Yes, snakes can hear sound

Photo credit: Jan Kopřiva

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It has long been thought that snakes can perceive vibrations in the ground but can’t hear because they don’t have ears. The ability to sense vibrations is acutely developed, allowing some species to detect a passing mouse in desert sand.

Now, according to Discover magazine, research done at the University of Queensland’s Venom Evolution Laboratory shows that snakes actually can hear sound. In a novel research design, the scientists place snakes in a chamber and played three different pink noise frequencies at 85 A-weighted decibels.* By observing the snakes’ behavior, they were able to conclude that snakes indeed heard sound.

Snakes apparently evolved the ability to hear sound–or perhaps retained the ability to hear when they evolved from lizards–because hearing must confer an evolutionary advantage, likely to find prey or to avoid being eaten.

Fortunately, humans have ears. Nowadays we are rarely in a situation where we need good hearing to find food in the market or to avoid being eaten by a tiger or bear, but it’s still a good idea to protect our auditory health.

Avoid loud noise, leave the noisy environment, or use hearing protection to protect your ears.

Because it it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.

*A-weighting adjusts sounds for the frequencies heard in human speech. 85 dBA is the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recommended occupational exposure level for noise. I’m not sure why the researchers chose this sound level for their reptile studies.

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