Coral snakes are venomous snakes belonging to the cobra family (Elapidae) and possessing bright colors. The circumferential bands of black, red, and yellow color identify them. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is enlisted under Least Concern. Coral snakes naturally are reclusive. Intending to inject the venom fully to the victims by the coral snake, it must chew the victim. Thus, the death of the victim is rarely visible. 

They prefer to live in the sandy, woody, and marshy regions of the southeastern part of the United States. Some even prefer to thrive in burrowed underground or leaf piles. They are devoid of heat-sensing pits. Most coral snakes’ diet entails worm snakes, despite lizards as a secondary food item. 

Types of coral snakes

Coral snakes are categorized into old-world coral snakes and New World coral snakes. 

1. New World coral snakes

New World coral snakes
New World coral snakes | Image Credit – Flickr

New World coral snakes are included in the three genera: Leptomicrurus, Micruroides, and Micrurus. They are smaller and distributed in tropical regions and possess sizes ranging from 40 to 160 cm. The New World coral snakes are rarely bicolored and have tricolored traits. 

The tricolored body part entails several combinations of black and red color. The rings may be white or yellow. The ring’s wideness of the coral snake varies. The nueurtoxic venom is deposited in the hollow fags of the coral snake, which ‌lay 1 to 13 eggs.

Under Micrurus, 64 coral snake species have been recorded, comprising the highest species. The pieces within Micrurus range from the southern part of the United States to Argentina. 

The life span of the coral snake species under the Micrurus genus in captivity is 18 years.

2. Old World coral snakes

Old World coral snakes
Old World coral snakes | Image Credit – Flickr

In Old World coral snakes, genera Calliophis bearing 15 species, genera Hemibungarus with three species, and the genera Sinomicrurs possessing six species are included. 

Besides this, it also entails the African snakes belonging to Homoroselaps covering the whole body with black, orange, and yellow. 

There are impressive coral snakes globally, which entails eastern, western, or Arizona coral snakes and Blue Malayan coral snakes. 

3. Eastern coral snake 

Eastern coral snake
Eastern coral snake  | Image Credit – Flickr

Micrurus fulvius, associated with the eastern coral snake rangers from North Carolina to Florida and Texas, is considered the brightest snake among the snakes found in North America. The body parts are embedded with black, yellow, and bright red bands. 

Behind the snake’s black snout, you could see a yellow ring. But it is to be noted that despite its red pattern in the upper body, the tail does not possess red color. It is ringed with yellow and black.

The eastern coral snake ranges between 18 to 30 inches long. To sum up, mature females have a more extended body size than males, whereas males possess a long tail; instead of females. 

The eastern coral snake always holds the blackheads, which are almost indistinguishable from their tail. It is not aggressive ‌and spends a lot of time underground. They hunt primarily in the dusk and the cooler dawn time. 

There is still controversy being raised that the Texas coral snake of Mexico is some species as the eastern coral snake. 

4. Western coral snake

Western coral snake
Western coral snake | Image Credit – Pxfuel

Western coral snake thrives in the southwest part of North America. The primary body color resembles the eastern coral snake, but the yellow bands are paler and are more expanded.

They primarily reside in the Sonoran desert of Arizona and northern Mexico. They are often found in the rocky regions around Saguaro cacti. Naturally, they are nocturnal.

It is lamented that the western coral snake’s venom injection is twice as powerful as the rattlesnake. It is the only one that comprises red bands with yellow with white or pale yellow borders. 

The western coral snake does get out after the summer rains when few humans are nearby. 

5. Blue Malayan coral snake

Blue Malayan coral snake
Blue Malayan coral snake | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

The primary habitat of the blue Malayan coral snake entails the forest of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia. A fascinating trait of this coral snake bear is it lacks brands. 

It possesses a blue body with light blue or white stripes on each side. The head, belly, and tail are red. 

They feed upon venomous snakes such as juvenile king cobras. Other diet entails birds, frogs, and several lizard species.

The adult blue Malaysian coral snake may reach up to 1.8 meters long. This species is often confused with the pink-headed reed snake during its juvenile period. 

Terrifyingly, the blue Malaysian coral snake captures all the nerves at once, thereby paralyzing the prey immediately. It does so because it makes it easier to feed and digest the prey. 

Apart from Malaysia, their home ranges entail Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam. Naturally, they are active during the day and emerge during mid-morning. Over a few years, it has undergone numerous threats, such as habitat loss and forest fragmentation.

Upon feeling the disturbance, they sit erecting their tails and waving around. The blue Malaysian coral snake is inferred by the term “100-pace snake” since the human distance is predicted to travel before it succumbs to the coral snake venom. 

Fascinating facts of the coral snakes

1. Strongest venom

The truth About The Most Venomous Snake in North America! | Video Credit – Quick Catch

They possess the second-strongest venom compared to any snake throughout the globe. It seems less venomous than the rattlesnake because of its less effect on the poison delivery system within its body. Since birth, the baby coral snakes have been deadly venomous. 

2. True rhythm matching the snake pattern

Coral Snakes & Imperfect Mimicry | Video Credit – Clint’s Reptiles

There are several rhythms established by the people and the herpetologists intending to separate the true coral snakes from their mimics basically in the country, like the United States.

“Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack,” “Red and yellow can kill a fellow; Red and black, a friend of Jack” are the two rhythms that have been used by the herpetologists and other researchers when they wish to distinguish the coral snakes with other snake species. It applies only to the United States snakes. 

There is a great myth that coral snakes will kill you immediately upon encounter, but significantly, it underlies the cobra family. Even other small snakes ‌ have yellow and red bands. 

For instance: Scarlet Kingsnake resembles the coral snake that possesses red, yellow, and black stripes in its body parts. It is misquoted and further promoted to the killing of the non-venomous snakes, thinking as if it is a coral snake species. 

3. Laying eggs

Astoundingly, coral snakes are the only ones that lay eggs to give birth to their offspring in North America. For instance, eastern coral snakes during summer lay roughly six or seven eggs ‌hatching in the early fall. The eggs are 7 inches long. But the adults are approximately 2 feet.

4. Quick self-defense trick

The snake’s unique bright color and the ring patterns attract everyone. They might wonder about their natural colors. Because of such curiosity, they remain near the snake, leading to some hazardous accidents. 

The aggressive nature of the coral snakes depends upon the people’s disturbance, and their activities irritate the snake. Every species holds a self-defense mechanism to protect itself from predators and enemies. 

Surprisingly, when the coral snakes feel threatened, they do not act and immediately spread the venom to the prey; instead, they curl up and hide their head under the body. 

Since their tail and the head are difficult to distinguish, it keeps the tail upward to confuse the attacker and think on which part is the tail and the head. You could consider such a fantastic trait as the interesting self-defending trick of the coral snakes. 

5. Unterrified by the disturbances

The coral snakes or snakes do not possess external ear openings and eyelids. Because of the external ear, they could not hear the noise. Despite lacking the external ear, undoubtedly, they could feel the vibrations through the medium of substrate perfectly. 

Upon larger noises and the massive disturbances, they could feel the noise on the ground through the vibrations. They are not always terrified of humans and other predators in all cases. When they feel the disturbances and threats, they defend themselves, ‌responding differently. 

6. Using tail to lure prey

The most exciting fact the coral snake (Micrurus surinamensis) possesses is that it often uses its tail to lure its prey from a large distance before attacking it. 

7. Higher speed of movement

The coral snake, the fastest snake in North America, has a quick movement, which is difficult for the predators or the prey to keep on track. This deadly venomous snake could move at a speed of 25 mph (miles per hour). 

Snake Bite
Snake Bite | Image Credit – The Wire

Coral snake bite and its treatment

Concerning the snakebite, the coral snake holds very weak fangs. Despite their toxic venom, no deaths have been reported since the 1960s, after the scientists developed the antivenom. But unfortunately, their bites are painful, and when the intoxicated victim remains untreated, it’s sure to cause cardiac arrest. 

The coral snake’s small fangs and mouth are signs that it seems complicated for the coral snake to puncture humans. Despite their smaller size, they could not carry large amounts of venom in their fangs. 

They held the victims for some time intervals. The biting level of the coral snake relies on how they have delivered the venom to the snakebite victim. The venom is reached to the victims through chewing on the motions. 

Once the coral snake releases its neurotoxic venom into the victim, it may cause respiratory failure and, sadly, rapid paralysis upon its prey. But some researchers insisted ‌it could take a few hours to observe the venom-induced system in the prey. 

Apart from respiratory problems and paralysis, the other symptoms as a cause of coral snake bite entail double vision, muscular paralysis, and even slurred speech. 

Coral snakebite severity relies on the victim size and the volume of the venom being injected by the snake. There is a pain at the bite-size. Because of the presence of neurotoxin in the coral snake venom, the symptoms are likely of the curare-like syndrome. 

Marked hemolysis with anemia and loss of hemoglobin have been reported basically from the canine victims after the coral snakebite. There is a positive correlation between snake venom production and snake length. 

More giant-sized snakes produce higher neurotoxic venom, and when it bites humans or other prey, they cannot resist the pain and require immediate health treatment. 

When the coral snake severely bites the victim, it is recommended to carry the first aid treatment. The patient should be transported to a hospital with a medical facility capable of 24 hours treatment. 

The patient requires enough ventilation so far. For monitoring continuously, the victim is suggested to hospitalize for a minimum of 48 hours. Antivenom of M fulvius can be injected into the severe victim of the coral snake bite. 

Farts of the coral snake

When a coral snake feels threatened by someone, it produces a warning sound. The Sonoran coral snake is very familiar to it. Such a term is inferred as “Cloacal popping,” which lasts for less than two-tenths of a second. 

The farting may repeat several times depending on how much threat the coral snake feels. The Sonoran coral snake fart is heard from two meters away. The fart is of low amplitude with over 50 decibels.

During farting by the coral snake, it contracts its cloacal sphincter, and the air forces out. There is a multiplex of contracting and forcing back again. 

Generally, coral snake farting is not common. It lacks the gut bacteria intending to break down the plants aimed at causing the gas. They do not possess an anus. Thus, they use their cloaca for expelling the waste. Sometimes the coral snake’s cloaca emits a musk that chases the predators. 

It leads to a significant contribution in housing the sex organs for both males and females. Apart from these, it permits the females to lay their eggs or give birth to live snakes. But it relies upon the species. 

Image of the fart of the coral snake via https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23831731-100-feedback-the-important-science-of-whether-snakes-fart/

Why does the coral snake fart?

1. Self-cleaning

The fundamental reason behind the farting of a coral snake is there may remain debris, grains of sand, into its cloaca. Whenever a coral snake cleans its cloaca, it opens its mouth in the air, and while pushing the cloacal opening out, the body swells. 

You could notice a cloud forming like a structure when it lives in loose materials like sand and farts. Because of the high pressure exerted, you could visualize the cloud-like structure from the back cloacal opening.

2. Brumation

Brumation seems very common in the coral snake, which involves a state of inactivity during winter or a period of low temperature. The coral snake may not consume any animals, such as rats. 

There may be a restriction on drinking and defecating. During the brumation, it may sleep but not like that of hibernation. In this period, the coral snake could forage for food and water freely for themselves. 

After feeding, when the coral snake goes under brumation, the consumed food remains in the digestive tract during the hibernation period. Therefore, it is recommended to permit the snake for brumation before mating occurs between the coral snakes. 

Image of the brumation of the coral snake via http://reptileapartment.com/brumation-preparing-colubrids-winter/

Wrap up

As aforementioned, you may have got some information concerning the coral snakes. The fascinating traits of the coral snakes have always made this creature unique. Let’s unite to conserve this species and provide full respect since it’s too a creature of our nature.   

(Last Updated on April 2, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Kalpana Ghimire holds a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Nepal. She possesses numerous research experiences working in water pollution, community forestry, environment conservation status, and wildlife ecology. She was an internee in the Department of Environment (EIA monitoring and auditing section) under the Government of Nepal. Kalpana Ghimire is an avid traveler, an enthusiastic wildlife researcher, and has a huge passion for working in the environment sector. She loves far traveling to the natural areas, conducting field wildlife research and reading the novels.