Eastern Coral Snake

Photo: Jeff Hall

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Scientific Name:  Micrurus fulvius

Classification:  Nongame (VENOMOUS); state listed as Endangered

Abundance:  Very Rare (green area). 

Species Profile (coming soon)


Eastern Coral Snake Close up (Photo by Jeff Hall)

Eastern Coral Snake (Photo by Jeff Hall)

Eastern Coral Snake

The beautiful, highly venomous coral snake takes its name from its bright colors, reminiscent of those found in some species of coral. It is North Carolina’s only member of the cobra family and our only snake with strictly neurotoxic venom. The coral snake has smooth, shiny scales and alternating rings of red, yellow and black completely encircling its slender, cylindrical body. The relatively wide red and black bands are separated by narrow yellow bands, and the red bands are often peppered with black. The small head has a black snout followed by a broad yellow band, and the tail is banded with black and yellow. 

Some nonvenomous snakes are often misidentified as coral snakes, especially the Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) and the Northern Scarlet Snake (Cemophora coccinea copei). In both nonvenomous species, the snout is nearly always red, the red and black bands touch each other, and the red and yellow bands do not. The scarlet snake also has a plain white belly. A popular rhyme for distinguishing the Eastern Coral Snake from nonvenomous species is “red on yellow can kill a fellow; red on black is venom lack.” (There are other versions.) In North Carolina, the slim chance of encountering a coral snake makes this rhyme of little use. In tropical America, where a wide array of tri-banded snakes occur, it should never be used. Read more about habits and habitats in the Eastern Coral Snake wildlife profile.

The Eastern Coral Snake is classified as a nongame species and has no open season.It is one of North Carolina’s most rarely encountered terrestrial vertebrates, and is state listed as Endangered. Specimens may not be legally captured, killed, harmed or possessed without a special permit from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The Eastern Coral Snake is venomous

Coral snakes are very seldom encountered by people in North Carolina, due to their rarity, secretive habits and limited distribution in the state. Their venom affects the central nervous system and may cause respiratory failure, paralysis and possibly death.
However, there are no records of coral snake bites on humans in all of North Carolina’s recorded history. They are not aggressive and are much less efficient at delivering venom than other venomous snakes in the state. Being bitten by a coral snake would probably require handling or otherwise restraining the animal with bare hands or feet. Even then, a bite might not occur, and if it did occur, venom might not be injected. Still, these snakes should never be handled or in any way molested or harmed. Left alone, they pose no threat. Any sightings should be documented with photographs if possible, and reported to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission or the N.C. State Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. 

The Wildlife Commission does NOT send people out to trap and remove snakes. The best plan for citizens of North Carolina is to learn about snakes and alter habits to minimize negative interactions, and in the process, learn to coexist with snakes.

Snakes can be difficult to monitor and survey, as most of them possess great camouflaged patterns and remain hidden within certain habitats. One way biologists monitor corn snakes is through the use of artificial cover materials such as plywood boards, roofing tin, concrete blocks, and other materials. Plywood tends to be better at attracting smaller snake species, while larger snakes are more often found under tin.  Snakes will seek out these artificial shelters for thermoregulation and as a result, this method is particularly successful during spring and fall.

Any sightings of Eastern Coral Snakes should be documented with photographs if possible, and reported to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission or the N.C. State Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.