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The long, forked tongue of the massasauga collects scent molecules from the air when extended.

The molecules are then delivered by the
tongue to the “vomero-nasal organ” which
interprets the information received.

A snake may flick its tongue more frequently to sample the air in order to:

• explore new surroundings;
• locate special features of their home range;
• seek a suitable mate;
• confirm the presence of prey;
• determine if a predator or human is near.

A snake’s tongue is harmless and serves the snake only as a sensory device.

A snake has neither an external ear opening nor a tympanum (exposed ear drum).
Rather, it feels vibrations, which travel along the snake’s jawbone and are processed
through an internal ear within the snake’s head.

Snakes, although covered in tough scales, are very sensitive to touch and certainly
feel pain.

The massasauga’s venom consists of toxic proteins and digestive enzymes that kill
prey and begin to break down the tissue for easy digestion. The venom is produced in
glands located within each side of the snake’s head. During envenomation, the
venom travels from the glands into small delivery ducts and through the fangs into
the prey animal.

Venom is produced and stored in the glands of a snake, and must be injected. When
an animal is poisonous the poison is distributed through its body and cannot be
injected into another species. Poisonous animals are not edible, whereas a
venomous animal can be eaten if you avoid the glands containing the venom. The
eastern massasauga rattlesnake is venomous.

Scientists consider the eastern massasauga rattlesnake capable of controlling both
the depth of its bite and the amount of venom it injects into the prey animal. This skill
is apparent from the fact that the snake may make a defensive strike without using
its venom. This “dry bite” may occur in 25% of defensive strikes.

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