AUBURN, Ala. –The eastern coral snake tops the chart as the most venomous snake in Alabama. While not as well-known as other venomous snakes, the coral snake has the most toxic venom of any snake native to the U.S. When bitten, the neurotoxins in the venom can cause a variety of symptoms including muscle weakness and paralysis, as well as difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing.
Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist, said coral snakes are often wrongly identified as other nonvenomous snakes.
“Eastern coral snakes have a black snout and red, yellow and black bands. The red and yellow bands touch each other,” Armstrong said. “Two nonvenomous snakes that have similar patterns are the scarlet kingsnake and the scarlet snake. These snakes have red bands touching black bands instead of yellow.”
“While rare, bites from coral snakes often happen because the snake was mistakenly identified as a nonvenomous snake.”
Sightings of coral snakes are also rare because they generally live underground in loose soils.
Armstrong said that the look and demeanor of a coral snake can also play a role in mistaking it as a non venomous snake.
“People often know venomous snakes as being large bodied with wider heads and an aggressive nature. This is especially the case in Alabama where this describes many of the venomous snakes in the state,” Armstrong said. “Coral snakes are not considered an aggressive species. They also have a slender body with a short head that is barely wider than the neck.”
Armstrong says it is never a good idea to pick up or mess with any snake, venomous or nonvenomous.
“Even if you think you know what kind of snake it is, it is best to leave it alone,” Armstrong said. “Misidentification is a common reason why people are bitten.”
When identifying the coral snake, Armstrong says there is a common saying that can help people remember the difference between it and the non venomous look-a-likes.
“There is a poem that many people know that helps identify the coral snake,” Armstrong said. “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow. Red touches black, a friend of Jack.”
Armstrong likes to add “black on snout, better look out” to help the public further identify the coral snake.
For more information on the coral snake and other snakes of Alabama, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county Extension office. Outdoor Alabama, the official website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is another information source.
In Text Image: Andrew M. Snyder/ gettyimages