Eastern Coral Snake, Micrurus fulvius (DANGEROUS: DON'T YOU HOLD ONE!)
ew poisonous snake
species occur in North America, and they are all easy to identify as venomous. Several
non-venomous snakes mimic
the venomous ones. The venomous ones fall into two
- The Coral Snakes, of which there are 2 species, one
of them shown above. Red in the map below shows the approximate distributions of both
species, the Eastern Coral Snake living from Texas to North Carolina and the Arizona
Coral Snake in southern Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico. Therefore, most North
American backyards, even if they adjoin a wilderness area, will never harbor a coral
snake. Coral snakes are easy to identify, with boldly colored, broad, alternating bands
(not long lines) of red, yellow and black. A number of harmless snake species also have broad alternating bands of these
colors, but the coral snake's colored bands are arranged in a unique sequence, which you
can remember with this poem: Red on yellow/ Will kill a
fellow. Thus the red bands are always framed with yellow bands. Most
but not all harmless look-alike snakes have their red bands framed with black. Sometimes
the yellow bands are almost white.
- The Pit Vipers -- 17 species in all -- include rattlesnakes,
copperheads, and water moccasins, found throughout most of the
U.S. All members of the pit viper family share two characteristics that separate them from
all other clobbered snakes (boas and pythons can also have these features):
- As the copperhead photo at the right shows, they have cat-eyes --
the black pupil is shaped like the cross section of a vertically positioned convex lens.
- There's a pit, or hole, between the snake's eyes and its nostrils (thus
the name pit viper). This pit is heat-sensitive, enabling the snake to locate warm-blooded
prey in total darkness. This is also clearly visible in the above picture, between the
bottom of the eye and the bottom of the nostril. See it?
Of course, if you live within easy walking distance of a more or less natural
area where pit vipers are known to occur, you won't want to approach any unknown living
snake to see if its pupils are convex and if it bears heat-sensitive pits. To identify
venomous snakes from beyond striking distance you must study pictures of the poisonous
species in your area and commit the details of their appearances to memory. There is
no short-cut. Pit vipers do tend to have more or less heart-shaped heads because of the
bulging poison glands behind their eyes. However, many harmless snakes also have more or
less heart-shaped heads.
Conrad, Jim. Last updated .
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