Snakes yawn for many reasons, but none of them have to do with the snake being sleepy. Snakes yawn to widen their gape or align the lower jaw after eating.
They also yawn or gape when they are sick. Yawning or keeping their mouths open wide also helps them detect chemicals in the air to let them know, among other things, if the prey is nearby.
Some snakes even open their mouths to threaten someone.
Why Do Snakes Yawn?
For the most part, yawning in snakes is normal. They yawn to smell better. They also yawn as a form of threat. They yawn before eating large prey in order to stretch the ligaments in their jaw to accommodate the size of the food. They yawn to reposition it. They also yawn when they have upper respiratory illnesses.
Yawning and Eating
Snakes can eat prey larger than they are. This means they need to get their mouth openings as large as possible to wrangle an animal, even other snakes, into their mouths.
The internet abounds with videos of pythons swallowing alligators, cows, and deer. How do snakes manage to swallow their prey twice, or even thrice, their size?
Snakes can do this due to the remarkable construction of their jaws. Unlike in most animals, snake jaws are not connected by bones to the rest of the skull.
They are only connected with ligaments that stretch. This allows them to produce such a wide gape. In order to widen their gape, they need to yawn to stretch those ligaments to the fullest.
The gape needs to be so wide because snakes don’t chew their meal. In fact, snakes are capable of swallowing their prey whole. They even move their heads sideways to aid their prey down their throats.
The wide gape will be permanent unless the snake clicks the jaw back into place. In order to do this, the snake needs to yawn yet again after the last of the prey is swallowed.
Snakes may need a few yawns before the jaw is back in place.
Needing to Vomit
Since snakes don’t chew their food, they rely on digestive juices to break the food down. The juices are not always able to do their job and chunks of food can remain undigested.
Instead of the body trying to push the undigested food out of the anus, it uses the mouth. A snake’s anus is much smaller in diameter in comparison to the mouth gape.
Before they vomit, snakes will seem to yawn. Snakes vomit not only because they cannot digest some food, but also to lighten their load if they are chased by a predator.
Speed is essential to get away and a full belly slows the snake down considerably. Snakes need a long time to digest their food and are vulnerable to predators at this time.
Even being picked up by a friendly owner can trigger vomiting in snakes. After all, a predator like a large bird of prey would pick the snake up in order to kill it.
Avoid having the snake yawn and vomit by leaving the snake alone at least three hours after it eats. If the snake needs to travel or go to a reptile show, do not feed a few days prior to traveling to avoid the snake vomiting.
Suffering From a Respiratory Infection
Snakes usually breathe through their nose, but if their nose is stuffed up, then they need to breathe through their mouths. They may appear to be yawning but are trying to get their breath.
Snakes suffering from respiratory infections like pneumonia should go to a vet.
Snakes show other symptoms of respiratory infections other than yawning. Mucus may bubble from the nostrils. It may also leak from their mouths.
With that, the snake will be less likely to be active than usual. The snake will not want to eat and will start to lose weight. If you listen closely, you can hear it wheeze, gurgle, or make other noises while breathing.
If left untreated, the bacteria causing the respiratory infection will eventually get into the snake’s bloodstream, killing it. Treatment is with antibiotics.
Often, fluids need to be given to stop the snake from wasting away. Make sure the snake’s enclosure is given a good cleaning and that the heater and lights are working properly to keep the sick snake warm.
Other Reasons Why Snakes Yawn
Snakes are deaf and do not see very well. During their shedding time, they can be blind for one or two weeks.
In order to get around in the world, snakes rely heavily on their olfactory sense. Smell helps them find prey, avoid predators, and find out if other snakes are in the area.
Snakes can smell a little through their nostrils, but mainly they smell with their Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouths. Sticking the tongue out helps trap chemicals in the air to help them smell.
Usually, flicking the tongue is enough, but if not, the snake yawns to gather more information. This helps scent particles to have better contact with their Jacobson’s organ.
Some species of snakes will open their mouths wide in a threat display. This certainly makes them appear much bigger and shows off those alarming fangs.
Some species that open their mouths when threatening others include all cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, vipers, and parrot snake.
Frequently Asked Questions About Why Snakes Yawn
Do Snakes Unhinge Their Jaws?
It was once thought that snakes unhinged their jaws to swallow large prey, but this turned out not to be true. The lower jaw does not connect to the upper with bones. They connect with very flexible ligaments.
Is Snake Yawning Bad?
Sometimes snakes yawn when they are sick. Other signs of sickness besides yawning include noisy breathing, mucus coming from the mouth and nose, becoming listless, and loss of appetite. Take a snake to a vet when it displays these symptoms.
Why Do Snakes Randomly Open Their Mouths?
If the snake isn’t sick and the snake is not about to eat or has just finished eating, then the snake is smelling the air. Although snakes can smell through their noses, the best way they smell is through their Jacobson’s organ. Opening the mouth and flicking the tongue helps the snake to smell better.
The Least You Need to Know
Snakes do not yawn because they are tied. They yawn to widen their gape so they can swallow very large prey.
They yawn after eating to put their jaws back in place. Snakes also yawn when they are about to vomit, and when they are suffering from upper respiratory illnesses.
Snakes yawn randomly to help smell better. Some snakes, like cottonmouths and vipers, open their mouths wide in a threat display.