How Do Snakes Hear Without Ears?

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You may think snakes are deaf since they do not possess external ears, but it has been discovered in studies by J. Leo van Hemmen and Paul Friedel of the Technical University of Munich, Germany, and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience that snakes can indeed hear to some extent.

No Eardrum

Snakes do not have eardrums, but they do have inner ear structures complete with cochleas and are able to hear by feeling the vibrations alongside their jaws as they slither on the ground. The left and right sides of snakes' jaws can move independently of each other. As a result, snakes can sense vibrations from either the left side or the right, helping to determine where sounds originate.

Mechanoreceptors

Mechanoreceptors are sensory nerves spaced throughout the skin of the body and connected to the spinal cord, enabling a snake to feel vibrations that carry through the sand or soil. These vibrations move through the body and along the spinal nerves to the brain, where they are recognized as sounds. These receptors are extremely sensitive and they react instantly to stimuli, enabling a snake to locate the source of the sound.

Sound Moving Through the Air

A snake can pick up sound waves through the air, because the skull vibrates when a sound wave hits it. But a snake appears to hear low notes easier than high ones. These impulses move directly from the skull into the snake's inner ears, where the vibrations are sensed by the brain. Some snake owners believe their pets are capable of reacting to the sound of their names.

Extremely Sensitive Perception

Snakes can sense something moving on the surface of sand or soil from great distances and pinpoint its location easily through sound waves. These waves are tiny ripples on the sand that radiate away from the source at a rapid pace -- around 50 meters a second. Sensitive vibratory reception is common in snakes and enables them to catch prey easily.

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