Red on yellow kill a fellow—or so the Coral snake saying goes

A couple of coral snake sayings are easy to remember:

Red on Yellow Kill a fellow

     ... A coral snake

Red on black ... a friend of Jack

     ... Not a coral snake

Red to black, venom lack

     ... Not a coral snake

Red and yellow will kill a fellow

     ... a coral snake

Red on black, you're OK jack

     ... Not a coral snake

Red on yellow, you're a dead fellow

     ... a coral snake

Coral snakes (in the U.S., they are only found in Florida) are straightforward to recognize with their distinctive coloration. They have alternating red, yellow and black bands, with both black and red bands delimited by short yellow bands.

Most coral snakes are shorter than 40 inches (1 meter). Because of their little size, their fangs are undersized too, especially when compared to fangs in other venomous species, such as cottonmouths and copperheads. That is why it is sometimes difficult for coral snake fangs to penetrate the epidermis of animals it intends to swallow.

Other snakes with alternating yellow and red bands without black bands on the edge exist, but they are not original North American coral snakes.

Florida Coral Snake

It is the only Elapid in the USA (see its skull on the homepage). Its major defensive asset is its colorful bands of red, black, and yellow that is very distinctive so that other animals know what snake it is. Non-venomous snakes mimicits colors;the milk snake is a common snake which has this color. They like to live beneath things and are rather reclusive and timid. Only a few coral snake fatalities have been recorded; around two deaths from coral snake bites in the last 25 years in the USA.

Identifying a Coral Snake

In this video, you will find a great guide to identifying the venomous North American coral snakes. You will see other snakes that look like a coral snake but are non-venomous. These snakes include the mountain kingsnake, the scarlet kingsnake, milk snakes, and scarlet snakes. You will also get a tip that will help you identifycoral snakes and those snakes that look like it.

A Coral Snake Filmed in Nature

This guy was lucky seeing a coral snake at all. The video is from Florida. The coloration is very visible in this video.

Habitat

The coral snake occupies an extensive variety of habitats, but usually they can be discovered beneath debris or under woodpiles in locations with some protection from flooding.

Coral snakes are also found close to a water resource, as they forage at watershores.

Information about the Coral snake

Coral Snake Venom

In severe cases, the venom from a coral snake causes weakness and paralysis (Heard et al. 1999)1. Paralysis begins in the respiratory system, but because of its secretive lifestyle, there can be a year in between serious coral snake injuries. According to an article by Norris MD (2006)2, less than one percent of snake bites in the USA are from coral snakes, and most pass unnoticed by authorities and newspapers.

Diet

Animals for consumption include reptiles and amphibians, birds, and invertebrates. It is cannibalistic, and it is said, although it is an anecdote, that its favorite prey is juvenile coral snakes.

The snake in the video is a scarlet snake.

Coral Snake Bite

To discharge its venom into an animal, it has to squeeze its own venom glands by holding on to its prey until the pressure commencing from the prey's body releases venom from the glands.

Animals exposed to its venom usually die from shock or respiratory paralysis, essentially suffocation, due to the effectiveness of its venom. As it is a rather small snake, deaths by envenomation is most common for small animals, as only a little venom is necessary to paralyze them.

Children are easily attracted to the snake's bright colors. As children are reasonably lightweight and have thin skin that snake fangs can penetrate in an instant, children sometimes fall victim to coral snakes. Medical treatment and hospitalization is absolutely essential when dealing with children.

A coral snake in water - Costa Rica

Life Cycle

Coral snakes lay eggs out in the open. A female usually lays 3 to 5 eggs in June or July. Juvenile snakes hatch 2-3 months later and are the size of earthworms. When they hatch, the baby coral snakes bear the same color pattern as adult snakes..

Coral Snake Rhymes

There is a rhyme that can help you to identify a coral snake.

"Red on yellow, kill a fellow"

This means what it says, but the likelihood of actually succumbing from a coral snake bite is diminutive. It is not a coral snake when you can say: If red touches black, it is a friend of Jack.

References

1Heard et al. "Antivenom Therapy in the Americas", Drugs Vol. 58(1): pp. 5-15 (1999)
2Norris, MD "Coral snake bites", eMedicine December 2011

Resources

Snakes of Georgia and South Carolina
Eastern Coral Snake


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