Coral Snake


Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Jay Ondreicka/

There are over 80 species of coral snake worldwide.


Coral Snake Scientific Classification

Scientific Name

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Coral Snake Conservation Status

Coral Snake Facts

Mainly other snakes, but also small mammals.
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
There are over 80 species of coral snake worldwide.
Biggest Threat
Human encroachment
Litter Size
Forests, jungles, some aquatic
Diet for this Fish
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
coral snake
Number Of Species

Coral Snake Physical Characteristics

  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Most are 2-4 feet long

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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; 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, and 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, over 100; however, with all that variety, they are only classified into two genera.

Coral Snake infographic

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 Them

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.

Scientific Name

Coral snakes are brightly colored and have distinctive bands.


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.

Population and Conservation

Sonoran Coral Snake
Coral snakes do not reproduce quickly, having only 2-3 eggs at once.

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).

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 snakes have an interesting diet that primarily consists of small reptiles, rodents, and even frogs. They are mostly ground-dwellers, so they hunt for their prey in the leaf litter or soil on the forest floor. They sometimes use ambush tactics to surprise their prey when they least expect it. Coral snakes also feed on other venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes and copperheads, which gives them a competitive advantage over other predators who can’t tolerate the venom of these species. However, coral snakes will occasionally take advantage of birds and insects if they get hungry enough!

Read about what coral snakes eat.

Pictures and Videos

Blue Malaysian Coral Snake

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


Amazon Coral snakes

Amazon coral snakes have wide yellow bands with black speckles.


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/

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/

south american coral snake

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


Venom: How Dangerous are They?

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.

Behavior and Humans

coral snake

Coral snakes are highly venomous but not aggressive.


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.

181 Types of Coral Snakes

south american coral snake

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


There are two groups of coral snakes, New World and Old World.

The main difference between the old world and new world coral snakes is their geographic location. Old-world coral snakes are found in Africa, the Middle East, India, and parts of Southeast Asia. New World coral snakes can be found in North America, Central America, and South America. An additional difference is that most new World coral snake species have red bands bordered by black rings, while most old World species have yellow or white bands separated by black rings. Furthermore, some new World species can be distinguished from others by differences in color patterns and head shape. For example, Eastern Coral Snakes typically have a more triangular head with bright, striking colors compared to the Western Coral Snake, which has a more rounded head and duller colors.

Old World Coral SnakesGenus Calliophis
Beddome’s Coral SnakeC. beddomei
Bibron’s Coral SnakeC. bibroni
Castoe’s Coral SnakeC. castoe
Black coral snakeC. nigrescens
Indian coral snakeC. melanurus
Blood-bellied coral snakeC. haematoetron
Dinagat Island banded coral snakeC. salitan
Malaysian banded coral snakeC. intestinalis
Malaysian blue coral snakeC. bivirgatus
Spotted coral snakeC. gracilis
Speckled coral snakeC. maculiceps
Old World Coral SnakesGenus Hemibungarus
Barred coral snakeH. calligaster
Barred coral snakeH. gemianulis
Old World Coral SnakesGenus Sinomicrurus
Japanese coral snakeS. japonicus
Kellogg’s coral snakeS. kelloggi
McClelland’s coral snakeS. macclellandi
Sinomicrurus hatoriS. hatori
Sinomicrurus sauteriS. sauteri
New World Coral SnakesGenus Leptomicrurus
Blackback coral snakel. collairs
Leptomicrurus collaris collarisl. collaris collaris
Leptomicrurus collaris breviventrisl. collaris breviventris
Andean Blackback Coral Snakel. narduccii
Leptomicrurus narduccii narducciil. narduccii narduccii
Leptomicrurus narduccii melanotusl. narduccii melanotus
New World Coral SnakesGenus Micruroides 
Arizona coral sakem. euryxanthus
Micruroides euryxanthus australism. euryxanthus australis 
Micruroides euryxanthus euryxanthusm. euryxanthus euryxanthus
Micruroides euryxanthus neglectusm. euryxanthus neglectus
New World Coral SnakesGenus Micrurus
Allen’s coral sakem. alleni
Micrurus alleni allenim. alleni alleni 
Micrurus alleni richardim. alleni richardi
Micrurus alleni yatesi m. alleni yatesi 
Micrurus altirostrism. altirostris 
Regal coral snakem. ancoralis
Micrurus ancoralis janim. ancoralis jani 
Micrurus ancoralis ancoralism. ancoralis ancoralis
Annellated coral snakem. annellatus
Micrurus annellatus annellatusm. annellatus annellatus
Micrurus annellatus balzaniim. annellatus balzanii
Micrurus annellatus bolivianusm. annellatus bolivianus 
Black-headed coral snakem. averyi 
Micrurus bernadim. bernadi 
Ecuadorian coral snakem. bocourti 
Bogert’s coral snakem. bogerti
Brown’s coral snakem. browni
Micrurus browni brownim. browni browni
Micrurus browni importunusm. browni importunus
Micrurus browni Taylorim. browni Taylori
Micrurus camilae m. camilae 
Catamayo coral snakem. catamayensis
Clark’s coral snakem. clarki
Painted coral snakem. corallinus
Brazilian coral snakem. decoratus
Micrurus dianam. diana
Variable coral snakem. diastema
Micrurus diastema diastemam. diastema diastema 
Micrurus diastema aglaeopem. diastema aglaeope
Micrurus diastema alienusm. diastema alienus
Micrurus diastema affinism. diastema affinis
Micrurus diastema apiatusm. diastema apiatus
Micrurus diastema macdougallim. diastema macdougalli
Micrurus diastema sapperim. diastema sapperi
Pygmy coral snakem. dissoleucus
Micrurus dissoleucus dissoleucus m. dissoleucus dissoleucus
Micrurus dissoleucus dunni m. dissoleucus dunni 
Micrurus dissoleucus melanogenysm. dissoleucus melanogenys
Micrurus dissoleucus meridensism. dissoleucus meridensis
Micrurus dissoleucus nigrirostrism. dissoleucus nigrirostris
West Mexican coral snakem. distans
Micrurus distans distansm. distans distans
Micrurus distans michoacanensis m. distans michoacanensis 
Micrurus distans oliverim. distans oliveri
Micrurus distans zweifelim. distans zweifeli
Micrurus dumeriliim. dumerilii
Micrurus dumerili antioquiensism. dumerili antioquiensis
Micrurus dumerili carinicaudusm. dumerili carinicaudus
Micrurus carinicaudam. carinicauda
Micrurus dumerili colombianusm. dumerili colombianus
Micrurus dumerili transandinusm. dumerili transandinus
Micrurus dumerili venezuelensism. dumerili venezuelensis
Elegant coral snakem. elegans
Micrurus elegans elegansm. elegans elegans
Micrurus elegans veraepacism. elegans veraepacis
Oaxcan coral snakem. ephippifer
Micrurus ephippifer zapotecusm. ephippifer zapotecus
Micrurus ephippifer ephippifer m. ephippifer ephippifer
Slender coral snakem. filiformis
Micrurus filiformis filiformism. filiformis filiformis
Micrurus filiformis subtilism. filiformis subtilis
Southern coral snakem. frotalis
Micrurus frontalis frontalism. frontalis frontalis
Micrurus frontalis brasiliensism. frontalis brasiliensis
Micrurus frontalis mesopotamicusm. frontalis mesopotamicus
Bolivian coral snakem. frontifasciatus
Easter coral snakem. fulvius
Hemprich’s coral snakem. hemprichii
Micrurus hemprichii hemprichii m. hemprichii hemprichii 
Micrurus hemprichii ortonim. hemprichii ortoni
Micrurus hemprichii rondonianusm. hemprichii rondonianus
Mayan coral snakem. hippocrepis
Caatinga coral snakem. ibiboboca
Venezuela coral snakem. isozonus
Langsdorff’s coral snakem. langsdorffi
Micrurus langsdorffi langsdorffim. langsdorffi langsdorffi
Micrurus langsdorffi ornatissimusm. langsdorffi ornatissimus
Balsan coral snakem. laticollaris
Micrurus laticollaris laticollarism. laticollaris laticollaris
Micrurus laticollaris maculirostrism. laticollaris maculirostris
Broad-ringed coral snakem. latifasciatus
South-American coral snakem. lemniscatus
Micrurus lemniscatus lemniscatusm. lemniscatus lemniscatus
Micrurus lemniscatus carvalhoi m. lemniscatus carvalhoi 
Micrurus lemniscatus diutiusm. lemniscatus diutius
Micrurus lemniscatus frontifasciatus m. lemniscatus frontifasciatus 
Micrurus lemniscatus hellerim. lemniscatus helleri
Tuxtlan coral snakem. limbatus
Micrurus limbatus limbatusm. imbatus limbatus
Micrurus limbatus spilosomusm. limbatus spilosomus
Speckled coral snakem. margaritiferus
Micrurus medemim. medemi
Merten’s coral snakem. mertensi
Redtail coral snakem. mipartitus
Micrurus mipartitus mipartitus mipartitus mipartitus m. mipartitus mipartitus 
Micrurus mipartitus anomalusm. mipartitus anomalus
Micrurus mipartitus decussatusm. mipartitus decussatus
Micrurus mipartitus semipartitus m. mipartitus semipartitus 
Many-banded coral snakem. multifasciatus
Micrurus multifasciatus multifasciatusm. multifasciatus multifasciatus
Micrurus multifasciatus hertwigim. multifasciatus hertwigi
Cauca coral snakem. multiscutatus
Cloud forest coral snakem. nebularis
Central American coral snakem. nigrocinctus
Micrurus nigrocinctus babaspul m. nigrocinctus babaspul 
Micrurus nigrocinctus coibensism. nigrocinctus coibensis
Micrurus nigrocinctus divaricatusm. nigrocinctus divaricatus
Micrurus nigrocinctus mosquitensism. nigrocinctus mosquitensis
Micrurus nigrocinctus nigrocinctusm. nigrocinctus nigrocinctus
Micrurus nigrocinctus ovandoensism. nigrocinctus ovandoensis
Micrurus nigrocinctus wagnerim. nigrocinctus wagneri
Micrurus nigrocinctus yatesim. nigrocinctus yatesi
Micrurus nigrocinctus zunilensis m. nigrocinctus zunilensis 
Micrurus pacaraimaem. pacaraimae
Micrurus pachecogilim. pachecogili
Micrurus paraensism. paraensis
Peruvian coral snakem. peruvianus
Peter’s coral snakem. petersi
Nayarit coral snakem. proximans
Carib coral snakem. psyches
Micrurus psyches circinalism. psyches circinalis
Micrurus psyches donosoim. psyches donosoi
Micrurus psyches psychesm. psyches psyches
Putumayo Coral Snakem. putumayensis 
Micrurus pyrrhocryptus m. pyrrhocryptus 
Micrurus remotusm. remotus
Micrurus renjifoim. renjifoi
Roatan Coral Snakem. ruatanus 
Santander Coral Snakem. sangilensis 
Micrurus scutiventrism. scutiventris
Micrurus silviaem. silviae
Amazon Coral Snakem. spixii
Micrurus spixii spixii m. spixii spixii 
Micrurus spixiii martiusim. spixiii martiusi
Micrurus spixii obscurusm. spixii obscurus
Micrurus spixii princeps m. spixii princeps
Micrurus spurellim. spurelli
Steindachner’s Coral Snakem. Coral Snake
Micrurus steindachneri steindachnerim. steindachneri steindachneri
Micrurus steindachneri orcesim. steindachneri orcesi
Panamanian coral snakem. stewarti
Stuart;s coral snakem. stuarti
Aquatic coral snakem. surinamensis
Micrurus surinamensis surinamensism. surinamensis surinamensis
Micrurus surinamensis nattererim. surinamensis nattereri
Micrurus tamaulipensism. tamaulipensis
Texas coral snakem. tener
Micrurus tener fitzingerim. tener fitzingeri
Micrurus tener maculatusm. tener maculatus
Micrurus tener microgalbineusm. tener microgalbineus
Micrurus tener tener m. tener tener
Micrurus tricolor m. tricolor 
Desert coral snakem. tschudii
Micrurus tschudii olssonim. tschudii olssoni
Micrurus tschudii tschudiim. tschudii tschudii

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

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.

What is the difference between a copperhead and a coral snake?

The main differences between a coral snake and a copperhead lie in their size, taxonomy, venom yield, fang type, and diet among others.

What are the differences between a coral snake and a corn snake?

The key difference between the coral snake and corn snake is that the coral snake is venomous, while the corn snake is not.

Read the other differences here!

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


  1. Reptile Database / Accessed February 23, 2022
  2. Amphibians & Reptiles of NC / Accessed February 27, 2022
  3. IUCN Redlist / Accessed February 27, 2022
  4. North Carolina Wildlife / Accessed February 27, 2022
  5. National Institute of Health / Accessed February 27, 2022