Coral snakes belong to the family of the deadliest snakes in the world the likes of cobras, taipans and mambas, the Elapidae. Coral snakes can easily be identified from their attractive coloration, mostly used to warn predators. They have large red and black coloured bands and yellow bands encircling the snakes’ bodies in a particular order- the red bands always touching the yellow bands on both sides. This coloration has often made it difficult for people to differentiate between the coral snake and other natural mimics which have the same colour of banding on their bodies. For instance, the scarlet kingsnakes and scarlet snakes have the three colour bands on their body but the yellow bands only touch the black band and not the red bands.
The coloration described above is, however, for those coral snakes found in North America. In other parts of the world, they possess different bands and others don’t even have any banding. The coral snake has round pupils, small black blunt head and small, always erect fangs. They grow to 20 to 30 inches in length and some ranges grow to 2 to 4 feet in length. They are thus said to be among the smallest venomous snakes. Its venom is neurotoxin in that it attacks the nervous system by disrupting the communication between the brain and the body nerves hence making them malfunction. The results being blurred vision and speech, paralysis of the breathing muscles hence difficulty in breathing, cardiac arrest and finally death. Fortunately, no deaths have been recorded as a result of coral snake venom in North America since the release of antivenin in 1967 though cardiac arrests have been reported.
A better piece of information is that the snakes are not aggressive and tend to flee when confronted. If a coral snake doesn’t manage to flee it lays its head out of sight and curls the tail tip to confuse the attacker that the tail is the head. It only bites as a last resort when stepped on or handled. Even when it bites, for the venom to be fatal it must inject 75 to 100 mg of venom. This can be difficult for the snake to manage because of its tiny hollow fixed fangs and grooved jaw creating a poor venom delivery system and hence the snake tends to chew the victim or stay attached to him/her for long so that the venom can penetrate the puncture. Nonetheless, any bite from a coral snake is an emergency situation.
The habitat of the coral snakes depends on the range they belong to. The most important thing being the availability of food- which is mainly small reptiles and amphibians, for example frogs, lizards, other snakes and even other coral snakes, as well as small mice and birds. Most Coral snakes are nocturnal and not often seen as they hide underground during the day and feed in early mornings or during the night. However, there are ranges that are diurnal. The coral snakes can be categorised into the new world snakes and old world snakes. The new world coral snakes are found in North America and are in two ranges; the eastern coral snake and the western coral snake. The Eastern range live in wooden sandy and marshy areas of the south-eastern United States. They are found on the coastal plains from Louisiana to North Carolina and all Florida. The snakes live in scrub oak sand hills and pine habitats and at times on the pine flatwoods and hardwood areas. The western coral snake is also known as the Arizona Coral Snake and is found in Southern and Central Arizona; Some South-western parts of New Mexico and Sinaloa in Western Mexico. This range prefers arid and semi-arid areas, mostly thorn scrub, woodland, desert-scrub, plains, low mountain slopes and rocky habitats.
There has been some debate among scientists on the genus, species and subspecies of the coral snakes. However, the following facts are widely acceptable: There are 11 species of old world coral snakes under the Genus Calliopsis and 65 identified species of the new world coral snakes under three genera, namely Leptomicrurus, micrurus and micruroides. Some of these species are divided into various sub-species and hence the Coral snake subspecies are in hundreds. Micruroides euryxanthusor or the Arizona Coral Snake, for instance, has three subspecies namely Micruroides euryxanthus australis; Micruroides euryxanthus euryxanthus; and Micruroides euryxanthus neglectus . The most common subspecies of the Eastern coral snake known as Micrurus fulvius is the Texas Coral Snakes- micrurus fulvius tener- found in Texas, Harris County.
Courtship for the male coral snakes is usually hard. First, the snakes are solitary animals and have poor eyesight and hearing and thus depend on the scent of anal secretion from a reproductive female. Secondly, the female coral snakes tend to eat the male before mating. The male searches for a mate from June to end of spring. When and if the snakes pair they mate and eggs start developing in the female’s body. Coral Snakes mostly breed in spring and hutch their eggs during spring or summer. However, there’s a variation in the mating time because of the different areas of habitation and no doubt taking account of the coral snakes all over the world, they mate throughout the year. The eggs are laid in a shallow hole and covered with light soil to protect the eggs from birds. One snake can lays 2 to 5 eggs which hutch after an incubation period of 2 to 3 months. Baby snake is normally 7 inches long and is fully venomous. Although the adult stays around the young ones to protect them, the young ones’ venom is more poisonous than the adult’s. Young coral snakes mature after 2 months and the male is ready to mate by then. Its lifespan expectancy being at least 7 years.