, I think.
I was asked a few days ago why snakes have forked tongues. It was asked by a kid, and was probably an idle question, unimportant to the person, and quickly forgotten. At least, to them. I puzzled and fumed and googled.

So, here it is. Science really isn't sure, but the accepted proposed idea is that a forked tongue gives snakes (and other reptiles, like Komodo dragons) a larger surface area to the tounge, allowing their sense receptors greater comprehension, and especially a better ability to sense direction of chemical traces in the air.

The principle to surround sound applies to the "tasting" of the air, too, soundwaves notwithstanding.

Well, I found it fascinating.

Oh, incidinetly, snakes and monitor lizards (such as the Komodo) are closer cousins than other lizards. I found that interesting, when considering their similar oral qualitities.

And oh, again, I misspelled "tounge" all throughout this blog, and had to keep correcting myself.


  1. Hi Rich, I too had heard it helped with their sense of smell, but I don't really buy the "larger surface area" argument. If that is true, why aren't their tongues simply broader? I read the Wikipedia article and it seemed to suggest that it allows snakes to know the direction from which smells originate. Seems more plausible to me.


  2. Thanks Doug, I am glad you are reading my blog. Anyways, I guess I wasn't too clear in my blog post (I am used to blogging to a readership of myself). I agree with you that the Wikipedia artcile's suggestion seems the most plausible, and my reason for my blog post was actually to agree with it. But like I said, science really isn't sure.