Friday, 1 August 2014

Why do snakes flick their tongues?

31st July 2014

41 minutes ago by Andrew Durso

Many people think a snake's forked tongue is creepy. Every so often, the snake waves it around rapidly, then retracts it. Theories explaining the forked tongues of snakes have been around for thousands of years. Aristotle reasoned that it provided snakes with "a twofold pleasure from savours, their gustatory sensation being as it were doubled".

Italian astronomer Giovanni Hodierna thought snake tongues were for cleaning dirt out of their noses. Some 17th century writers claimed to have watched snakes catch flies or other animals between the forks of their tongues, using them like forceps. It is a common myth even today that snakes can sting you with their tongues. But none of those hypotheses is likely.

Most animals with tongues use them for tasting, to clean themselves or others, or to capture or manipulate their prey. A few, including humans, also use them to make sounds. Snakes do not use their tongues for any of these things. Over the past 20 years, Kurt Schwenk, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut, has been working on understanding the function of snake tongues, and "smelling" is the closest description of what snakes do with their tongues.

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