You may have seen videos of snakes yawning online. If you have, you may be wondering:
Why do snakes yawn?
Snakes yawn to help reset their jaws after a meal. They may also yawn for a few other reasons, including if the snake has a respiratory illness.
Snakes have unique jaws compared to many terrestrial animals. The two halves of their lower jaw are separated. This allows them to open their mouths very wide to swallow larger prey.
This works because snakes have a stretchy ligament that connects their lower jaws. When a snake is ready to swallow a meal, it starts forcing the prey down its throat.
It uses its teeth to help walk its head down the prey item and force the meal into its digestive tract. Some snakes like kingsnakes can even eat snakes that are the same length as them or even longer.
This is because the snake can use the movements of its body to fold the prey to fit in its stomach.
Stretching the Jaws
The proper term for yawning in snakes is mouth gaping.
This behavior can occur for a number of reasons. The most common would be before and after a meal. Mouth gaping before a meal allows the snake to stretch its jaws. This can make it easier to swallow larger prey.
Once the meal is ingested, you will likely see the snake “yawn” again.
This is to allow the snake to reset its jaws comfortably. Since the skull is so mobile, the snake may need to reset the bones to a comfortable resting position. You may also see snakes do this after waking up. Since muscles can go lax during a deep sleep, the snake may need to realign its jaws.
Like all behaviors and movements an animal can make, yawning can indicate other things than just resetting the jaws or stretching. Mouth gaping behavior can be seen in sick snakes.
A snake with a respiratory infection may engage in mouth gaping behavior. This is a very bad sign since this is the snake trying to get in more air.
It is the snake equivalent of gasping for air. If you see a snake doing this repeatedly and having trouble breathing, you need to get the snake to a vet right that second.
If the snake is a boa or python, it could be a sign of Inclusion Body Disease. This disease causes inclusions to form in the snake’s body.
This will eventually kill the snake. The disease can be chronic and last for years in boas, but it kills pythons quickly.
Another reason that is much less worrying is that your snake is trying to smell something. Snakes rely on an organ called the vomeronasal organ to smell.
This is located on the roof of the snake’s mouth. When you see you snake flicking out its tongue, it is gathering the particle from the air on the tips and taking them to this organ to detect them.
When your snake want to get a better whiff, it may yawn to try to gather more scent. Other animals with this organ do the same.
If you take your snake into a new area or bring in a new item, you may see your snake gape its mouth to try to gather in more scents.
This is very true for male snakes during breeding season since most male snakes use pheromones to find females. They rely on the vomeronasal organ to help them find the traces of a receptive female so they can breed.
You are most likely to see this behavior from snakes during the breeding season, which is typically spring or summer.
How to Tell Why Your Snake is Yawning
Since mouth gaping can indicate serious health problems, you may want a quick guide to help you learn how to tell why your snake is yawning.
The first is to observe its behavior. If the snake is only displaying the behavior rarely, it may not be a problem. Try listening to your snake’s breathing and watch to see if it gapes often or even breathes with the mouth open.
This can indicate the smears snake’s nostrils are blocked so it has to keep its mouth open to breathe. If it is breathing fine otherwise, the problem could be Inclusion
Body Disease or a problem with the jaws. Either way, the snake should go in to make sure it is healthy.
You should also consider if your snake is expecting a meal. Many snakes will learn the feeding schedule and start stretching their jaws to prepare for a meal.
If your snake has just eaten, it will likely “yawn” once to realign the jaws. If it keeps doing it, make sure your snake is healthy. If your snake has been still for long periods, it will stretch out to work out any stiffness.
Snakes can get stiff muscles if they stay still just like humans.
This can include the jaws. Finally, if there are any new and interesting smells, you snake may be trying to get a better whiff. Know your snake’s usual behavior and you should be able to figure it out.
Snakes “yawn” for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons for mouth gaping behavior is to stretch the jaws or reset them after a meal.
While a snake’s jaws do not dislocate during a meal, they still need to be returned to the normal position. If you see your snake with its mouth open often, it may be time for a trip to the vet.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below.