Venomous Snakes of
Florida

and Snakebite Treatment
By Greg (Snakeman) Longhurst
Photos By Bill Love

Eastern Coral Snake
Micrurus fulvius fulvius
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Coral.jpg (65286 bytes)     Beside the Eastern Coral Snake there are two other banded, red, yellow, and black snakes in Florida. Two of them mimic the one that is dangerous in the hope they will be left alone by predators.
     While the colors may be the same, the pattern is not. Think of a traffic light.   If the warning colors-red (stop) and yellow (caution) touch, it is the venomous coral.  The alternate band on the coral is yellow, assuring contact between the red and yellow bands.  The alternate band on the mimics is black, preventing contact between the warning colors.  The nose of the coral snake is always black; it is always red on the mimic snakes.
     The bands completely encircle the body of both the coral snake and the scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides).  The bands of the other mimic, the scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea), do not.    Its belly is the same color as the light colored bands, a cream color more than a bright yellow.
     The coral snake, despite it's particularly toxic venom, which gives it the potential for serious human interaction, seldom bites people.    Unless a coral is stepped on, sat upon, or grasped, it is not likely to bite.    It will, when it does bite, probably hang on and "chew."   However, all it takes to cause serious medical problems is one drop of venom, which can be delivered quickly.
     The coral snake is fairly common in a lot of areas in the state, but is seldom encountered by people.  They are most active at night or during rainy days.
     These snakes are thought, by some people, to lack fangs. Nothing could be further from the truth.  They are in the same family (Elapidae), as are the cobras, mambas, and all of Australia's venomous snakes.  While I have heard people say coral snakes do not have fangs, I have never heard that about cobras or taipans.   Coral snakes have short, fixed fangs, well forward in the mouth. The coral snake is the only venomous snake in Florida that is not a pit viper.  Pit vipers have a heat-sensitive hole in the face, between the eye and the nose, that is their most effective sense organ.
     To illustrate how a coral snake will abide some human contact before biting, allow me to relate a couple of true stories.  An 11 year-old boy in rural Palm Beach County caught what he knew to be a scarlet kingsnake.  A few days later, he was showing it to some friends in his front yard.  The snake was draped around the boy's neck for over a half hour when, tiring of being played with, bit the boy in the shoulder.  It injected the boy with coral snake venom, thereby ruining his identification of the snake and negating the old wive's tale of the necessity to bite "between the fingers."   The boy survived that bite.
      Driving home from a talk on snakes one evening, I had a large coral snake (over a meter) in a cage in the cab of my truck.  Feeling something move against my leg, I turned on the cab lights to see this huge coral snake trying to hide under my right thigh.   It's amazing how quickly one can go from 55 to 0 with no part of one's body on the seat.  The snake was touching me, not the other way around, so there was no real danger.
     The coral snake attains a greater length than most people realize, maximum being 51 inches.  Their diet is strictly reptiles, and they do not need, because they are primarily subterranean, a lot of cover, allowing them to live in subdivisions right under peoples' noses.  They may be seen throughout the state.
     The coral's venom is primarily neuro-toxic, attacking the central nervous system.  Symptoms of the bite may include a sore throat and ptosis, which is the inability to keep the eyes open.  If and when death occurs, it will come from respiratory failure, as the nerves that control the lungs fail.  There have been a few cases of coral snake bite where there was a delay of several hours between the bite and the onset of the first symptoms.  If you transport a victim to the hospital, it would be a good idea if he were admitted for observation, even if there are no outward signs of envenomation.