Eastern Coral Snake
Micrurus fulvius fulvius
Family: Elapidae - Coral Snakes (dangerously venomous)
Typical Adult Size: 20 to 30 inches
Reproduction: egg laying
Eye Pupil: round
Dorsal Scales: smooth
Anal Scale: usually divided
Coral Snakes are beautiful, highly venomous, medium-sized snakes. Their patterning and coloration consists of bands of dark-red, yellow, and black.
Coral Snakes are secretive, burrowing snakes. Lizards and small snakes are their principal food. They are generally considered rare in South Carolina.
Coral Snakes are usually not aggressive but will bite if held or otherwise restrained. Their small heads make holding one behind the head as is often done with pit vipers very difficult to do so safely. When threatened Coral Snakes exhibit interesting behaviors. Like most snakes it will flatten its body in order to look larger. More interestingly, they will curl their tails to form an enlargement that may confuse an attacker as to which end is the head. They will often hold the curled tail above the ground to further the illusion. The relatively short length of their tails seems to enhance this technique. Additionally, they may hide their heads under their bodies or even burrow them into the sand. Another technique they will use is to move in sideways jerks. This makes trying to pin the head especially difficult.
Coral Snakes are egg-layers. There is some indication in the literature that Coral Snakes may breed in Fall as well as Spring. Eggs are laid in early to mid Summer and hatch in late Summer/early Fall.
In South Carolina there are 2 non-venomous snake species which are considered mimics of the Coral Snake. These are the Scarlet Snake and the Scarlet King Snake. Both of these non-venomous are more brightly colored than the Coral Snake. However, there are definitive ways to tell these mimics from the real thing. The Coral Snake has a black snout, while the mimics each have red snouts. (A black snout is not a universal mark of the Coral Snake. Other milk snake mimics, not native to SC but found in parts of the US more to the west have dark or black snouts.) The order of the colors in the Coral Snake is such that each red band is bounded by yellow bands. On the mimics, the red bands are bounded by black bands. There are vary rhymes used to help remember this color sequencing. The one that I use goes as follows: "Red and yellow, kill a fellow; red and black, friend of Jack." Thus, YELLOW-RED-YELLOW = Coral Snake; BLACK-RED-BLACK = mimic snake. There are a number of other differences such as width of bands and belly patterning and colors. Upon becoming familar with each of these snakes, one will see that each is really very distinct from the other.
I urge all amateur herpers to refrain from hands-on handling of Coral Snakes. And, if you are not well-experienced with venomous snakes, you probably should not attempt to handle one even with a pickup stick. (Hooks are not very useful since they are not inclined to staying quietly looped over the hook.) Because Coral Snakes have such highly toxic venom, if you are in doubt as whether a snake is a mimic, treat it as if it were the real thing.Additional Images:
|Eastern Coral Snake Micrurus fulvius fulvius|
|adult, Aiken County|
|adult, fallen into swimming pool|
July 07, 2009
Contact: South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians