Small and poisonous, the coral snake is widely recognized for its vivid hues. Of all snakes, it has one of the strongest venoms.
The most well-known coral snake is the American coral snake, which is what we usually mean when we say "coral snake." Coral snakes, however, can be split into two main categories:
- Asian Coral Snakes ("Old World").
- American Coral Snakes ("New World").
One of the most lethal reptiles in North America is the new world coral snake. Texas locals have learned to be cautious of this snake in particular.
The general public is familiar with this wonderful critter thanks to its color and poison. Few people, though, actually have more knowledge about it. We invite you to learn everything there is to know about this fascinating snake in this exhaustive post!
1) Characteristics of the Coral Snake
A) Size and morphology
The average length of a coral snake is between 45 and 50 cm. However, some species grow up to 1 meter. A pencil can fit inside the western coral snake. All members of this genus have short tails, smooth scales, and thin cylindrical bodies.
The coral snake has a rounded nose, a bulbous head, and a nearly undetectable neck. Colorful scales with a smooth and shiny appearance cover its body.
Among venomous snakes, the rounded head is unusual. The majority of these little creatures have triangular heads (Fer de Lance, Crotales...). Similar to how most venomous ophidians have slit-shaped pupils, the coral snake's pupils are circular.
B) The Coral Snake
The vividly colored and patterned bodies of coral snakes are without a doubt their most recognizable physical feature.
With varied combinations of red, black, yellow, or white rings, the majority of species are tricolored (rarely bicolored). The colourful collars' breadth vary between species.
The most famous coral snake in the eastern United States is distinguishable by its red, yellow, and black stripes.
C) Life span
Unknown in the wild, the average lifespan of a coral snake can reach seven years in captivity. However, the eastern coral snake holds the record for the longest lifespan in captivity at 18 years!
2) The Coral Snake in the Animal Kingdom
A) Classification and Taxonomy of the Coral Snake
The coral snake is a member of the family Elapidae and the suborder Snakes of the order Squamata, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). The most poisonous snakes in the world, such as cobras, sea snakes, and black mambas, belong to the family Elapidae.
Typically, the phrase "Coral Snake" refers to a single creature. However, this phrase actually refers to a genus of snakes. In America, there are roughly 70 species of coral snakes, and Asia has about 15 species. We have decided to use the term "coral snake" exclusively in order to make this material easier to grasp.
B) The Different Types of Coral Snakes
In the United States, three types of coral snake predominate:
- Micrurus fulvius: eastern coral snake, located in Florida and the southeastern United States. Also known as the eastern coral snake, this species is the most familiar to the general public.
- Micrurus tener: Texas coral snake, located in Texas and northwestern Mexico.
- Micruroides eurxanthus: Sonoran coral snake, located in the southwestern United States and the state of Sonora, Mexico.
Among the species of Asian coral snakes there are:
- 8 species of Calliophis.
- 5 species of Sinomicrurus.
- The unique species Hemibungarus from the Philippines.
- 2 species of Maticora from the East Indies (on this species the venom glands extend over more than a third of the body!).
In addition, there are two African coral snakes (Homoroselaps). These creatures are yellow, orange, and black. They resemble the Royal Cobra in that they have a neck that is larger.
3) Blue Coral Snake and Other Species
Many additional ophidians go by this moniker since "Coral Snake" refers to a group made up of various snake species. Additionally, occasionally they don't resemble a coral snake at all! The three primary coral snake species are as follows:
The Eastern Coral Snake is the most colorful of the North American coral snakes, and it may be found from North Carolina through Florida and Texas. Brilliant black, red, and yellow bands encircle its entire body.
Although the colors are a little more subdued, the Western or Arizona Coral Snake shares the same fundamental color pattern as its eastern sister. Particularly, the yellow bands are lighter and may almost be white.
The magnificent Malaysian Blue Coral Snake (Calliophis bivirgatus) resides in the Southeast Asian jungles. Its body is dark blue, and each side contains stripes that are either light blue or white. It can be identified by its stunning head and coral-colored tail.
4) The Coral Snake, a very poisonous reptile
A) The Coral Snake and its Venom
One of many snakes with the most lethal venom is the coral snake (the Desert Taipan being the most deadly snake). Special glands affixed to each snake fang release this concoction of amino acids, peptides, proteins, and enzymes.
However, compared to rattlesnakes, coral snakes are generally regarded as less venomous. And this is so because, as was previously mentioned, they do not "strike" their victim like rattlesnakes and asp vipers do, for example, and have a less effective venom injection system.
The coral snake's anatomy causes it to poison through chewing motions, which is far less efficient.
B) Effects of Coral Snake Venom
The nervous system is affected by the coral snake's neurotoxic venom. It renders patients unconscious quickly and renders them incapable of breathing. In humans, symptoms may not appear for several hours (up to 12 hours). In addition, after a coral snake bite, humans often experience little to no pain or edema.
The neurotoxic, on the other hand, starts to sever the connections between the prey's brain and muscles if left untreated with antivenom. As a result, it leads to speech slurring, double vision, and muscle paralysis as well as eventual respiratory or cardiac failure, which can be fatal.
The venom of the coral snake does not result in tissue necrosis, unlike that of the pit viper or rattlesnake.
Every bite from a snake does not necessarily include poison. It is acknowledged that coral snake envenomations, or bites with venom injection, are extremely uncommon when compared to bites from other Elapidae, like the Black Mamba, or poisonous vipers.
5) Coral Snake and Antivenom
A) An Antidote to Coral Snake Venom?
In situations of coral snake envenomation in both adults and children, North American Coral Snake Antivenin (NACSA), an antivenom produced from the horse, is utilized. Do you find the phrase "horse-derived" surprising? To learn how such a serum is created, we invite you to read our page on snake venom.
At the first indication of a neurological impairment or respiratory failure, coral snake antivenom administration is advised. It is best to provide the antivenom as soon as possible. However, take care not to do it before the initial symptoms show.
B) The Antivenom and its Dangers
Because manufacture of NACSA was stopped in 2006, there are currently just a few stocks available. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has extended the expiration date of the remaining vials of this antivenom to January 31, 2019, even though the manufacturer's (2008) expiration date has passed.
Clinical trials for a potential novel antivenom (again derived from horses) against the toxicity of coral snake venom are now being conducted there. However, there are additional effective antivenoms against coral snake poisons that are on the market (such Coralmyn, which is made in Mexico) and advised by Poison Control.
There are frequently allergic and hypersensitive reactions to the antivenom of the horse coral snake. Antihistamines are then required to prevent allergic anaphylactic shock.
An whole medical staff often provides care for a coral snake bite:
- A physician.
- A poison control center.
- A toxicologist.
- Critical care nurses.
6) One of the Most Dangerous Snakes in the World
A) The Coral Snake and its Bite
Coral snakes are pacific and afraid, and they often only bite people when they are touched or trampled. The Coral Snake lacks the ability to "stick out its teeth" to bite, unlike the majority of other venomous snakes.
Coral snakes can't even penetrate leather boots because of their short, fixed teeth and small mouths. Therefore, in order to fully inject their venom, coral snakes literally have to devour their prey.
The majority of human bites occur when trying to catch a coral snake. These snakes may attempt to cling to their victim for a while because, despite their small size, they don't have a lot of venom in their fangs.
Due to the snake's inability to inject a lethal dose of venom, the majority of bites on humans do not cause death. Since antivenom was developed in 1967, there haven't been any reported coral snake bite deaths in the US.
Only 25 to 50 of the roughly 9,000 snake bites reported in the US are coral snake-related. All reported coral snake bites in the US have been caused by the species Micrurus fulvius and Micrurus tener.
Coral snakes are more elusive and cautious than pit vipers. Because of this, coral snake bites frequently happen following human intentional handling of the snake or as a result of animal harassment.
However, a coral snake bite can be very painful, and if the poison it injects is not removed, it can cause cardiac arrest.
B) Symptoms of Envenomation
Initial signs of a coral snake bite can include slight pain at the biting site (there might not be any bite marks present), nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, and abdominal pain.
The venom's neurotoxicity can be shown in a number of ways, including:
- Progressive motor deficits (difficulty moving).
- Neurological deficits (difficulty thinking and concentrating).
- Increasing muscle weakness.
The necessity for ventilatory assistance when the patient's health deteriorates too much is related to respiratory muscle weakening and fatal complications from coral snake bites.
Due to the coral snake's less aggressive temperament and its less effective venom delivery system, significant envenomation is uncommon. However, the up to 12-hour delay in the onset of symptoms justifies very cautious medical monitoring following a reported bite.
C) Treatment of Coral Snake Bite
Determining the time of the bite is crucial when a coral snake bite victim comes with neurotoxic consequences and respiratory failure that can take up to 12 hours to manifest.
There are three phases to treating a coral snake bite:
- Make sure the snake is not biting anyone else.
- Treat local wounds, although they are usually minimal.
- Reduce the victim's movements to a minimum.
- Avoid activities that increase the heart rate to reduce the spread of venom through the body.
- Contrary to popular belief, tourniquets, venom extraction (by oral, manual, or mechanical incision and suction), and cryotherapy are not recommended.
Victims of a coral snake bite should be watched for at least 24 hours due to the risk of delayed start of symptoms. Following that, periodic neurological exams and strict respiratory monitoring are part of hospitalization.
7) Coral Snake and Predators
The coral snake uses several defense mechanisms in addition to its potent venom to keep out predators.
Because the coral snake's tail resembles a snake's head, it can be challenging to distinguish between the two. Coral snakes conceal their heads behind their coils of body while elevating their tails to trick potential assailants. By doing this, the assailant is better off losing their tail than their head.
Coral snakes will occasionally make a loud noise when provoked in order to startle their attacker as air is expelled from their cloaca, an opening used for both feces and reproduction. Other species, like the Western Hog-nosed snake, have also been known to exhibit these "snake farts".
On the rationale behind the behavior, scientists disagree. It is generally acknowledged that the snake fart has always been connected to defensive behavior, despite some claims to the contrary.
8) Where does the Coral Snake live?
The various coral snake species may survive in a wide range of habitats.
Asian coral snakes can be found in the jungle, swamps, or wooded regions. They spend the most of their time under ground or in leaf piles.
Western species favor the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the northern Mexico, or the sandy hills of the southeast of the United States. Coral snakes exist in these conditions by tunneling under rocks and into the sand or soil. They are also seen in rocky regions.
Coral snakes are solitary, nocturnal reptiles. As a result, they spend the majority of their time keeping warm in burrows, beneath rocks, or in piles of decaying leaves. They can be observed most frequently in the spring and fall.
9) What does a Coral Snake eat?
Coral snakes are carnivorous. Their favorite prey includes:
- Other small snakes (even small coral snakes).
- All kinds of lizards.
- Frogs and other amphibians.
Coral snakes prey on other snakes, especially worms and blind snakes. Lizards being a secondary food source.
10) Reproduction of the Coral Snake
Coral snakes lay eggs, as opposed to many other dangerous snakes that give birth to live young snakes (so they are oviparous). Only the Coral Snake is oviparous among the four venomous snakes that are native to the United States.
Vipers don't lay eggs, while the other three (the rattlesnake, copperhead, and water moccasin) are pit vipers.
The 6 to 13 eggs laid by western coral snakes in the summer hatch in the early fall. Asian coral snakes lay two to three eggs each.
The newborn babies already possess their well-known color and potent venom. When they hatch, they are around 17 cm long.
11) A Non-Penominant Coral Snake?
A) Coral Snake and False Coral
Amazingly, certain non-venomous snakes have evolved to resemble the coral snake exactly!
Therefore, by mimicking a dangerous snake, these mimics deceive potential predators into believing they are more dangerous than they actually are.
This inhibits them from manufacturing venom, which costs a lot of energy and is extremely valuable to the snake, among other things.
B) Coral snakes
Snakes that mimic coral snakes belong to 50 different genera. The most well-known of these "fake coral snakes" are:
- The King Snake (or Lampropeltis).
- The Eastern Milk Snake.
- The False Coral of Sinaloa.
- The Campbell's False Coral
However the disguise of these animals is not perfect...
12) Recognizing a Real Coral Snake
The rainbow rings on a coral snake are the easiest way to tell a real one from a fake. According to an American proverb: "A person is killed when red meets yellow.
(Literally: "Red touches yellow, kills a man. Red touches black, Jack's friend. Friend of Jack, Red touches Black "). For example, "Yellow contacts red, you have to move" might be a better mnemonic.
This adage is true for coral snakes in the United States, but it is incorrect for some Asian coral snake species. Venomous coral snakes can have pink and blue bands, red bands touching black bands, or even no bands at all in other parts of the world.
A coral snake can be recognized by its blunt head, which is black behind the eyes, and by the bands that completely round its body, even at the belly.
You are now fully informed about the coral snake.
In general, unlike other snakes, the coral snake is not in danger of going extinct. In any event, if you're fortunate enough to be out and about in Texas, we don't advise trying to capture one!