Why Do Snakes Yawn?
I was watching my ball python this evening laying just outside its hide and all of a sudden she opened her mouth REALLY wide, slightly twisting her jaws, and then closed it again in one of the biggest “yawns” I’ve ever seen in my life!
Of course a few seconds later I yawned right back at her! (I guess yawns really are contagious!)
It got me thinking about why my snake yawned; and is it even really a “yawn?” Is she tired, up too late the day before?
I was determined to find out what I could about snake “yawns” and see if I could learn the reasons why they do it and if they yawn for the same reasons that we do!
Table of Contents
What is a Yawn Anyway?
In humans, yawning is mostly involuntary and it helps us deeply fill our lungs with air in response to being fatigued or being tired.
There’s even some research to suggest that yawning may be a way to help cool down our brain;
“Together these processes may act like a radiator, removing [too hot] blood from the brain while introducing cooler blood from the lungs and extremities, thereby cooling [brain] surfaces…” Andrew C Gallup, PhD.
Snake “yawns,” or ‘mouth gaping,’ can be a bit different however and it tends to happen for a few different reasons.
Why Does My Snake Yawn?
You might observe your snake with its mouth wide open (really wide open) and mimicking what you would think of as a classic “I’m SO tired” yawn.
You might chuckle at the thought of a “sleepy snake” and think nothing more of it.
However, this “yawn” may be more than it seems to be on the surface; and it’s almost guaranteed not to be because of your favorite reptile not getting enough zzz’s!
Is it Normal for a Snake to Yawn?
Snakes “yawn” or perform “mouth gaping” for a few reasons. Most of snake “yawning’ occurs because of the following situations:
- Yawning in preparation for a meal
- Yawning following a meal
- Yawning to pick up chemical cues
- Yawning as a result of an infection
Do Snakes Yawn When Tired?
There is no scientific evidence that snakes yawn from lack of sleep, boredom or other psychological reason.
That said, many snake keepers will disagree and say that they’ve experienced snakes yawning for no particular reason at all and, in turn, this means that snakes do yawn for reasons such as tiredness, etc.
There may be snakes that yawn for “no particular reason” at all, but you do need to be sure that this “yawning” isn’t explained by the following reasons before dismissing it.
Do Snakes Yawn When Hungry?
As we know, snakes don’t chew or tear pieces off of their food. Instead, they swallow their meals whole! In fact snakes can swallow prey items far larger than they are!
In order to do so, a snake’s jaws, unlike ours, are not connected together and are ‘attached’ by stretchy ligaments that allow the snake to stretch its mouth and jaws wide open in order to swallow seemingly impossible sized meals!
A snake may “yawn,” or utilize this mouth-gaping technique, as a means to limber up and stretch out these ligaments before consuming a meal.
A snake that “yawns” can be a sign that it is ready to be fed.
Why Do Snakes Yawn After Eating?
Conversely to using a “yawn” to prepare for a meal, snake’s can use mouth-gaping after consuming a meal to stretch out and reposition their jaws in their natural, comfortable position.
Is a Snake’s Yawn Another a Sixth Sense?
We humans have five senses; touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. Snakes also have these senses and “yawning” could be what snakes use as a ‘sixth sense’!
Some research seems to suggest that “yawning” or mouth-gaping may be used as a way for snakes to pick up chemical cues from their environment.
Snakes possess a vomeronasal organ called the Jacobson’s organ that translates scent particles and passes this information onto the brain.
Do Snakes Yawn When Stressed?
Snakes can be seen “yawning” when hungry and preparing to eat and they are witnessed to do the same even after consuming a meal.
However, not all “yawning” behavior can be attributed to feeding responses.
In fact, snake “yawns” can be a sign or symptom of potential health issues that should be investigated as soon as possible.
Why is My Snake Yawning So Much?
If you observe your snake “yawning” soon after meals or once and awhile after before feeding time, it’s almost certain that this “yawning” behavior is perfectly normal and acceptable.
However, if your snake is “yawning” frequently, either numerous times a day or for several days in a row, there might be some underlying issues that need to be addressed.
The most common illness found in snakes are respiratory infections. These infections are generally the result of improper husbandry and care; not maintaining ideal environmental conditions.
Habitats that are too wet, too humid, or too cold are recipes for trouble when keeping snakes. Even temperature that is consistent throughout the entire enclosure, one lacking in temperature ‘zones’ or a thermal gradient, can have ill effects on your snake’s health .
Conditions such as these can make your snake vulnerable to respiratory infections and the bacteria that cause pneumonia.
Respiratory illness makes it difficult for your snake to breathe and may be the cause for repeated “yawning” behavior.
Respiratory infection can also be accompanied by discharge from the snake’s nose and bubbling saliva from the snake’s mouth. Your snake may also begin breathing with an open mouth because it cannot get enough air through its congested nose.
Pneumonia in snakes, most commonly caused by bacteria, can also exhibit frequent “yawning’ as well as one or more of the following symptoms;
- Nasal discharge
- Mucous in mouth and on tongue
- Wheezing sound while breathing
- Refusing to eat
- Weight loss
- Bubbles of saliva
Is Yawning a Symptom of Mouth Rot?
Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is another common bacterial infection found in reptiles.
Bacteria enter a small cut or wound and can spread throughout the body. Many times this is seen in the mouth and gums.
Excessive “yawning” can be a sign of mouth rot in snakes as is repeated rubbing or scratching its mouth on objects in the enclosure such as hides, water bowls and decorations.
What Should I Do if My Snake is Yawning Too Much?
As we have discussed, there are many reasons why snakes “yawn;” not all of them are serious.
The first thing you need to do is not panic and assess the situation. Not all “yawning” snakes need to be seen by your veterinarian.
You need to carefully observe your snake and try to eliminate instances of “yawning” that precede your regular feeding schedule, “yawning” that occurs after meals and instances of “yawning” that are very infrequent and are not accompanied by any other symptoms.
You do need to be sure that your husbandry practices are satisfactory and that your snake’s environmental needs are being met.
You will also need to observe for other symptoms that your snake may be experiencing and if present a trip to your veterinarian is appropriate as medication may be necessary for your snake to recover.
“Yawning” in snakes isn’t something to be scared of but at the same time it also isn’t just something to ‘smile at’ and reflexively yawn yourself!
If there are secondary symptoms present, excessive “yawning’ can be indicative of poor husbandry and possible illness.