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How Do Snakes Breathe? It Works Like This!

How Do Snakes Breathe? It Works Like This!

Most people don’t even think about how a snake breathes. It seems impossible with its long thin body that there are organs inside.

However, snakes do have lung(s) that they use to breathe.


How do Snakes Breathe?

Snakes breathe by letting air enter their nostrils and mouth. They will then contract their rib cage to move air in and out of the lungs, allowing for oxygen to circulate through its body and expel the carbon dioxide. They can also breathe around their meal with the help of their glottis.


Do Snakes Have Lungs: The Answer

Snakes, like most animals, depend on their respiratory system to breathe. Some snakes have one lung, and some have two. 

Some snake species have two lungs — one on the left side of their body and one on the right side.

Although, several snake species have one lung. All snakes have what is called a righthand lung.

It is large and runs through almost the snake’s entire body length. It usually ends a few inches before the tail begins.

The righthanded lung has tiny pockets that fill up with oxygen when the snake inhales. That oxygen circulates through the snake’s bloodstream.

Any waste materials (carbon dioxide) are expelled from the snake’s body when it exhales.

The snakes use their nostrils and mouth for breathing.

When a snake is eating, it can breathe around its meal thanks to a glottis structure. It is an opening in their mouth that moves so the snake can eat.

Snakes can hold their breath for a good amount of time. Each species is different. Some can hold their breath for five minutes, and others can hold their breath for an hour or more.

A couple of water species snakes can perform cutaneous respiration, a fancy way of saying breathe through the skin.

When a snake has two lungs, the left lung’s smaller than its right counterpart. Snakes with a smaller left lung or only one lung have an internal structure to assist them with breathing in the snake’s trachea.



The trachea, otherwise known as the “windpipe,” looks like a long straw. The snake’s body supports the trachea with cartilaginous semicircles.

While this structure is referred to as a tracheal lung for some snake species, it performs like a snake’s lungs — doing the same, providing oxygen.


How a Snake Inhales and Exhales

Snakes move air in and out of their lungs by expanding and contracting their rib cage.

The muscles that surround the ribs are used for breathing.


How Frequently Snakes Breathe

Some snakes will alter their breathing based on environmental causes. For example, a garter snake adjusts the number of breaths they take depending on how much carbon dioxide is around them.

If snakes are breathing in more carbon dioxide and less oxygen, they will breathe quicker and more often to get the crucial gases they need for survival.

If your pet snake is gasping for air or wheezing, this could signal an infection. Snakes are prone to respiratory infections. Therefore, seel the vet’s help as soon as possible.


Do Snakes Hold Their Breath

Snakes are experts at breathing pauses (apnea). Between breaths, nearly all animals have this pause.

First, they exhale, removing air from their lungs. Then they inhale, bringing air back into their lungs. They then take a little break, but not for long.

A snake can spend somewhere from just a few minutes in this breathing pause. However, when the snake is resting and calm, it may hold its breath for an extended period of time, especially when they’re swimming.


How Snakes Breathe Underwater

Gills are not present in snakes that inhabit and hunt in water. They are unable to obtain oxygen only from the water in which they live, as fish do.

To breathe, they still need oxygen from the air. These swimming snakes are real breathing pause experts, capable of breath holding for lengthy periods.

A sea snake will typically spend 5 to 30 minutes hunting underwater. However, some sea snakes species have been observed staying submerged for up to two hours to 30 minutes hunting underwater.

That does not scratch the surface of how certain water snakes rest or hibernate beneath the surface. The length of a dive varies according to the species and the temperature, elevation, and roughness of the water.

When a sea snake surfaces during the day, it takes numerous breaths during a short period of time. Ventilation cycles are the term for these breaths.

Before diving back under, the snake will rapidly acquire the oxygen it needs. The further the snake descends, more and more of these rapid breaths it must take before descending again.

Snakes that prey near the surface usually keep coming up to breathe a lot more often than snakes who forage in deeper waters.

The snake’s activity level and the temperature of the water are other variables in determining how long it will remain submerged.

Another feature that allows a sea snake to remain underwater for extended periods of time without taking a breath is a tiny air sac at the base of its right lung. This lung may be found in the entirety of a snake’s body and into its tail in aquatic snakes.

Even when the snake exhales, a tiny air sac at the far end of the lung will hold one additional gulp of air.

Snakes who dive deeper than some other species have a denser membrane in this region of the lung, which allows them to retain more air in case of an emergency than other species do.


Cutaneous Respiration

Water snakes don’t come up as frequently while they’re sleeping or brumating. The cutaneous respiration technique is used by these snakes.

This process is when gases are transferred via the snake’s skin, with oxygen being taken in from the water and carbon dioxide being discharged throughout the water.

Cutaneous respiration permits some sea snake species to go for hours, days, or even months without using their lungs. Furthermore, many, if not most, sea snakes can not do cutaneous respiration.


Breathing Underground — How do Snakes Breathe

Burrows are home to many snakes if your pet snake burrows, such as a garter snake. A snake does not totally encase or trap itself in the earth when it buries itself in the substrate.

Instead, when digging, snakes make sure to allow enough room for them to move around.

They don’t bury themselves very deeply beneath the ground, preferring to hide under piles of leaves, grass, or shrubs. Even snakes that are brumating don’t go more than a foot below the ground.



A snake’s ability to breathe in so many different situations and places is amazing.

However, these reptiles certainly know how to fend for themselves, living in the wild and in a tank as a pet snake.

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