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Venomous Snakes - The Coral Snake

Updated on December 4, 2014
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What is a Coral Snake?

Coral Snakes are one of the four species of venomous snakes found in North America. They are distributed into two distinct groups called Old World Coral Snakes and New World Coral Snakes, which can be found in other distinct regions of the world.

Old World Coral snakes were discovered or noted before Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Americas. There are 11 known species of this subdivision of coral snakes.

New World Coral snakes are far more numerous. They are the kind you would see out in the wild today. There are more than 65 known species of New World Coral Snakes and they come in three genera.

Genus Calliophis (Old World)

This Genus includes snakes from Southeast Asia. Countries like Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia contain many of these venomous snakes. Some of the species include the Blue Malaysian Coral Snake, Beddome's Coral Snake, and the Indian Coral Snake.

Genus Leptomicrurus (New World)

This includes coral snakes from South America like the Guyana Blackback Coral Snake and the Andean Coral Snake. These snakes live mostly in northern South America to the middle of the continent.

Genus Micruroides (New World)

This genus envelops snakes from the deserts of Mexico and the southern United States. It includes the coral snakes of the Arizona desert down towards Sinaloa, Mexico.

Genus Micrurus (New World)

This is the largest genus of Coral Snake. There are a variety of subspecies that are found in the Caribbean islands and Central America such as Brown's Coral Snake and Allen's Coral Snake.

A Closer Look

Remember the saying "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; Red touch black, venom lack" to help distinguish between the venomous Coral Snake and the nonvenomous Milk Snake or King Snake.
Remember the saying "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; Red touch black, venom lack" to help distinguish between the venomous Coral Snake and the nonvenomous Milk Snake or King Snake. | Source

Coral Snake Mimicry

At first glance, the two snakes to the right may look similar. If you look closely, you can notice the difference in the color pattern found on the snake's body. If you are ever in the wild and you spot a snake with red, yellow, and black markings, it is important to know whether it is harmful or harmless.

Red touch Yellow, Kill a Fellow

Coral Snakes have a pattern where the red stripes and the yellow stripes are next to each other. If you see a snake with these markings, STAY AWAY.

Although most symptoms for a coral snake take a few hours to set in, if you have been bitten you should immediately go to the hospital. Coral Snake venom will begin to cause breathing difficulty because it attacks the respiratory system. The most common form of death from a coral snake bite is suffocation due to an untreated bite.

Red touch Black, Venom Lack

It is best to stay away from ALL wild snakes, but if you need to determine the species, snakes with red stripes that touch black stripes are nonpoisonous. Milk Snakes, which are commonly found in North America and can be used as pets, resemble coral snakes as a form of Batesian Mimicry. This means that the milk snake evolved to resemble the coral snake so predators would avoid it, thinking it is venomous, when it in fact is non-venomous.

THIS RULE IS FOR NORTH AMERICAN SNAKES ONLY. IT DOES NOT APPLY TO SNAKES IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA. IT IS BEST TO LEAVE ANY SNAKE YOU COME ACROSS ALONE.

Coral Snake vs Milk Snake vs King Snake

This is an Arizona Coral Snake
This is an Arizona Coral Snake | Source
This is a Milksnake
This is a Milksnake | Source
This is an Arizona King Snake
This is an Arizona King Snake | Source

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How Big do Coral Snakes Get?

Unlike some species of snake, coral snakes are relatively small in size. Most North American species are around 3 feet long, but some are smaller, especially when young. Coral snakes up to 5 feet long have been found, but they are extremely rare.

In the countries of Southeast Asia, coral snakes are slightly larger than they are in the Americas. some species are aquatic, meaning they live primarily in water. Their tails are flattened, similar to a fin, in order to aid their ability to swim.


Map of Coral Snake Locations in the United States

Source

Coral Snakes in the United States

Venturing to the USA any time soon? To the left is a map of where coral snakes are MOST LIKELY to be found. They prefer warm climates like Texas, Arizona, and the Southeast United States, but they are most often found in the deserts of Arizona.

Don't forget that other similar species live in these regions too, like milk snakes and king snakes. Remember the rhyme in case you have any doubt about the snake you see.

Coral Snake milked for its venom.
Coral Snake milked for its venom. | Source

Facts About Coral Snake Venom

You may have read earlier that the venom kills a victim by suffocation, but there are a few other facts to keep in mind when reading about a venom's potency.

  1. New World coral snakes possess one of the most potent venoms of any North American snake.
  2. Coral Snakes do not like people. They hide during the day and usually inhabit sparsely populated areas, like deserts
  3. According to the American National Institutes of Health, there are an average of 15–25 coral snake bites in the United States each year.

Even though the chances of you being bitten are low, stay away from Coral Snakes.

Coral Snake Antivenom

Unfortunately, because there are so few envenomations from coral snakes each year, companies have stopped producing anti venom. The final anti venom supply is scheduled to expire in April 2014, and there are no plans on restocking it.

That being said, be extremely careful when dealing with these snakes, because while their bites won't usually kill you, they can do serious damage. The company Pfizer is close to finding a new way to heal coral snake bites - according to a source at the address http://www.oriannesociety.org/blog/coral-snake-antivenom


Identifying North American Snakes

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