Coral snake eats Copperhead

The Southeastern Naturalist publishes articles that make me jump up and down with excitement.  Most people, upon learning I read such obscure journals, think I’m weird, but I don’t care.  I think people who waste money at outlet malls on junk they don’t need are weird.  Anyway, what could be more exciting than an account of a coral snake swallowing a baby copperhead?  A photograph of this occurrence (previously unknown to science) was published in the above mentioned journal.  For some reason I can’t directly link the photo to my blog but the below link will lead to it.

Coral snakes are in the same family of snakes as the deadly cobra.  Like the cobra, their venom is a neurotoxin that can cause respiratory failure.  Unlike America’s other poisonous snakes, however, coral snakes have small fangs and often can’t penetrate human skin.  They are a shy small snake growing to just 3 feet in length and will retreat when approached by man.  When they do bite, they cling on like a bulldog rather than striking and releasing.  Each year, only an average of 15-20 people are bitten by coral snakes.  One study found that 2/3rds of these bites occurred because an idiot picked the snake up.  33% of these idiots were drunk when they handled the snake.  Coralmyn is the anti-venom used to counteract coral snake venom.  Pfizer stopped making the drug in 2010 because bites are so rare it wasn’t profitable to make it.  So be sure not to get bitten by a coral snake or the doctor will be standing around without a cure.

Coral snake range.  The eastern’s closely follows coastal plain pine forests.

Coral snake.  I’ve never seen one. When distinguishing between similar-colored snakes remember red on yellow will kill a fellow.

Scarlet king snake aka milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum).  Remember red on black is a friend of jack.  I did see one of these once at the Congaree National Park.


Scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea)  A nocturnal species that feeds on other snakes’ eggs.

Coral snakes are fossorial creatures preferring to live in sandy soils that support pine and scrub oak forests.  They emerge from their burrows to hunt in the leaf litter for other snakes, lizards, frogs, birds, small mammals, and large insects.  There are 76 species worldwide but only 3 live north of the Rio Grande.  The eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) lives east of the Mississippi, the Texas coral snake (Micrrus tener) lives west of the Mississippi River, and the Arizona coral snake (Micruroies euryranthus) lives in that state and Mexico.  Some herpetologists think the eastern coral snake and the Texas coral snake are the same species.

Pleistocene fossils of corals snakes are scarce.  Coral snake fossils dating to the Pleistocene have been found in at least 3 sites in Texas including The Cave without a Name site, and Fyllon Cave; and they’ve been found in at least 4 sites in Florida–Vero Beach, Williston, Reddick, and Inglis.  Some unidentified snake vertebrae from various fossil sites across the southeast may be of this species.  More than 3 species of corals snakes probably occupied North America during the Miocene and early Pliocene, but Micrurus fulvius or its immediate ancestor must have been the only one that evolved the ability to survive frosts by moving to underground burrows when the weather turned cold.  Burmese pythons and American crocodiles often make the fatal mistake of basking in the sun on cold days rather than seeking shelter.  This habit is what limits the range of many tropical species of reptile.

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3 Responses to “Coral snake eats Copperhead”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    My dad was born in a south Georgia town that no longer exists: El Dorado, GA. When he was a kid–this would have been around 1922 or so–one of the other local kids picked up a snake. The snake was pretty calm about the situation. Finally, an adult walked up and saw that the kid had a coral snake in his hands and freaked out. This freaked out the little boy who panicked. The previously calm snake bit down on the kid’s hand between two of his fingers and dug in.

    Short of it, the kid died. After that, all of the local kids were drilled in how to identify and coral snake. But he never saw one, and didn’t go out of his way as a kid to find one, either.

    My dad used to remark that he had lived in coral snake range almost his entire life (except for a brief time in north Georgia) and had never seen a coral snake. And I lived for years at a time in their old ranges and other than seeing them in zoos, I’ve never encountered one.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    They must be good at hiding.

  3. justin Says:

    They’re very secretive snakes but there are a few places in SC on the coast and in the midlands that have higher populations and they’re not difficult to find. But they’re easily one of the most interested snakes we have here in the states.

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