Coral Snake

Various

Last updated: May 12, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

There are over 80 species of coral snake worldwide.

Coral Snake Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Elapidae
Genus
Various
Scientific Name
Various

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Coral Snake Conservation Status


Coral Snake Facts

Prey
Mainly other snakes, but also small mammals.
Name Of Young
Hatchling
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
There are over 80 species of coral snake worldwide.
Biggest Threat
Human encroachment
Litter Size
2-7
Habitat
Forests, jungles, some aquatic
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
coral snake
Number Of Species
78

Coral Snake Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Scales
Length
Most are 2-3 feet long, but a few species reach almost 6 feet.

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View all of the Coral Snake images!



“Red touches yellow, kill a fellow…” isn’t always accurate.

Coral snakes are highly venomous members of the Elapidae family. They’re split into Old World and New World groups, most of which inhabit sparsely populated areas. They’re generally small snakes, between 2 and 4 feet, but some can exceed 5 feet in length; the Arizona coral snake is sometimes thinner than a pencil.

The Old World groups live in Asia, India, and the islands of Southeast Asia. These snakes are classified into three genera with about 20 species. They exhibit the widest variation in color patterns, from mostly blackish-blue with orange on their head and tail.

The New World coral snakes live in the Americas, in the southern United States, throughout Central and South America. Many of them have red, yellow, and black patterns but not all. Of all the coral snake species, the Americas are home to by far the largest variety. There are dozens of species, approaching 80; however, with all that variety they are only classified into two genera.

Amazing Facts About Coral Snakes

  • Coral snakes are highly venomous, second behind black mambas, but their venom delivery system is lacking; their fangs are small and weak, and not hollow like a pit viper’s fangs.
  • In North America, they’re the only venomous snakes to lay eggs. The others are all pit vipers that give birth.
  • Many coral snakes spend their time buried in leaf litter or otherwise hiding; they wait for their prey to come to them.
  • A few species are aquatic; their tails are flattened and act as a paddle.

Where to Find Coral Snakes

Coral snakes inhabit the Americas, like in Alabama, and many areas of India, Asia, and the islands of Southeast Asia. These snakes vary widely in behavior, but are mostly fossorial, digging into leaf litter and hiding in abandoned burrows. Many do not come out except to breed or during the rainy season. A few are mostly aquatic and spend most of their time in the water with dense vegetation.

They mainly eat rodents, but will also eat salamanders, frogs, lizards, birds, and occasionally other snakes. Some species, like the blue Malaysian coral snake, eats primarily snakes.



Coral Snake’s Scientific Name

They’re part of the Elapidae family, cousins to snakes like cobras and mambas. Coral snakes are classified under several genera, all with different meanings:

  • Calliophis is Greek and means beautiful (calli = beautiful) snake (ophis).
  • Hemibungarus
  • Sinomicrurus means Chinese (sino = from China) small (micr = small) tail (urus = tail).
  • Micrurus means small tail.
  • Micruoides means small tail-like.

Each of the specific names either gives further detail about the snake’s physical description or honors a person involved in its discovery.

Types of Coral Snakes

Old World Family

Calliophis

Most of the Calliophis species inhabit areas from India east to the Philippines.

These include Beddome’s (C. beddomei), Bibron’s (C. bibroni), Castoe’s (C. castoe), and the black coral snakes (C. nigrescens), which are endemic to India; the Indian coral snake (C. melanurus), which also occurs in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; Sri Lanka is also home to the blood-bellied coral snake (C. haematoetron). The Dinagat Island banded coralsnake (C. salitan), inhabits the Philippines. Malaysian banded (C. intestinalis), spotted (C. gracilis), and speckled coral snakes (C. maculiceps) are scattered around Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Hemibungarus

Both members of this genus inhabit the Philippines: The barred coral snake (H. calligaster) and H. gemianulis.

Sinomicrurus

Of the 5 Sinomicrurus species, two are endemic to Taiwan – S. hatori and S. sauteri. The Japanese coral snake (S. japonicus) only occurs on the Ryukyu Islands; Kellogg’s coral snake (S. kelloggi) lives in Laos, Vietnam, and China; McClelland’s coral snake (S. macclellandi) is more widespread; it inhabits areas in China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Ryukyu Islands, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

New World Family

The United States only has a few species. The eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) ranges from North Carolina to Florida, and west to Texas. It’s the brightest-colored of all the North American coral snakes and is small. They only reach about 2 feet long.

The Arizona or western coral snake (Micruroides euryxanthus) has several subspecies and inhabits North America from Arizona to Sinaloa, Mexico.

Texas is home to its own coral snake, the Texas coral snake (Micrurus tener), it has a few subspecies also, and lives in northern Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Micrurus

The Micrurus genus holds most of the world’s coral snake species – there are approximately 80 species in this extensive list. They occur in the Americas in the southern United States, Central America, and South America. Many species have more than one subspecies.

The red-tailed coral snake (M. mipartitus) is one South American snake that has white bands and a striking red color on its head and tail; it inhabits Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Coral Snakes: Population and Conservation

Coral snakes don’t breed very quickly – many only lay 2 or 3 eggs at a time. Some coral snakes are considered endangered in part of their habitat; for example, North Carolina considers the eastern coral snake (M. fulvius) endangered. The IUCN Redlist has several listed as vulnerable with decreasing populations; including the Roatan coral snake (M. ruatanus), the Oaxacan coral snake (M. ephippifer), and the Japanese coral snake (S. japonicus).

Identifying Coral Snakes: Appearance & Description

The rhyme many school kids learned works most of the time for the eastern and Texas coral snakes; it sort of works with the Arizona species which often has white bands instead of yellow. It’s not completely reliable, however, and the further you go from the United States, the less it works. Add to that, several snake species mimic coral snake colors, such as the king snakes and milk snakes that have similar banding.

So, learning to identify the coral snakes that live in your area is the best way to go.

Snakes such as the eastern, Texas, and Arizona coral snakes do have a couple of things in common: They have blunt heads and tails, and their color pattern extends all the way around their bodies. The non-venomous look-alikes’ color stops at their bellies.

The rhyme doesn’t work at all with Asian species; their colors and patterns vary greatly from species to species.

Coral Snake Diet

Read about what coral snakes eat.

Coral Snakes Pictures and Videos

Blue Malaysian Coral Snake
The blue Malaysian coral snake is blue-black with red on its head and tail.

reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Amazon Coral snakes
Amazon coral snakes have wide yellow bands with black speckles.

vampflack/Shutterstock.com

Eastern coral snake
Eastern coral snakes typically have black coloring until right behind the eyes. The first death due to these snakes in over 40 years occurred in 2009.

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Red-tailed coral snake
Like many of the New World species, red-tailed coral snakes exhibit black on their head that stops just behind the eyes. (Micrurus mipartitus decussatus)

Dr. Morley Read/Shutterstock.com

south american coral snake
These coral snakes have narrow white bands instead of the yellow of other species.

guentermanaus/Shutterstock.com

Venom: How Dangerous are Coral Snakes

Despite their highly toxic venom and fearsome reputation, North American coral snakes are considered less dangerous than rattlesnakes and copperheads. Their venom is the second most toxic in the world after black mambas and is composed of neurotoxins that attack the respiratory system. A severe bite can cause death in just a few hours, which makes immediate medical care vital.

Toxicity of their venom aside, these snakes have a poor venom delivery system. Unlike vipers, coral snakes don’t have hollow fangs attached to a venom gland. Their fangs have a groove that the venom travels down when they bite; rather than striking and releasing, coral snakes have to chew on their prey to get venom injected.

Coral Snake Behavior and Humans

Coral snakes are highly venomous, but surprisingly few bites occur every year. Unlike the mambas and cobras, their less reclusive cousins, they are excellent escape-artists and often leave before you ever have a chance to see them. If you do see one, your best bet is to back away and give it space to leave; they’re not generally aggressive and will not chase you.

They’re reclusive and spend much of their time buried in leaf litter, underground, or otherwise hidden on the rainforest floor. Over 90% of the bites incurred happen after someone picks up one of these snakes.

As with other dangerous animals, only those with proper training and experience should handle them.

View all 149 animals that start with C

About the Author

Gail is a musician, author, and artist with more ideas than time. She loves learning about the Earth and its animals; her upcoming book, Pebble Worms and Fast Walkers is filled with all the random bits that kids love! She lives in north Texas with her husband, twin sons, dogs, cat, and a ball python named Nagini.

Coral Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are coral snakes venomous?

Yes! Like all members of the Elapidae family, which includes cobras and mambas, coral snakes are highly venomous.

How do coral snakes hunt?

There’s a lot that isn’t known. We know that many coral snake species love to eat other snakes (including their own), and when they strike, they hold on so that snake they’re trying to eat can’t get away.

Are coral snakes aggressive?

These snakes aren’t aggressive, they spend most of their time underground and generally avoid people.

Where do coral snakes live?

Most species are in the Americas, but Asia has 3 genera.

What do coral snakes eat?

It depends. Most eat mice, rats, and birds; some specialize in eating others snakes, and the aquatic species eat fish.

Is a coral snake more venomous than a cottonmout?

A coral snake is more venomous than a cottonmouth snake.

Sources
  1. Reptile Database, Available here: https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/
  2. Amphibians & Reptiles of NC, Available here: http://herpsofnc.org/eastern-coral-snake/
  3. IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/177491/96877688
  4. North Carolina Wildlife, Available here: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Reptiles/Eastern-Coral-Snake
  5. National Institute of Health, Available here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19673084/

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