Coral Snake

coral snake


Old World Coral Snakes – Calliophis, Hemibungarus & Sinomicrurusand New World Coral Snakes – Leptomicrurus, Micruroides, & MicrurusThe North American coral snake is a species of venomous elapid snake with small fangs that are permanently erect that you could see on an Everglades boat tour. While these snakes are very elusive, they possess one of the most potent venoms of any North American snake. Like all elapid snakes, coral snakes have small hollow fangs, which they use to deliver their venom.


Everglades National Park airboat tours, Fort Lauderdale airboat tours, and Miami airboat tours navigate through areas where these snakes live, offering glimpses into the habitat that these animals call home. Coral snakes are extremely elusive, spending the majority of their time underground or camouflaged amidst the leaf litter of rainforest floors, emerging primarily when it rains or during their mating season. New world coral snakes span the southern region of the United States, found in southern coastal plains from North Carolina to Louisiana and throughout all of Florida.

The red bands touching yellow bands are a distinctive feature of many coral snake varieties. They are commonly found in pine and scrub oak sandhill habitats and are prey to other snakes, which are common predators of coral snakes. Occasionally, they inhabit hardwood areas and pine flatwoods that experience seasonal flooding.


Once you are aboard the group or private airboat tours, you might see that coral snakes have a universal red-yellow-black pattern that is a series of rings (wide red and black rings separated by narrow yellow rings) encircling the body. The colorful body is slender, and the black blunt head blends seamlessly into the body with no distinctive neck. The eyes have round pupils; unlike other snakes, they have no heat-sensing pits. The average coral snake grows to be around 3 feet (91 cm) in length but can be up to 5 feet.


Coral snakes have a carnivorous diet and predominantly consume lizards, frogs, and other reptiles. Interestingly, they are also known to be cannibalistic, sometimes feeding on smaller snakes. While they primarily search for prey, such as lizards and frogs, coral snakes also eat insects. The diet of the coral snake is varied due to their ability to open their jaws very widely. Coral snakes hunt by paralyzing their prey with their potent neurotoxic venom, delivered through their fangs. Once immobilized, they swallow their catch whole. When they capture larger prey, these snakes will consume it and then seek a quiet resting place to facilitate the slow digestion process, which can sustain them and allow them to go weeks without feeding again.


Coral snakes love to burrow in sandy soil that drains well. You can find them in longleaf sandhills and pine flatwoods. Hence, they cannot be found in low-lying locations and moist soil. Coral snakes love animal burrows consisting of rotting logs and stump holes. During winter, they go into a period of inactivity and remain in underground chambers or burrows. Coral snakes are solitary and love hunting during the day. However, they avoid trees or bushes and move mostly on the ground. 


Coral snakes are neurotoxic. They affect the nervous system, resulting in muscle paralysis, brain damage, and unconsciousness. Coral snake venom blocks the nerve impulses that go between various areas of the body and attacks the entire nervous system within seconds. If you were bitten by a neurotoxic coral snake, you would first feel pain at the bite site before paralysis set in. Thereafter, your respiratory organs start to collapse as you are unable to circulate oxygen around your body. Your arms would also be paralyzed as the toxins affect your entire body system. Unlike neurotoxic venoms, cobra’s cytotoxic venom kills cells slowly, while rattlesnake’s hemotoxic venom destroys red blood cells, tissues, as well as organs. 


The easiest way to differentiate between different kinds of snakes is to learn the “Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, friend of Jack” rhyme. The rhyme states:

“Red touches yellow, kills a fellow.

Red touches black, friend of Jack.

Red touches yellow, kills a fellow. 

Red touches black, venom lack.

Red touches yellow, death says hello. 

Black touches red, keep your head.

Yellow touches red, you’ll be dead. 

Red touches black, eat Cracker Jacks.

Red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow. 

Red touches black you’re all right Jack.”

It refers to the fact that milk snakes often have red bands touch black while coral snakes in North America have red bands that touch yellow, although there are always exceptions to the norm. Also, the major difference between coral snakes and scarlet king snake is their head. The coral snake head is short with a stout while the scarlet king snake is red and elongated. It’s important to understand the differences between snakes to avoid fatal encounters in the wild and to hasten treatment against the neurotoxin.


Coral snakes are the only venomous snakes that lay eggs. They typically lay their eggs in a group of 3 to 10, depending on the eggs produced. They incubate within 60 to 70 days and are venomous from birth. Once the eggs begin to mature, they hatch by using their caruncle to slice the amniotic sac. They then squeak, attracting their mother’s attention to the nest. She unsheathes the hatchlings from their shell by licking them vigorously. They measure 7-9 inches at birth and reach maturity within 11 to 27 months, and the average lifespan of a coral snake is 7 years.


  • They can be identified by the arrangement of colored stripes on their body. Remember the facts about the coral snake: “Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, a friend of Jack.”
  • Coral snakes are not aggressive or prone to biting. In fact, they account for less than one percent of all snake bites in the United States each year.
  • Despite their non-aggressive nature, deaths from coral snake bites have been recorded, but no deaths have occurred since the antivenom for Micrurus fulvius was developed in 1967.
  • Bites are becoming more perilous in the U.S. as the demand for antivenom has drastically slowed its production.
  • They are often confused with some non-venomous snakes of similar coloration, including the milk snake, scarlet kingsnake, and earth snake.
  • Coral snakes are also unique in their lifestyle; these snakes are fossorial, meaning they primarily live underground.
  • They are the only venomous North American snakes that are not pit vipers.
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