|The coral snake has a toxic venom that attacks
the nervous system and kills prey fast. This enables it to eat snakes even
larger than itself. The coral snake’s brilliant coloration can act as a
warning to predators that are not color blind, which may be the reason
other non poisonous snakes copy its colors and pattern. This decorative
pattern of broken color is also excellent camouflage among the debris of
the forest floor.
Habitat: The coral snake avoids open ground in favor of woodlands and forest floors carpeted with leaves and decaying logs. It also lives in rocky areas with plenty of crevices. The coral snake needs cover for camouflage, for hiding its young and for providing the best surroundings to hunt its prey. Although rarely seen, the coral snake sometimes appears in some areas of Texas in backyard gardens, where it forages on sunny mornings around rock walls and pond or garden paving. The eastern coral snake is at home on loose ground cover where it can burrow. In defense, the snake may lift its tail to mimic its head. This deflects an attack to another part of the body.
Food and Hunting: The coral snake mainly eats other smaller snakes, but it sometimes preys on its own species and even on snakes that are larger than itself. It also preys on lizards, young birds, frogs, and insects. The coral snake feeds heavily during two periods in the year – from September to November and from April to May. A coral snake has very short fangs so it bites its prey repeatedly, twisting its head from side to side to squeeze venom into the wound.
Breeding: the coral snake breeds from late spring to early summer and from late summer to early autumn. The male produces sperm all year except during the female’s gestation period from May to July. This ability to mate throughout most of the year is important. Coral snakes seldom meet each other since their home ranges and populations are small, and a male’s weak sensory perception makes it hard for him to locate a female. Because coral snakes tend to be aggressive toward each other, if a male and female do meet they may attack one another instead of mate. During courtship the male flicks his tongue at the female and then strokes the length of her back with his nose before mating. The female lays three to five eggs in June or July. The young hatch about two months later. They are the size of large earthworms and already show the typical colors.
Coral Snake and Man: Although the venom from a coral snake bite is deadly, this shy snake rarely bites people. Most of those bitten have made the first move by trying to handle the snake. Even so, some people have been known to carry coral snakes without being bitten. Children are the most common victims of the coral snake because they are attracted by the bright rings. An antivenin (a substance that neutralizes the poison) is now available and has reduced the number of deaths. Make plenty of noise when walking in coral snake country to alert the snake so that it can slip away without a confrontation.
Related Species: There are more than 53 species of coral snake in the Western Hemisphere.
Distribution: True coral snakes are found in North, Central, and South America. In South America it lives in tropical areas of the Amazon basin of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. In North America it lives in Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, and northern Mexico.
Conservation: The coral snake is common and in no danger of extinction.
The Coral Snake and Its Mimics:
Did You Know:
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