Snakes climb, snakes slither, snakes flick their tongue–but do snakes yawn?
Yes, they do!
Yawning is a natural part of a snake’s life, just like ours. However, they don’t yawn for the same reasons we do.
The most common reason snakes yawn is to reposition their jaws before or after a meal. Otherwise, they yawn to stretch, regurgitate, or study their environment. If accompanied by other symptoms such as wheezing or nasal discharge, the yawning may be a symptom of an underlying disease.
Five Reasons Your Ball Python Is Yawning
It’s no cause for panic if you see your snake yawning! There are many reasons for your ball python to open its mouth wide. Here are five of them.
Setting Their Jaws Before or After Mealtime
Snakes have a unique two-hinged jaw, different from most other animals’ single hinges. Their jaws are also only connected by ligaments and tendons instead of bone, making them much more flexible than ours.
Additionally, their left and right lower jaws can move independently, giving them great control over the food in their mouths.
These distinct features allow them to skip chewing and swallow their prey whole.
Snakes yawn before meals to stretch their jaws and prepare their lower jaw to move. Meanwhile, they typically yawn after a meal to reposition their jaws back to their normal state.
Contrary to popular belief, snakes’ jaws don’t detach! They are connected–just extraordinarily elastic and flexible.
After meals, snakes have difficulty moving. Depending on the size of their prey, snakes typically stay immobile for days or weeks after feeding.
In the wild, this leaves them incredibly vulnerable. That’s why these reptiles have developed the ability to regurgitate at will. If snakes feel threatened, they expel their food and divert their energies from digesting to slithering away to safety.
Pet snakes very rarely come into contact with predators. But if you handle them too soon after feeding, it may trigger their fight or flight response and cause them to react accordingly.
The regurgitation itself is standard and completely safe–just ensure you give your snake enough time to calm down and avoid repeating the mistake since chronic stress can harm its health!
We all love a good stretch after napping. Snakes do, too! Unfortunately, they don’t have arms to stretch up in the air–so they make do with what they have.
Snakes yawn and open their mouths wide to stretch their muscles and get their blood flowing after not moving for long periods.
“Studying” Its Environment
Snakes have terrible eyesight, which scientists believe comes from centuries of living as burrowers underground. Therefore, many believe that snakes flick their tongues to “taste the air” and gain an understanding of their surroundings.
However, this isn’t entirely accurate!
Snakes’ tongues cannot smell or taste. Instead, they act as an information collector for a snake’s real taste organ–its vomeronasal receptor or Jacobson’s organ located on the roof of their mouths.
Snakes flick their tongues and open their mouths to send chemical information to their Jacobson’s organ, which allows them to study their environment.
This allows them to detect nearby predators, mates, and prey.
This is why snakes “yawn” when hungry–they are trying to look for a nearby meal!
If your snake’s nose is blocked by mucus, it may attempt to breathe through its mouth. This is why they appear to be yawning while trying to get more oxygen!
Depending on the exact disease, your snake’s yawning due to breathing problems will come with other symptoms, such as
- Nasal discharge,
- Wheezing sounds when breathing,
- Mucus in their nose and mouth,
- Lack of appetite, and
- Weight loss.
When you see your snake exhibiting several of these symptoms for a prolonged period, it’s best to take them to the vet as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
Breathing problems are usually related to the following diseases in snakes.
Respiratory infections such as pneumonia are typically caused by enclosure issues, particularly tanks with the wrong temperature or humidity levels. It may also be caused by bacteria in a dirty tank.
Clean your snake’s tank regularly and monitor its temperature and humidity to help it avoid developing respiratory infections!
Inclusion Body Disease (IBD)
Inclusion Body Disease is a viral infection that weakens snakes’ immune systems. The illness won’t kill your pet but will leave it susceptible to many other bacterial and fungal diseases or blood infections.
Once your snake contracts this disease, it will never become completely cured. However, your vet can recommend treatments to help prevent secondary infections.
Aside from the symptoms listed above, other IBD symptoms include difficulty lifting the head, skin issues, and a swollen mouth.
Mouth rot or infectious stomatitis is a bacterial infection. Aside from yawning, you may notice your snake rubbing its nose against objects.
A snake with mouth rot will have a swollen, red mouth, possibly with sores and ulcers. It may also have visible dead tissue in its mouth or pus.
A trip to the vet as soon as possible is strongly recommended.
What To Do If Your Ball Python Is Yawning Too Much
No exact number defines how much yawning is “too much” for a snake–each one is different!
If you always see your pet snake yawning around mealtime, you have no cause for concern. If it starts yawning at other times, though, here are some things to check.
Is Your Snake Hungry?
Your snake may feel like it needs to get fed more and is trying to sense nearby prey. For snakes in captivity, yawning is its way of telling you it wants more food!
Generally, younger ball pythons must eat once every five days, while larger ones will only eat once every ten days. Older snakes can also eat more in one feeding, keeping them satiated for longer.
Naturally, this schedule depends on your snake’s diet, age (if it is experiencing a growth spurt!), and if it is simply a snake that enjoys eating.
Like all reptiles, snakes are very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Yawning might be its way of expressing its discomfort and stress about its tank.
Ball pythons prefer a humidity level of 60-70% and a temperature range of 80-90 °F with a warmer basking zone and cooler hiding spot.
If your snake’s tank is well-maintained and getting fed enough, it’s time to check it for other symptoms, as listed earlier.
Like many other wild animals, snakes are good at hiding their symptoms and often only begin displaying discomfort when their illness has dramatically progressed.
Always keep an eye out for any changes in the behavior of your snake. As its owner, you know it best and will sense when something is off, and it is time to visit the vet.
When Should You Take Your Snake To The Vet For Yawning?
If other symptoms accompany your snake’s frequent yawning, immediately take it to the vet.
Common symptoms to look out for include popping, clicking, or wheezing sounds.
More severe symptoms include nasal discharge, mucus or pus in the nose and mouth, lethargy, lack of appetite, and weight loss.
If it is due to a disease, snakes yawn mainly because of a respiratory problem. They struggle to breathe through their nose and attempt to get more air from their mouth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Snakes Yawn When They Are Sleepy?
No. Snakes do not yawn because they are bored or sleepy. Their yawning is always related to mealtimes, discomfort, or illness.
Are There Home Remedies You Can Do For A Yawning Snake?
Some pet owners try to “cure” their snake’s yawning by letting them breathe in steam with eucalyptus essential oil. However, this will mostly solve your snake’s symptoms, not the disease.
Yawning is typically a symptom of a bacterial infection which can only be addressed with antibiotics.
How Wide Can A Ball Python Open Its Jaws?
Because of their unique jaw structure, most snakes, including the ball python, can open their mouths to a 150-degree angle. That is very nearly a 180-degree straight line!
This extremely wide opening allows them to consume their prey whole.
Our pet snakes are always adorable but are all the more cute when they yawn. Most of the time, they yawn for harmless food-related reasons.
However, if you notice your snake yawning at other times of the day besides mealtime or exhibiting other worrisome symptoms, consider scheduling a trip to the vet as soon as possible. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!