The King snake vs. Coral snake look strikingly similar, and it’s no surprise that people often mistake one for the other. They both have vibrant colours and unique stripes that stand out in a crowd. However, there’s a crucial difference between these two snakes. While one is completely harmless to humans, the other is highly venomous and can pose a severe threat to our safety.
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So how can you tell them apart? The safest way is to remember the rhyme “Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on the black, friend of Jack.” The Coral snake has red bands touching its yellow bands, while the King snake has red bands touching its black bands.
What is a Coral Snake?
There are over 80 species of coral snakes found worldwide, divided into Old World and New World categories. The New World coral snakes, with about 65 species, are predominantly found in America, while Asia is home to all 16 diverse species of Old World coral snakes.
Coral snakes possess venom that can be lethal to humans, causing paralysis and potentially leading to death. Symptoms of a coral snake bite include nausea, distorted speech, intense pain, dizziness, and respiratory problems. These snakes typically display a distinct red and yellow banded pattern, so if you encounter a snake with these colours, it is best to retreat.
Coral snakes are commonly found in temperate regions of the United States, particularly in areas like the forests of North Carolina and the southern regions of Louisiana and Florida, where snake bites are more prevalent. They inhabit various habitats such as grasslands, forests, mountains, semi-arid areas, and deserts, and primarily feed on smaller snakes, lizards, frogs, and eggs.
What is a King Snake?
Now, let’s shift our focus to King Snakes. King Snakes belong to the genus Lampropeltis, which translates to “shiny shields,” and they are large and non-venomous snakes. Numerous species of King Snakes can be found in the United States. They can grow as long as 24 to 60 inches and typically feature red and brown or red and black paired markings with a touch of yellow. This resemblance to coral snakes often leads to confusion between the two species.
King snakes primarily inhabit North America, particularly the regions bordering the United States and Mexico, including deserts and tropical rainforests. Their diet consists of rodents, birds, lizards, eggs, rattlesnakes, other inferior snakes, and even coral snakes.
Each species of King Snake has its own unique name, including the Common King Snake, Scarlet King Snake, Central Plains Milk Snake, Prairie King Snake, and many more.
5 Major Differences Between King Snake and Coral Snake: King Snake vs. Coral Snake
Even if you’ve skimmed through the previous information, distinguishing between coral snakes and king snakes can still be challenging. Their physical resemblance can deceive unless you have a keen eye. But fret not! Below, you’ll find five distinct differences that will help you never confuse these snakes again.
Both coral and king snakes share similar colour patterns, making it tricky to tell them apart. However, the arrangement of these colour markings differs. While both snakes have red, black, and yellow bands, on a king snake, the red band only touches the black band. Additionally, king snakes have shiny and smooth scales. On the other hand, the red band of a coral snake always touches the yellow bands.
We already established that one of these snakes is venomous, while the other is harmless to humans. Coral snakes produce highly poisonous venom, making them the second most venomous snakes in the world. Their venom contains potent neurotoxins that disrupt muscle control functions, leading to paralysis, muscle twitching, vomiting, and even death if not promptly treated. Coral snakes have unique, short, and erect fangs that allow them to firmly hold their prey.
In contrast, king snakes lack fangs and do not release venom. Their small conical teeth pose no harm to humans if they bite. Thus, king snakes are entirely harmless.
A noticeable physical difference lies in the length of both snakes. King snakes are typically longer, reaching lengths of 24 to 72 inches, while coral snakes grow anywhere from 18 to 20 inches. As a general rule, New World coral snakes (found in the Americas) tend to be longer than Old World coral snakes (found in Asia).
Coral snakes can be found across both Asia and America. They prefer hiding underneath leaves, making wooded areas and forests their likely habitats. However, they also inhabit desert areas, concealing themselves in the sand.
On the other hand, king snakes are found in North America and Mexico. They are adaptable and can thrive in various habitats, including deserts, forests, shrublands, river slopes, valleys, and grasslands.
This is where the name “King” snake comes into play. King snakes feed on other snakes, along with a varied diet consisting of bird eggs, birds, mice, lizards, and rats. They even prey on coral snakes, their visual rivals. Coral snakes, on the other hand, are inferior in terms of diet and primarily feed on frogs, lizards, and small snakes.
Bottom Line on King Snake vs. Coral Snake
King snakes and coral snakes may appear similar in physical appearance, but it’s essential to note the critical differences between these two species. The most significant contrast is that coral snakes are venomous, while king snakes are not. However, there are more variations to explore, such as the pattern of their stripes and the shape of their head. For instance, a coral snake has a wide head and round pupils, whereas a king snake has a narrow head and round pupils.
What is the strongest king snake?
The California king snake
Is the king snake a harmless snake that looks very similar to coral snakes?
The king snake is a nonvenomous species found across much of North America that offers great beauty to onlookers with its shiny, black scales and contrasting white or cream bands. Its striking resemblance to the highly venomous coral snake is often a cause of confusion for many people. However, the two species can be differentiated by examining their banding patterns.
What is the difference between a king cobra and a king snake?
While both share the name “king,” they are significantly different from each other. The king cobra is venomous and is one of the largest venomous snakes in the world, while the king snake is nonvenomous and smaller in size. Additionally, their physical appearances also vary greatly, with the king cobra having a distinct hood on its neck and a longer body than the king snake.
What is the difference between a coral snake and a milk snake?
If you ever come across a snake in the wild, it is crucial to be able to quickly determine whether it is venomous or not. Two species that are commonly mistaken for each other are the coral snake and the milk snake. While both have a similar appearance of red, black, and yellow bands, the order in which these colours appear is the key to identifying them correctly. Remember the phrase, “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, venom lack” to quickly and easily distinguish the deadly coral snake from the non-venomous milk snake.
On the surface, king snakes and coral snakes might be mistaken for twins. Their physical appearance is nearly identical, which can make them hard to distinguish apart. However, it’s what’s underneath the surface that separates them. Coral snakes are dangerously venomous, and their bites can be lethal. On the other hand, king snakes are harmless, making them free to roam with ease. Of course, there are additional differences to learn about these two reptiles. Take some time to dig deeper into their characteristics, and you’ll be surprised at what you discover.
Rahul M Suresh
Visiting the Zoo can be an exciting and educational experience for all involved. As a guide, I have the privilege of helping students and visitors alike to appreciate these animals in their natural habitat as well as introducing them to the various aspects of zoo life. I provide detailed information about the individual animals and their habitats, giving visitors an opportunity to understand each one more fully and appreciate them in a more intimate way.