A Comparative Study of Snake and Lizard Tongue-flicking, with an Evolutionary Hypothesis


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Many lizards and all snakes flick their tongues. It is known that this unique behavioral pattern serves to collect airborne and substrate chemicals which give the animal information via Jacobson's Organ about the location of food, conspecifics, and possibly other environmental factors. However, a comparative topographic analysis of tongue movements in squamate reptiles is lacking, and it might shed light on the evolution of this behavior.

In this study, a survey was made of the lizards and snakes which tongue-flick. Observations and films were made of 25 lizard species representing 10 families and 30 snake species representing 5 families.

The information from observations and film analyses of representative species was used to hypothesize the steps of the evolution of tongue-flicking from the simple downward extensions of primitive lizards to the complex multiple oscillations of snakes.