Many people believe that snakes are deaf. This assumption is due largely to the fact that snakes have no outer ear. They do however have an inner ear and are quite capable of hearing.
We know sound travels in waves that are invisible to the naked eye. Those waves vibrate our ear drums at different frequencies and we hear the results. A snake’s hearing works in much the same way except instead of invisible sound waves in the air a snake “hears” vibrations that travel through the ground.
- The basic design of a snakes hearing
- Anytime something moves across the ground it creates vibrations. This also includes animals and people. Most animals don’t take notice of these vibrations but a snake does. When the wave reaches the snake it is picked up by the bones and muscles in the snakes lower jaw. These vibrations are focused into an organ called the cochlea that gathers the sound for processing by the inner ear of the snake.
- The advanced design of how a snake hears
- For a long time it was believed that snakes could “hear” but couldn’t localize sounds. In other words they couldn’t pinpoint where something was and had to rely on their poor eyesight and keen sense of smell to home in on their prey.
Science has discovered that the elasticity of a snakes jaw allows it to localize vibrations traveling through the ground aiding the snake in determining which direction a sound is coming from.
You can find more details about how this works in this article that gives an overview of a study done by University of Munich and University of Kansas researchers. The overview is that the snakes hinged jaw allows them to pick up the vibrations independently of one another depending on which side they come from.
There is evidence according to the study that the auditory neurons of the snake actually create a topographical map which allows them to pin-point prey by the vibrations they create. In a nutshell it is a form of echolocation.