American Oceans

The Difference Between a Corn Snake and a Coral Snake

a beautiful corn snake

Coral snakes and corn snakes are two very different species of snake, both exhibiting vibrant colors that can be easily confused by those unfamiliar with their distinctive features. In terms of their natural habitat, behavior, and venom, it is crucial to understand the differences between these two species, as making incorrect assumptions can lead to dangerous situations.

Coral snakes, belonging to the Micrurus genus, are venomous snakes with a distinctive color pattern of red, yellow, and black rings. They are considered one of the most venomous snake species in the Americas, and can be found throughout North, Central, and South America, including some parts of the southern United States. While coral snakes are generally reclusive and unlikely to attack, their venom is potent and can have severe consequences if a human is bitten.

On the other hand, corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) are nonvenomous and often found in the southeastern United States. They feature a colorful orange or reddish pattern with darker marks on their bodies, resembling the kernels of Indian corn. Corn snakes are popular pets for snake enthusiasts, as they are docile and easy to handle. Their striking appearance and generally calm nature make them a fascinating contrast to coral snakes.

Coral Snake vs Corn Snake

a coral snake slithering in the sand

Coral snakes and corn snakes are two distinct snake species, each with their unique characteristics and habitats. While they may appear similar at first glance due to their vivid colors, they are quite different in various aspects.

Coral snakes are members of the Elapidae family, predominantly found across the Americas. These venomous snakes are known for their striking red, yellow, and black bands. There are multiple species of coral snakes, such as the Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) found in the southeastern United States and the Central American coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) found from Mexico to South America. It is essential to mention that the red bands are typically adjacent to the yellow bands in coral snakes, which serves as a distinguishing feature. These snakes are notoriously elusive and are primarily active during dawn and dusk.

On the other hand, corn snakes belong to the Colubridae family and are non-venomous. They are native to the southeastern United States and are often found in cornfields, hence the name “corn snake.” They have a reddish-orange body color with irregularly shaped black marks, appearing somewhat similar to the coral snake. However, corn snakes have red bands bordered by black bands without any yellow, which helps differentiate them from the venomous coral snake. Corn snakes are more common as pets due to their relatively docile nature and easy-to-care-for requirements.

In terms of diet, both coral snakes and corn snakes primarily feed on small prey, such as rodents and other reptiles. However, coral snakes possess potent neurotoxic venom that immobilizes their prey, while corn snakes rely on constriction to overpower and consume their food. Interestingly, their predatory behaviors differ; coral snakes are quicker to strike, while corn snakes exhibit more physicality by coiling around the prey.

From a conservation standpoint, neither the coral snake nor the corn snake is currently categorized as endangered species. However, habitat loss and human encroachment can pose a threat to their populations in the long run. As snake enthusiasts and conservationists, it is vital to be aware of these factors and to promote responsible interactions with these fascinating reptiles.

Physical Characteristics

an orange corn snake on a branch

Coral snakes and corn snakes are two distinct species of snakes with different physical characteristics. The coral snake is typically recognized by its alternating bands of red, yellow, and black colors, with some regional variations possessing white bands instead of yellow. These bands fully encircle the body, giving the snake a striking appearance. In contrast, the corn snake has a different color pattern, consisting of large, red or orange blotches outlined in black, with a lighter background color. Corn snakes also typically have a checkered, black and white belly pattern.

In terms of size, coral snakes are generally smaller and thinner than corn snakes. They can grow to a length of 20 to 30 inches, while corn snakes can reach lengths of up to 48 to 72 inches. Both species have rounded heads, but the corn snake’s head is slightly more wedge-shaped.


Coral snakes and corn snakes exhibit contrasting behavioral traits. Coral snakes are known to be shy, elusive, and more likely to avoid human contact. Due to their venomous nature, they will usually only bite when threatened or cornered. However, their venom is highly potent, making them a dangerous species to encounter.

On the other hand, corn snakes are considered non-venomous and generally display a docile temperament. They are often found in close proximity to human dwellings, as they prey on rodents and other small animals. Corn snakes are commonly kept as pets due to their manageable size, ease of care, and friendly disposition.

Habitat and Location

a beautiful corn snake

Coral snakes and corn snakes are both native to North America, with a predominant presence in the Southeastern United States. Though they share the same region, their habitats and location preferences differ significantly.

Coral snakes are typically found in the warmer, tropical areas of the Americas. They have a strong preference for moist environments, making swamps and marshes their ideal homes. On occasion, coral snakes may also be found in dense forests, which offer ample cover and suitable humidity levels. Phylogeography of West Indies Coral snakes (Micrurus) provides an analysis of how these patterns have taken shape.

On the other hand, corn snakes are more versatile in their choice of habitats. They can be found in a wider range of environments such as fields, forests, and farmlands. In many cases, corn snakes can even adapt to living in close proximity to human populations. However, this adaptability does not necessarily extend to the same extent as coral snakes when it comes to moist environments like swamps and marshes. Their preferred habitat is a blend of open and dense areas that offer opportunities for shelter and hunting. Snakes of the Southeast discusses the ecology and location patterns of these snakes in the Southeastern United States.

Venom and Predation

a painted coral snake

Coral snakes are among the few snake species that possess neurotoxic venom, which can lead to respiratory failure and potentially be fatal if not treated promptly with antivenom. They are considered highly venomous and can pose a significant threat to humans when encountered in the wild. In contrast, corn snakes are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans, as they do not possess any venom.

The venomous nature of coral snakes allows them to effectively immobilize their prey within a short period. The neurotoxic venom targets the nervous system, disrupting the functioning of essential organs and ultimately leading to the prey’s immobilization. On the other hand, corn snakes, being non-venomous, rely on their ability to constrict their prey until it succumbs due to asphyxiation.

Prey Consumption

Coral snakes and corn snakes have different dietary preferences and hunting strategies. The diet of a coral snake primarily consists of small reptiles, birds, and small vertebrates. They use their venom to quickly incapacitate their prey, allowing for easier consumption. Coral snakes are known to have bright coloration with distinct black bands that serve as a warning to potential predators and help camouflage them in their natural environment.

Corn snakes, in comparison, have a diet mainly comprised of small rodents. As non-venomous snakes, they use constriction as a method to subdue their prey. Corn snakes are also known to feed on other smaller snake species and are capable hunters even without the use of venom. They have distinct coloration patterns that resemble those of venomous coral snakes, which offers them a level of protection from potential predators as they may be mistaken for their venomous counterparts.

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