Eastern Coral Snake

Eastern Coral Snake

Common coral snake, American cobra, Micrurus fulvius, Eastern coral snake, Common coral snake, American cobra

4 languages
Micrurus fulvius
Population size
Life Span
7 yrs
up to 80 cm

Micrurus fulvius, commonly known as the eastern coral snake, common coral snake, American cobra, and more, is a species of highly venomous coral snake in the family Elapidae. The species is endemic to the southeastern United States. It should not be confused with the scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea ) or scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides ), which are harmless mimics. No subspecies are currently recognized.














Highly venomous






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Eastern coral snakes are highly venomous snakes native to the southeastern United States. Their color pattern consists of a series of rings that encircle their bodies: wide red and black rings separated by narrow yellow rings. The head of these snakes is black from the rostral scale to just behind the eyes. The red rings are usually speckled with black. Males have longer tails than females, but females reach a greater total length.



The range of Eastern coral snakes extends from southeastern North Carolina, south through South Carolina and peninsular Florida, and westward through southern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to southeastern Louisiana. These snakes live in hammocks in Florida, as well as glade land, high pine, scrub oak and live oak hammock, slash pine and wiregrass flatwoods. In southern Georgia and Florida, they inhabit dry areas with open ground that are bushy but not heavily vegetated. These snakes are associated with sandy ridges in Mississippi and sandy creek bottoms in Louisiana. They are rarer in North and South Carolina but are usually found there in the scrub oak forests and pitch pine habitats near the coast, as well as the coastal plain of the southeast.

Eastern Coral Snake habitat map

Climate zones

Eastern Coral Snake habitat map
Eastern Coral Snake
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Habits and Lifestyle

Eastern coral snakes are very secretive and spend most of their time underground. They are most active in the spring and fall; during cold months these snakes hibernate in their burrows. These are solitary creatures that do their hunting by day. They move mainly on the ground and usually do not climb trees or shrubs. Eastern coral snakes are not aggressive and when they feel threatened will elevate and curl the tip of their tail and may release gas from their cloaca to frighten predators.

Seasonal behavior


The venom of M. fulvius is a potent neurotoxin with a median LD50 of 1.3 mg/kg SC. Envenomation causes rapid paralysis and respiratory failure in prey. In humans, symptoms include slurred speech, double vision, and muscular paralysis eventually leading to respiratory failure.

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M. fulvius bites and fatalities are very rare. Only two documented fatalities were attributed to this species in the 1950s, and only one has been reported since Wyeth antivenin became available for it in the 1960s. The snakes have a mortality rate between 5–20% The most recent fatality attributed to the eastern coral snake occurred in 2006 (confirmed in 2009 report). The victim failed to seek proper medical attention and died several hours after being bitten, becoming the first fatality caused by M. fulvius in over 40 years.

M. fulvius does not account for many cases of snakebite in the U.S., with only about 100 bites each year. The snake is considered secretive and generally reluctant to bite (its venomous potential was still being debated in the 1880s), and envenomation (i.e., secretion of venom during a strike) is thought to occur in only 40% of all bites. Unlike New World pit vipers, this New World coral snake cannot control the amount of primarily neurotoxic venom injected. Dry bites often result from a near miss or deflection; although the venom an adult coral snake holds is enough to kill up to five adults, it cannot release all its venom in a single bite. Historically, however, the mortality rate was estimated to be about 10–20%, with death occurring in as little as one to two hours, or as much as 26 hours after the bite. This is not that surprising, since the LD100 for humans is estimated to be 4–5 mg of dried venom, while the average venom yield is 2–6 mg with a maximum of more than 12 mg. This is probably why current standard hospital procedure in the U.S. is to start with antivenin therapy for coral snake bites, even if no symptoms are found yet.

Wyeth discontinued the manufacture of coral snake antivenin in 2010, citing a lack of profitability. Pfizer has also decided to halt production of its antivenin for similar reasons (see Coral snake antivenom shortage). As of July 2021, Pfizer indicates that antivenom is available and one source states that production has resumed.

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Diet and Nutrition

Eastern coral snakes are carnivores. They eat lizards, frogs, and smaller snakes, including other coral snakes

Mating Habits

late spring, early fall
60-70 days
3-12 eggs

Eastern coral snakes breed in late spring and early fall. Females lay 3 to 12 eggs usually underground or under leaf litter. The incubation period lasts around 60 to 70 days. Baby coral snakes measure approximately 18-23 cm (7-9 in) at birth and are venomous. Young females become reproductively mature at 21-27 months of age while males attain reproductive maturity when they are 11-21 months old.


Population threats

The main threats to Eastern coral snakes include habitat destruction due to residential and commercial development and mortality on roads. In Alabama, this species suffers from the introduction of the fire ant, which preys on eggs and baby coral snakes.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Eastern coral snake total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Eastern coral snakes have many common names among which are: candy-stick snake, coral adder, Elaps harlequin snake, Florida coral snake, harlequin coral snake, North American coral snake, red bead snake, thunder-and-lightning snake and, in Spanish, Serpiente-coralillo arlequín (literally "harlequin coral snake").
  • People who live in the natural range of Eastern coral snakes are often taught a folk rhyme as children such as: "Red next to black, safe from attack; red next to yellow, you're a dead fellow," or "Red touching black, friend of Jack; red touching yellow, you're a dead fellow", or simply "red and yellow kill a fellow". These rhymes are useful in teaching children to distinguish kingsnakes (Lampropeltis ssp.), which are considered helpful predators of vermin such as rats and mice, from this much more dangerous snake that should only be handled by an experienced biologist or herpetologist. However, this rhyme is only applicable to the United States species, and cannot be used reliably in the Caribbean, or Central or South America.


1. Eastern Coral Snake on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micrurus_fulvius
2. Eastern Coral Snake on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/64025/12737582

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