Patterns of Tongue-Flicking by Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) during Presentation of Chemicals under Varying Conditions

  • Takisha G. Schulterbrandt
  • John Kubie
  • Hans von Gizycki
  • Ido Zuri
  • Mimi Halpern

Tongue-flicking is a sensory-gathering behavior used by snakes to deliver odorants to the vomeronasal organ. In the present study we provide a detailed description of environmental control and motor patterns of tongue-flicking in garter snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis. Tongue-flicks were monitored during prey extract trailing, foraging, delivery of air-borne odors and in an open field. Tongue-flick rates increased during airborne odor delivery and as a function of prey extract concentration during trailing, as previously reported. Motivation and prey consumption appeared to modify tongue-flick patterns since 1. tongue-flick rates were higher under foraging conditions than in an open field where no prior prey consumption had occurred and no prey odors were present; and 2. tongue-flick rates were elevated after prey consumption. The number of oscillations and the duration of tongue extensions were significantly reduced following tongue-substrate touches, suggesting that tongue contact with the substrate is the immediate stimulus for tongue retraction.


Prey Consumption Vomeronasal Organ Garter Snake Amyl Acetate Odor Exposure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Burghardt, G.M. (1970). Intraspecific geographical variation in chemical food cue preferences of newborn garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). Behav. 36, 246–257.Google Scholar
  2. Burghardt, G. M. and Pruitt, C. H. (1975) Role of the tongue and senses in feeding of naive and experienced garter snakes. Physiol. Behav. 14, 85–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chiszar, D. and Carter, T. (1975) Reliability of individual differences between garter snakes (Thamnophis radix) during repeatd exposures to an open field. Bull. Psychon. Soc. 5, 507–509.Google Scholar
  4. Gove, D. (1979) A comparative study of snake and lizard tongue-flicking, with an evolutionary hypothesis. Zeit. Tierpsychol. 51, 58–76.Google Scholar
  5. Gove, D. and Burghardt, G.M. (1983) Context-correlated parameters of snake and lizard tongue-flicking. Anim. Behav. 31, 718–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Graves, B. M. and M. Halpern, M. (1989) Chemical access to the vomeronasal organs of the lizard, Chalcides ocellatus. J. Exper. Zool. 249, 150–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Halpern, M. (1987) The organization and function of the vomeronasal system. Ann. Rev. Neurosci. 10, 325–362.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Halpern, M. (1992) Nasal chemical senses in reptiles: Structure and function. In C. Gans and D. Crews (Eds.), Hormones, Brain and Behavior. Biology of the Reptilia.Vol. 18, Physiology E. (pp. 423-523) Chicago :University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Halpern, M. (1988) Vomeronasal system functions: Role in mediating the reinforcing properties of chemical stimuli. In W. K. Schwerdtfeger and W. J. A. J. Smeets (Eds), The Forebrain of Reptiles.Karger, Basel, pp. 142–150.Google Scholar
  10. Halpern, M. and Frumin, N. (1979) Roles of the vomeronasal and olfactory systems in prey attack and feeding in adult garter snakes. Physiol. Behav. 22, 1183–1189.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Halpern, M., Halpern, J., Erichsen, E. and Borghjid, S. (1997) The role of nasal chemical senses in garter snake response to airborne odor cues from prey. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 111, 251–260.Google Scholar
  12. Halpern, M. and Kubie, J.L. (1980) Chemical access to the vomeronasal organs of garter snakes. Physiol. Behav. 24, 367–371.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Halpern, M. and Kubie, J.L. (1983) Snake tongue flicking behavior: Clues to vomeronasal system functions. In R.M. Silverstein and D. Müller Schwarze, (Eds.), Chemical Signals III. Plenum Publishing Corp, New York, pp. 45–72.Google Scholar
  14. Kahmann, H. (1932). Sennesphysiologische studien an Reptilien. I. Experimentelle Untersuchungen über das Jakobonische Organ der Eidechesen und Schlangen. Zool. Jahrbuch., Abt. für Allgemeine Zool. Physiol. der Tiere 51, 173–238.Google Scholar
  15. Kubie, J. and Halpern, M. (1975) Laboratory observations of trailing behavior in garter snakes. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 89, 667–674.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kubie, J.L. and Halpern, M. (1978) Garter snake trailing behavior: effects of varying prey extract concentration and mode of prey extract presentation. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 92, 362–373.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kubie, J.L. and Halpern, M. (1979) The chemical senses involved in garter snake prey trailing. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 93, 648–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mason, R.T. (1992) Reptilian Pheromones. In C. Gans and D. Crews (Eds.), Hormones, Brain and Behavior. Biology of the Reptilia. Vol. 18, Physiology E. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 114–228.Google Scholar
  19. Meredith, M. and Burghardt, G.M. (1978) Electrophysiological studies of the tongue and accessory olfactory bulb in garter snakes. Physiol. Behav. 21, 1001–1008.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schwenk, K. (1993) The evolution of chemoreception in squamate reptiles: a phylogenetic approach. Brain Behav. Evol. 41, 124–137.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Schwenk, K. (1995) Of tongues and noses: chemoreception in lizards and snakes. Trends Ecol. Evol. 10, 7–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ulinski, P.S. (1972) Tongue movements in the common boa (Constrictor constrictor). Anim. Behav. 20, 373–382.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wilde, W.S. (1938) the role of Jacobson’s organ in the feeding reaction of the common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis. J.Exper. Zool. 77, 445–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Zuri, I. and Halpern, M. (2003) Differential effects of lesions of the vomeronasal and olfactory nerves on garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) response to airborne chemical stimuli. Behav. Neurosci. 117, 169–183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media,LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Takisha G. Schulterbrandt
    • 1
  • John Kubie
  • Hans von Gizycki
  • Ido Zuri
  • Mimi Halpern
  1. 1.Department of Anatomy and Cell BiologySUNY Downstate Medical CenterBrooklynUSA

Personalised recommendations