Old World Coral Snakes – Calliophis, Hemibungarus & Sinomicrurus and New World Coral Snakes - Leptomicrurus, Micruroides, & Micrurus
The North American coral snake is a species of venomous elapid snake with small fangs that are permanently erect. While coral 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.
HabitatCoral snakes spend the majority of their lives buried beneath the ground or hidden in leaf litter of rainforest floors, coming to the surface only when it rains or during 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 all of Florida. They are commonly found in pine and scrub oak sandhill habitats, but are sometimes also found in hardwood areas and pine flatwoods that experience seasonal flooding.
Size & AppearanceCoral snakes have a universal red-yellow-black pattern that is a series of rings (wide red and black rings separated by narrow yellow rings) that encircle 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 and 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.
DietCoral snakes are carnivorous and mostly eat lizards, frogs and other reptiles. They will also occasionally feed on smaller snakes. Coral snakes are able to consume many types of food due to their being able to open their jaws very widely. Before swallowing their prey whole, coral snakes will paralyze it with the venom in their fangs. When they capture larger prey, coral snakes will eat it and find a quiet resting place during the slow digestion process, allowing them to go weeks without feeding again.
- Venomous coral snakes can be identified by the arrangement of colored stripes on their body. Remember: “Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, friend of Jack.”
- Coral snakes are not aggressive or prone to biting.
- They account for less than one percent of all snake bites in the United States each year.
- Coral snake bites are becoming more dangerous in the U.S. as lack of demand for the anti-venom has drastically slowed its production.
- Coral snakes are often confused with some non-venomous snakes of similar coloration, including the milk snake and scarlet kingsnake.
- Coral snakes are the only venomous North American snake that are not pit vipers.
- No coral snake deaths have been recorded since the anti-venom was developed in 1967.