By Scott Matthew Quint

Eastern Coral Snake - Micrurus fulvius fulvius

Photo by Scott Matthew Quint
Scarlet Kingsnake - Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides

Photo by: Scott Matthew Quint
Northern Scarlet Snake - Cemophora coccinea copei

     One of the most mentioned concerns with snakes in the Coastal Plains is the similarity between the venomous Coral Snake and the non-venomous Scarlet Kingsnakeor Scarlet Snake  Because these snakes are so colorful, it is often a great worry that children will find them and play with them.
     As with any other snakes, it is always the best policy to avoid them if they cannot be positively identified. However, there are many circumstances where a positive ID is essential.
     All of these snakes are strikingly (no pun intended) coloroed with red black and yellow or white. And all are relatively small snakes on average. However, when you show the snakes side by side, the Coral Snake is very different from the other two.
     The most obvious first difference is that the Coral Snake has very wide red and black rings and very narrow yellow rings. Note that these are truly rings and completely encircle trhe body.  The yellow always separates the red and black. The Coral Snakes head is black with a wide Yellow band. The Scarlet King Snake and the Scarlet Snake both have black separating the red from the yellow or white. They both have red faces. The Scarlet Snake will have a white belly and the red is realy a wide saddle instead of a ring. the Scarlet King's pattern ios more like rings, but they will often have a light colored separation on the belly where the "rings" to complete.
     To aid people in making the identification by coloration there are several similar rhymes. The most common goes as follows:
Red touches Yellow, Kill a fellow;
Red touches Black, friend of Jack.
     The other way to remember the differences are to consider a traffic signal. The traffic signal's warning colors are red and yellow and are always together. So are they on the Coral Snake.
     Some other differences should be noted:
  • Coral Snakes can be fairly large. I've seen Florida specimens in excess of 40 inches and many over 30 inches. 
  • Scarlet King Snakes are small, never over 24 inches and typically under 20.
  • Scarlet King Snakes will coil and strike if cornered and will often bite.
  • Coral Snakes will never coil, but rather will hide their heads make sudden threashing motions to intimidate the attacker and to make the head a more difficult target.
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