The Art of Science
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Pit vipers, as well as some pythons and boas, can sense the body heat of their prey from several feet away. Small pit organs on the snakes’ faces detect infrared radiation, allowing them to create a thermal profile of, say, a nearby mouse.
Nerves connect the pit organs to the brain’s somatosensory system, which processes the sense of touch, suggesting that the snakes literally feel the heat. In 2010, scientists identified the heat-sensing receptor molecule. The human version of this receptor is thought to be responsible for the mild burn that comes with swigging carbonated drinks, as well as the stronger burn of wasabi.