In the past, it was a common belief that snakes couldn’t hear much if anything since they have no external ears and don’t seem to respond to noises. However, scientific research refutes this common misconception.
Snake Ear Anatomy
Many people don’t realize that snakes have ears but they are in fact there. Directly behind their eyes, snakes have two ears just like other reptiles. They do not have external ears (commonly referred to as ear flaps, pinnae, or auricles), but they do have small holes on the sides of their head that are ear openings. Inside each tiny ear-hole is a functional inner ear but no eardrum (tympanic membrane) or middle ear.1 The inner ear is filled with air in snakes while most other animals have fluid-filled inner ears.
How Snakes Hear
As previously mentioned, snakes do not have external ears (pinnae) or eardrums like we do but they do have fully formed inner ear structures. In addition to their inner ear structures, they have a bone called the quadrate bone in their jaws. This bone moves slightly in response to vibrations while they slither on the ground.
What Snakes Can Hear
Pitch (high or low sounds) is measured in Hertz (Hz) and how quiet or loud sounds are is measured in decibels (dB). Hertz is primarily what researchers have measured to determine whether or not a snake has the ability to hear. Some researchers determined that snakes are able to detect low frequency airborne and ground vibrations through their inner ears (in the 50 to 1,000 Hz range) but a lot is still not understood regarding exactly what a snake can hear. Some studies show that their peak sensitivity is in the 200 to 300 Hz range while others show it in the 80 to 160 Hz range.2
- Knight, K. Snakes Hear Through Skull Vibration. Journal Of Experimental Biology, vol 215, no. 2, 2011, p. ii-ii. The Company Of Biologists, doi:10.1242/jeb.069104
- Christensen, C. B. et al. Hearing With An Atympanic Ear: Good Vibration And Poor Sound-Pressure Detection In The Royal Python, Python Regius. Journal Of Experimental Biology, vol 215, no. 2, 2011, pp. 331-342. The Company Of Biologists, doi:10.1242/jeb.062539