A Snake’s Secret Sense: Can They Hear Us?

By Victor O

Snakes have always intrigued scientists and nature enthusiasts with their enigmatic behaviors and sensory capabilities. For years, experts believed that snakes relied primarily on ground-borne vibrations to sense their environment, leaving their hearing abilities shrouded in mystery.

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However, a groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE has finally brought clarity to this aspect of snake physiology. This research not only confirmed that snakes can hear airborne sound vibrations but also shed light on how different species react to sounds.

How Snakes Respond to Airborne and Ground-borne Sounds

While snakes predominantly use their vision and chemosensory perception to navigate their surroundings, the recent study underscores the significance of hearing in their sensory repertoire. This newfound insight into snake hearing aligns with their evolutionary need to detect potential threats, such as predators and approaching dangers.

To conduct the research, scientists collaborated with the Queensland University of Technology, utilizing a soundproof room to study the hearing responses of 19 snakes from seven different species. The snakes were exposed to a variety of sound frequencies, ranging from 1-450Hz. Notably, this study was the first to investigate how multiple snake species react to sounds while they are free to move, ensuring that they were indeed responding to airborne sounds and not just ground vibrations.

Can Snakes Hear Us?

Contrary to the long-standing myth that snakes are deaf, this research definitively proved that snakes can indeed hear. While their hearing capabilities are limited to low frequencies below the 600Hz mark, they can detect sounds in this range. In the study, snakes responded to sounds played at frequencies within the human vocal range, suggesting that snakes can hear human speech, especially when spoken loudly. This dispels the misconception that snakes are completely impervious to the sounds we make, showing that they can perceive and respond to audible cues in their environment.

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This study on snake hearing has unveiled a fascinating aspect of these reptiles’ sensory abilities. Snakes, while not relying primarily on hearing, can indeed detect airborne sounds and react to them. This newfound understanding of snake hearing not only enriches our knowledge of these remarkable creatures but also emphasizes the importance of sound perception in their survival and behavior. Thus, the myth of snakes being deaf is finally debunked, and we can appreciate these serpents for their multi-faceted sensory toolkit that allows them to thrive in diverse environments.