Do Snakes Lick? What Snakes Actually Use Their Tongues For

Snakes have long captured our curiosity and ignited our fascination. From their sinuous movements to their forked tongues, these incredible creatures possess unique characteristics that set them apart from other animals. 

One intriguing behavior commonly associated with snakes is their seemingly peculiar habit of flicking their tongues in and out of their mouths.

So, do snakes lick things, and what exactly do they use their tongues for?

Snakes do not actually lick objects like mammals do. Instead, they use their tongues to gather scent particles from the air and transfer them to what’s known as Jacobson’s organ in their mouths. This helps them navigate, locate prey, and communicate with other snakes.

Keep reading to learn more about what snakes use their tongues for and whether it’s normal for them to lick their owners.

Do Snakes Lick?

When it comes to the question of whether snakes lick things, it’s important to clarify that snakes do not lick objects in the same way that mammals do. 

The notion of snakes licking objects, like a dog licking its owner’s hand, is a common misconception. Instead, snakes employ their tongues in a unique and fascinating way to gather information about their surroundings.

A snake’s tongue is a highly specialized sensory organ that plays a crucial role in their daily activities. The tongue itself is forked, which means it splits into two distinct tips at the end. This forked shape enhances its effectiveness in gathering sensory information.

What Do Snakes Use Their Tongues For?

Snakes use their tongues for several important purposes. The primary function of a snake’s tongue is to gather scent particles from the environment. When a snake flicks its tongue, it collects these particles from the air or surfaces it encounters.

Check out this quick video showing how different snake species flick their tongues:

After the tongue is withdrawn into the snake’s mouth, it makes contact with a specialized sensory organ called Jacobson’s organ or the vomeronasal organ. This organ is located on the roof of the snake’s mouth. The collected scent particles are then transferred to Jacobson’s organ for analysis.

By sampling the air and surfaces, snakes can effectively track scent trails left by potential prey, predators, or even mates. This sense of smell is vital for their survival, particularly for species that rely on hunting or locating specific prey items.

Additionally, snakes use their tongues to gather information about their immediate environment. As they flick their tongues, they can detect changes in temperature, humidity, and chemical composition. This sensory input helps them navigate their surroundings and make decisions based on the available information.

It’s also worth noting that snakes do not possess taste buds on their tongues like other mammals. While they can detect certain chemical cues, their sense of taste is relatively limited compared to their sense of smell.

Is It Normal for Pet Snakes to Lick Their Owners?

It is not typical or common for pet snakes to lick their owners in the same way that mammals do. Unlike dogs or cats, snakes do not possess the physiological structures necessary for licking. Therefore, if a snake is observed licking its owner, it is likely engaging in a different behavior or exhibiting an unusual action.

Snakes primarily use their tongues for gathering scent information from the environment, as explained earlier. They may flick their tongues in the vicinity of their owners or objects to explore and understand their surroundings. However, this behavior is not considered a form of licking for affection or communication.

It is essential to remember that snakes do not have the same emotional bonding capabilities as mammals, and their behaviors are primarily driven by instinct and survival instincts. While snakes can become accustomed to their owners’ presence and may exhibit relaxed behaviors, licking is not a behavior typically associated with snakes.

If a pet snake is repeatedly licking its owner, it is advisable to monitor the snake’s health and behavior closely. Unusual behaviors in snakes can sometimes indicate stress, discomfort, or potential health issues, so it’s best to consult with a reptile veterinarian or an experienced herpetologist who can provide valuable insights and ensure the well-being of the snake.

Can Snakes Poison You with Their Tongues?

a photo of a snake flicking its tongue to show do snakes lick

Snakes cannot poison or harm you with their tongues. The misconception that snakes can poison or harm you with their tongues may arise from confusion with their venomous species. 

Some snakes, such as cobras, vipers, or rattlesnakes, possess venom glands and specialized fangs for delivering venom. However, it’s important to note that venom is not produced or transferred through the snake’s tongue.

If you encounter a venomous snake and it bites you, the venom is typically delivered through the snake’s fangs into your body. It’s crucial to exercise caution and avoid handling or approaching venomous snakes unless you have the necessary expertise and experience.

However, the vast majority of snake species are non-venomous and pose no direct harm to humans. Non-venomous snakes use their tongues solely for gathering information about their environment and do not possess venom glands or the ability to inject venom.

To ensure your safety when encountering any snake, it is always best to maintain a respectful distance and avoid unnecessary handling or provocation. If you come across a snake and are unsure of its species or behavior, it is advisable to seek assistance from trained professionals or local wildlife authorities to handle the situation appropriately.


In conclusion, snakes possess remarkable adaptations that make their tongues an integral part of their sensory arsenal. While they do not lick objects like mammals, their flicking tongues serve a vital purpose in gathering scent information from the environment which aids them in navigation, foraging, and communication with other snakes. 

Understanding the true nature of snake tongues enhances our appreciation for these captivating reptiles. Their unique sensory adaptations and behaviors demonstrate the intricacies of nature’s designs. 

By respecting and appreciating snakes for their extraordinary abilities, we can foster a greater understanding and coexistence with these fascinating creatures.

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