What the Jacobson’s Organ in Snakes Is and What It Does

It’s easy to think that snakes—much like every other animal out there—use their sense of smell to get around, find a mate, and track prey. However, it’s not as simple as that. Since they are legless reptiles that scurry around on their bellies, they’ve been blessed with a unique body part that helps them do all of that and more. 

It’s Called the Jacobson’s Organ

Snakes use Jacobson’s organ to track heavy odor particles in the air. The organ is located on the roof of their mouths. They use their tongues to capture particles and bring them to this body part to sense their surroundings better, especially if there are humans around using the best snake repellent to counter their attack.

It is also called the vomeronasal organ, an integral part of a snake’s olfactory system. It is used for heavier particles that do not stay airborne and are present in many amphibians, mammals, and reptiles. 

Interestingly, mammals also have this organ to help them detect pheromones to find mates. So do humans, though its exact function is hotly debated. 

In animals, it is used for sexual and social behavior. Because the organ is primarily responsible for carrying pheromone signals, snakes' scent trails are more accessible for the snakes to follow.

Why Snakes Rely Heavily on Smell

Different creatures rely on various other senses to find food and stay alive. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell and hearing, while humans use sight and hearing. An animal’s primary sense says a lot about what it needs to find food. Most snakes rely primarily on their sense of smell, using their tongue to gather scent particles.

Snakes do not have perfect eyesight, mainly seeing via moving images. There are some exceptions, however. Diurnal and arboreal snakes use sight as an essential hunting tool.

What unites all snakes is their strong sense of smell; they have a much better understanding of smell than most animals. Snakes have evolved a unique way of smelling odors in the world around them; they have two vomeronasal organs and can therefore smell in stereo.

When a forked tongue flicks out, it collects the scent particles onto each tip and retracts back into the snake’s mouth. It then presses the ends against the vomeronasal organ; each can detect how strong a scent is. This allows snakes to see multiple smells from different directions and effortlessly follow a scent trail.

On the other hand, while this makes snakes and reptiles efficient, cunning hunters via smell, the overreliance on this one sense is also their greatest weakness. The best snake repellents are designed to target their olfactory receptors to a point where they are overwhelmed by the scent and move away from their target.

How Snakes Maximize this Sense

Snakes often flick their tongues to gather scents in the area, allowing them to detect predators (like birds), prey (like mice and rats), and conspecifics (other racers). 

The rate at which a snake flicks its tongue depends on its intent: whether it is hunting down food or exploring its surroundings. When snakes hunt, they flick their tongues more rapidly as they try to locate the most potent scent trail. This is used to track down prey animals. A snake about to bite will flick its tongue very quickly in short flicks. This can be a warning that the snake may try to bite you if you grab it too tightly.

The Proper, Humane Response

Snakes can smell in stereo. Instead of seeing the world around them in sound waves, snakes perceive their surroundings in various scents. While they are technically blind, this does not mean that snakes need to be killed on sight. They are important members of the ecosystem with whom we share our spaces. 

As mentioned earlier, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. Thus, using the best snake repellent to overwhelm their olfactory receptors and scare them away is much more humane. You can find this at Revoke Snake Repellent, which makes the Revoke® Snake Repellent. This solution is all-natural, environment-friendly, child- and pet-safe, that may be used in the attic, garage, or any other room in the house, leaving no mess. Read more on how to use it on our website!