The Jacobson's Organ in a Snake and Related Animals ~ Kwentology

What is the Jacobson's organ in a snake? When a snake flicks its tongue, the reptile is probably picking up scents. Located on the roof of a snake's mouth, the Jacobson's organ is a pair of open pits loaded with sensory nerves. After the snake collects airborne chemicals on its forked tongue, it passes the tips over its Jacobson's organ, which turns the chemicals into electric signals then travel up pathways to the brain. Snake use their Jacobson's organ to mate and to help them hunt prey.

Image of Parts of Snake Jacobson's Organ

Thanks to the Jacobson's organ, snakes can hunt by smell alone. One big reason is the forked tongue. Each tip passes over one of the two pits on the roof of its mouth, allowing the chemicals on each tip to analyzed separately. If a prey's odor is more concentrated on one tip, the snake uses that information to figure out the direction of the animal.

Chemical Messengers

Snakes aren't the only reptiles with a fully developed Jacobson's organ. Lizards, amphibians, and many mammals have this helpful sense organ. The organs are used mostly to detect chemicals called pheromones (feh-roh-monz). The chemicals are found in an animal's scent glands, saliva, urine, and feces (poop). They send messages to the brain, such as which animals are ready to mate, that only other members of the same species can understand.

Image of Jacobson's Organ for Animals Like Zebras

What's More Kwentologist?!!!

The Jacobson's organ was named after Ludwig Levin Jacobson, a Danish doctor and naturalist, who discovered it in 1813.

Image of Lion with Jacobson's Organ

Male lions use pheromones to tell when a lioness is ready to mate. They do this by curling their upper lips into a grimace, the better to get the scent onto their Jacobson's organ.

Image of Horses, Carabao, Buffalo, Giraffe with Jacobson's Organ

Members of the cat family aren't the only ones to curl their lips when they are ready to mate. Horses, buffalo, zebras, and giraffes do too.

Image of Elephant with Jacobson's Organ

Much as a snake uses its tongue, an elephant uses its "finger" at the end of its trunk to gather chemicals and bring them to its Jacobson's organ. This gives the elephant information about other elephants, such as which females are ready to mate and which males to stay away from.

Jacobson's Organ for Human

People have a Jacobson's organ, but it is not fully developed and doesn't work as a sense organ.
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It's quite amazing when you watch a snake eat and they shift into their hunting mode. They will often spit out their tongue quite frequently to pick up the trace of their prey. From experience, it only takes about a few seconds of reaction before they attack.

It really is quite remarkable.