This was a Texas coral snake, Micrurus tener tener in Galveston County, Texas. The eastern coral snake, Micrurus fulvius fulvius, is very similar in appearance, and differs primarily in the distribution of black mottling within the red segments. To the uninitiated, the harmless milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum annulata, (see PHIL# 8142), is often mistaken for this highly venomous counterpart. In contrast to the vipers, the fangs of the coral snakes and other elapids are short hollow structures that are permanently fixed in position on the anterior maxillary bones, i.e., proteroglyphous dentation (Porter, 1972). Because of their small size and short fangs, the North American coral snakes pose little risk to individuals wearing appropriate clothing and footwear. Most human envenomations occur on the hands after a coral snake was erroneously identified as a harmless king snake, and intentionally handled (Kitchens 1987).
Coral snakes are small, brightly colored members of the family Elapidae, and are the only members of this family that are native to North America. Two similarly appearing, but distinct species of coral snakes inhabit the hurricane-prone regions of the U.S., which is of importance to those living in these regions, and first-responders. These are the eastern coral snake, Micrurus fulvius fulvius, and pictured here, the Texas coral snake M. tener tener. Both have the characteristic pattern of wide red and black rings separated by thinner yellow rings, and can be readily distinguished from the similarly-colored harmless king, milk and scarlet snakes by the infamous rhyme, “red on yellow kill a fellow”. It should be noted however, that this color rule does not apply to many of the medically important species from Mexico, Central and South America (Campbell and Lamar 2004).