Coral Snakes: Beautiful but Deadly
With its colorful body alternating vibrant red, yellow/white, and black bands the coral snake might well be one of nature’s most beautiful creatures. But it is also one of the most dangerous and for that reason; it is a good thing that it is also one of the mot reclusive.
The snakes spend much of their life underground or secluded in hollow logs or mounds of leaves. Humans are unlikely to be bitten unless they happen to step on one or if they if they mistakenly handle a coral snake thinking it to be a nonpoisonous one that has similarly but differently ordered bands. Unlike rattlesnakes and other vipers, which have retractable hollow fangs that extend and withdraw in biting, coral snakes have short, fixed fangs with which they hold on to their prey while making chewing motions as they inject their extremely potent neurotoxic venom.
Coral snakes are most numerous in Florida, but their range also extends into the U.S. mid-south and out to Texas and Arizona, each area hosting a slightly different species. Specimens up to five feet in length have been known, but most are relatively small, normally under three feet in length and slender, not much over an inch in diameter when mature. They spend the majority of their time underground or otherwise out-of-sight, emerging primarily to forage or breed.
Female coral snakes are ready to reproduce at about two years of age and after mating, lay five to seven leathery-shelled eggs -- usually underground, in a hollow log, under leaf litter, or in a similarly sheltered place. The eggs hatch in 60 days, with the babies emerging at about seven inches in length and fully venomous. As adults, they subsist primarily on small insects until they grow large enough to assume the typical diet of frogs, lizards, other small snakes, nestling birds, and small rodents.
Worldwide, there are more than 80 species of coral snakes, with more than 60 recorded in the Western Hemisphere. There are 13 species found in Australia; one in both Korea and Japan; and one in the Solomon Islands. While the three main American species are virtually identical, coral snakes found elsewhere vary widely in the color and arrangement of their bands, with some having no bands at all.
The dangerous coral snakes are often confused with several nonvenomous snakes because of their similar coloration. These others include the king snake, which grows to be much larger than the coral snake and which is famous for killing and eating rattlesnakes. Too, the king snakes are well-regarded as pets, with a curious, docile and gentle nature – unless they’re dealing with a rattler….
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