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🤮😰😗 Want to know how to tell the difference between a venomous coral snake and a nonvenomous look-alike called the scarlet king snake? They both have black, red and yellow rings, so they can be difficult to distinguish when you encounter one in the wild. If you spot the snake in North America, this article will help you work out the difference.
Method 1Method 1 of 2:Looking at the Snake's Coloring
- 1Examine the snake's ring pattern. Determine if red and yellow rings are touching; if so, this is a venomous coral snake.XResearch source This simple color check is the easiest way to tell the difference between a coral snake and a scarlet king snake in the US.
- On a coral snake, the ring pattern is red, yellow, black, yellow, red.
- In the case of a scarlet king snake, the ring pattern is red, black, yellow, black, red, or maybe blue.
- 2See if the snake has a black and yellow tail. The venomous coral snake's tail has only black and yellow bands with no red. The non-venomous scarlet king snake's band pattern remains the same throughout the length of his body.Advertisement
- 3Look at the color and shape of the snake's head. Determine if its head is yellow and black or red and black. The coral snake's head is black, with a short snout. The scarlet king snake's head is mostly red with an elongated snout.XResearch source
- 4Learn rhymes to tell the difference between the two snakes. People who live in regions where coral and scarlet king snakes are common have made up these easy-to-remember rhymes to help figure out which is which:
- Red touches yellow, kills a fellow.XResearch source Red touches black, friend of Jack.
- Red touches yellow, kills a fellow. Red touches black, venom lack.
- Red touches yellow, death says hello. Black touches red, keep your head.
- Yellow touches red, you'll be dead. Red touches black, eat Cracker Jacks.
- Red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow. Red touches black you're all right Jack.
- 5Remember that these rule apply only to snakes in the US. The suggestions in this article only reliably apply to coral snakes native to North America: Micrurus fulvius (Eastern or common coral snake),XResearch sourceMicrurus tener (Texas coral snake),XResearch source and Micruroides euryxanthus (Arizona coral snake),XResearch source found in the southern and western United States.
- Unfortunately, elsewhere in the world, the patterning can be quite different and no assumptions can be made about venomous or non-venomous natures of the snake without knowing the actual snake's species.
- This means that they rhymes don't apply to coral snakes elsewhere, nor to the snakes that mimic them.
Method 2Method 2 of 2:Understanding Behavioral Differences
- 1Be wary of logs and leafy areas. Both coral snakes and scarlet king snakes like to spend their daytime hours under logs and leaf piles on the ground. They may also be found in caves and crevices in rocks. Be very careful when lifting a rock or log, or entering an underground space.XResearch source
- 2Look for king snakes climbing trees. If you see a colorful snake with a ring pattern climbing a tree, it's probably a nonvenomous king snake. Coral snakes very rarely climb trees.XResearch source You should still look carefully to make sure it's not a coral snake, and play it safe by not getting too close.
- 3Check for defensive behavior. When coral snakes feel threatened, they move their tails and heads back and forth in order to try to confuse their predators.XResearch source King snakes don't display this behavior. If you see a snake wagging its head and tail strangely, it's probably a coral, so stay back.
- Coral snakes are very reclusive, and it's extremely rare to see them in the wild. They only strike when they feel extremely threatened, so if you see one displaying this behavior, you'll probably have time to get away.
- King snakes received their name because they eat other types of snakes, including venomous ones. They don't tend to display this sort of defensive behavior, although they have been known to hiss and shake their tails like rattlesnakes.
- 4Watch out for a coral snake's distinctive bite. In order to inject its venom, a coral snake must clamp down and chew its prey. Since it's usually possible to fling the snake off before it has time to fully inject venom, people rarely die from coral snake bites. However, left untreated, a coral snake bite can lead to cardiac arrest and death.XResearch source
- A coral snake bite is not extraordinarily painful at first. However, if venom has been injected, the victim will experience slurred speech, double vision, and paralysis so even if you don't feel anything after a coral snake bite still call emergency services.XResearch source
- If you ever get bitten by a coral snake, stay calm, remove constrictive clothing and jewelry and get medical help immediately.XResearch source
- The venomous coral snake's tail has only black and yellow bands with no red. The non-venomous scarlet king snake's band pattern remains the same throughout the length of his body.
- One of the only ways to know for sure is the venomous coral species although the color band patterns can be different between different species, you know you are in trouble if the banded snake has a very blunt head that is black to behind the eyes, usually two colors on head.
- The range of coral snakes and scarlet king snakes is in the southeastern United States, starting from North Carolina, all the way down to southern Florida.
- Use caution whenever working, walking, resting, etc., in areas where snakes are found.
- Coral snakes are very venomous, stay away from them.
- This rule dos not always work for every breed of Coral Snakes, for example the "Micrurus frontali"XResearch source breed of coral snake color pattern is: red, black, yellow, black, yellow, black, red. On this species, red touches black but it is very much poisonous. Typically five minutes after a bite you are paralyzed and in one hour you are deceased.
- Scarlet King Snakes aren't venomous but they can still bite you which will hurt.
About This Article
To tell if a snake is a king snake or a coral snake, look at its ring pattern. If the red and yellow rings are touching, it's a venomous coral snake. If they're not, it's a nonvenomous king snake. You can also tell the difference by looking at the snake's head. If it has a black head with a short snout, it's a coral snake. If its head is red with an elongated snout, it's a king snake. To learn what to do if you're bitten by a venomous coral snake, scroll down.
Reader Success Stories
- "I had heard a saying, a rhyme, designed to aid in the identification of the coral snake and its non-venomous doppelganger, the king or scarlet snake, but I couldn't remember it. I found it on this website. While watching a nature program on Central American rain forests, a segment of which was on their coral snake, I sought to learn the rhyme anew. What I didn't know that I am grateful to now know is that the rhyme only applies to North American coral snakes! Thanks for including that information here!"..." more