How to Tell the Difference Between a Coral Snake and a Scarlet King Snake

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The coral snake is a venomous and potentially deadly snake that can be found in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and other areas of the southern United States. The scarlet king snake is also found in the southeastern United States, especially in Florida. The coral snake and the scarlet king snake look very similar; they both have red, yellow and black bands, so many people have a hard time differentiating between the venomous coral snake and the non-venomous scarlet king snake.

Things You'll Need

  • A View of the Snake's Head
  • A View of the Snake's Ring Pattern
  • A View of the Snake's Snout Shape
  • A View of the Snake's Tail Tip
  • Look at the ring pattern on the snake's skin and determine if red and yellow rings are touching; if so, this is a venomous coral snake. On a coral snake, the ring pattern is: red, yellow, black, yellow, red. In the case of a scarlet king snake, the ring pattern is: red, black, yellow, black, red.

  • Determine if the snake has a black and yellow tail. The venomous coral snake's tail - the last few inches of his body - has only black and yellow bands with no red present. Unlike the venomous coral snake, the non-venomous scarlet king snake's band pattern remains the same throughout the length of his body.

  • Look at the color of the snake's head and determine if it's head is black or red and black. The coral snake's head is black, whereas the scarlet king snake's snout and most of the head is red (with a small area of black on top of the head).

  • Determine if the snake has a red pointy snout or a blunt, rounded black snout. The scarlet king snake has a red pointy snout, whereas the coral snake has a black rounded snout.

Tips & Warnings

  • There is a simple rhyme to remember how to identify a coral snake: "Red on yellow will kill a fellow; red on black, pat his back."
  • In juvenile scarlet king snakes, the yellow rings will appear more off-white in color.
  • If you're unsure whether a snake is venomous, you should keep your distance.
  • If a human or pet has been bitten by an unidentified snake, assume it's venomous and seek emergency treatment.
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