Caution: This snake is highly venomous! If you encounter this snake the best practice is to leave the snake alone and maintain a respectful distance from the snake.
Description: This highly venomous snake is certainly one of the most vibrant and colorful snakes in the Southeastern United States. They reach average lengths of 18-30 inches (46-76 cm) and are decorated with red, yellow and black bands going down their body. The red bands throughout most of the body are usually bordered by yellow bands which lends to the well known jingle “red touches yellow, can kill a fellow”. The front of the head is black with a yellow band crossing just behind the eye.
Natural History: Despite its flamboyancy, this snake is highly secretive and rarely seen. They spend most of their time underground in forests with sandy, well drained soils. Peak activity seems to occur during spring and fall following a rain event.
These snakes belong to the same family of snakes that includes cobras and mambas. As such they have fixed fangs located at the front of the jaw for envenomating prey items. The Eastern Coral Snake’s diet is primarily composed of other snakes and lizards.
Similar Species: This is one of three snakes in the Southeastern United States that has red, yellow and black in its pattern. The Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) and the Scarlet Snake (Cemophora coccinea) are the other two species. These snakes use these colors to mimic the venomous coral snake. This is known as Batesian Mimicry. The color sequence for these two snakes goes red, black, yellow, black, red, while the coral snake’s red bands are most often bordered by yellow bands. Furthermore the front of the Coral Snake’s head is black, while the other two species have red snouts.
Distribution: The Coral Snake is found in the coastal plains of southeastern North Carolina, through Florida and west to Louisiana.
Contributed by Jake Zadik (02/28/2020)
Click here to view South Carolina county records of this species on Herpmapper.org