American Oceans

The Difference Between a Coral Snake and a King Snake

Coral snakes and king snakes are often confused for each other due to their similar appearance.

a coral snake slithering in the sand

However, these two species are very different in terms of their habitat, behavior, and venom.

Coral snakes are venomous and have a potent neurotoxin that can cause paralysis, while king snakes are non-venomous and are known for their ability to kill and eat other snakes, including venomous ones.

Understanding the differences between coral snakes and king snakes is important for anyone who spends time in areas where these species are found.

In this article, we will explore the key differences between coral snakes and king snakes, including their habitats, behaviors, and venom.

We will also discuss snake safety and handling, as well as the symptoms and treatment of snake bites.

By the end of this article, readers will have a better understanding of these two species and be better equipped to identify and handle them in the wild.

Understanding Coral Snakes

a coral snake with its mouth open

Coral snakes are venomous snakes found in North America. They are known for their distinctive color pattern of yellow, red, and black bands that encircle their body.

The bands are arranged in a specific order, with the red bands touching the yellow bands. This pattern helps distinguish coral snakes from non-venomous look-alikes such as the California king snake.

Coral snakes are dangerous and should not be touched. Their venom contains neurotoxins that can cause paralysis and even death.

Unlike other venomous snakes that have large fangs, coral snakes have small teeth that are not well-suited for biting humans. However, their venom is still potent, and symptoms of a coral snake bite can include respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, and seizures.

Coral snakes are found in a variety of habitats, including forests, swamps, and deserts. They have a narrow, pointed head and a slender body that can grow up to 3 feet long.

Coral snakes are typically found in the southern United States, including Texas and Arizona. The eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) is the most common species found in the southeastern United States.

If bitten by a coral snake, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Anti-venom is available and can be effective in treating coral snake bites.

However, it is important to note that not all hospitals carry coral snake anti-venom, so it is best to call ahead to ensure that the necessary treatment is available.

Understanding King Snakes

a king snake coiled in the sand

King snakes are a species of nonvenomous snakes that are found in the southeastern United States, from Florida to California.

They are known for their distinctive colors and patterns, which vary depending on the species. Some of the most common species of king snakes include the California king snake, the common king snake, and the prairie king snake.

King snakes are constrictors, which means they kill their prey by squeezing them until they can no longer breathe.

They primarily feed on small mammals, such as rodents, but they also eat lizards, invertebrates, and other snakes, including venomous species like rattlesnakes.

One of the most distinctive features of king snakes is their snout, which is blunt and rounded. They also have smooth, shiny scales and a ring pattern on their body.

King snakes are known for their defensive behavior, which includes hissing, flattening their bodies, and shaking their tails. However, they are not aggressive towards humans and will generally try to avoid confrontation.

The lifespan of king snakes varies depending on the species, but they generally live for several years in the wild.

They are commonly found in forests and other wooded areas, where they can hide under rocks and logs.

Coral Snake vs King Snake

an up close shot of a venomous coral snake

Coral snakes and king snakes are two of the most well-known snake species in the Southeastern United States. Although they may look similar, there are key differences between the two that can help distinguish them.

Appearance

One of the most notable differences between coral snakes and king snakes is their coloration and banding pattern.

Coral snakes have red and yellow bands that touch, while king snakes have red and black bands that touch.

A helpful rhyme to remember this is “red touch black, a friend of Jack; red touch yellow, kill a fellow.” Coral snakes also have a narrower head and smaller teeth compared to king snakes.

Venom

Coral snakes are highly venomous and have neurotoxins that can cause paralysis and cardiac arrest.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately if bitten by a coral snake. On the other hand, king snakes are non-venomous and use constriction to catch their prey.

Habitat and Diet

Coral snakes are found in the southeastern United States, while king snakes have a wider range that includes deserts, forests, and rainforests.

Coral snakes primarily feed on small mammals, while king snakes eat a variety of prey including rodents, lizards, and invertebrates.

Behavior

Coral snakes are generally shy and reclusive, while king snakes are more aggressive and will defend themselves if threatened.

King snakes also have a defensive behavior where they will mimic the appearance and behavior of venomous coral snakes to deter predators.

Care and Lifespan

If kept as pets, both coral snakes and king snakes require proper care and attention. Coral snakes have a lifespan of around 7-10 years, while king snakes can live up to 20 years in captivity.

The Habitats of Coral and King Snakes

a california mountain kingsnake on a rock

Coral and king snakes are both native to North America, with their habitats overlapping in some areas. However, they tend to prefer different types of environments.

Coral Snake Habitat

Coral snakes are typically found in the southeastern United States, with their range extending from North Carolina to Florida and westward to Texas and Arizona. They prefer warm, humid environments and are often found in forests, swamps, and rainforests.

The Texas coral snake, a subspecies of the eastern coral snake, is found primarily in Texas and adjacent areas of Mexico. It prefers dry, rocky habitats such as canyons and hillsides.

King Snake Habitat

King snakes, on the other hand, are found throughout North America, with some subspecies also found in Central and South America. They are often found in a variety of habitats, including deserts, forests, and grasslands.

In the southeastern United States, king snakes are commonly found in pine forests and wetlands. They are also known to inhabit suburban areas and farmland.

Overlapping Habitats

In areas where their habitats overlap, king snakes are known to mimic the appearance of coral snakes as a defense mechanism against predators. This is known as Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species mimics the warning signals of a harmful species to deter predators.

Overall, while coral snakes prefer humid environments such as rainforests and swamps, king snakes are more adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats.

Prey and Predators

a painted coral snake

Coral snakes and king snakes are both predators that feed on a variety of prey. While they have some similarities in their diet, they also have some differences in the types of prey they prefer.

Coral snakes are known for their preference for eating small mammals and reptiles. They have been observed feeding on rodents, lizards, and other snakes.

They are also known to feed on invertebrates, such as spiders and scorpions. Coral snakes are not known to eat frogs, which are a common prey item for many other snake species.

King snakes, on the other hand, are known for their ability to eat a wide variety of prey. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything they can catch.

Their diet includes rodents, small mammals, birds, lizards, and other snakes. King snakes are also known to eat frogs, which make up a significant portion of their diet in some areas.

Both coral snakes and king snakes are preyed upon by larger predators such as birds of prey and other snakes.

However, they have some unique defenses that help them avoid being eaten. Coral snakes are venomous and have bright warning colors that signal to potential predators that they are dangerous.

King snakes, on the other hand, are known for their ability to mimic the coloration and behavior of venomous snakes, which helps them avoid being attacked.

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