Coral Snakes in Florida – AZ Animals

Florida is home to an astonishing variety of snakes, most of them totally harmless. Still, there are a few snakes in the state that are quite dangerous and potentially deadly. Of all of the venomous snakes in Florida, none is more secretive than the coral snake. Although its name may deceive you, this snake doesn’t dwell in the ocean. Today, we are going to be learning to identify coral snakes in Florida and learn a little about their mimics.

What is a coral snake?

Coral snakes are some of the most venomous snakes in the US, but they are rarely ever seen.

Picture CreditJay Ondreicka/

Coral snakes belonging to the Micrurinae subfamily are native to the Americas and are classified as some of the most dangerous New World snakes around. All coral snakes (New and Old World) belong to the Elapidae family and are related to cobras. There are 65 recognized species of New World coral snakes, all of which are venomous.

Although there are many species of coral snakes, most of them live in Central and South America. Additionally, coral snakes are extremely elusive and spend most of their time hidden underground and in the brush. The likelihood of running into a coral snake is extremely rare, and most people usually sight their mimics thinking they saw one. Luckily, coral snakes, even when confronted, rarely bite. They are extremely passive creatures and don’t bite unless seriously provoked.

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There is one true coral snake found in Florida, with a secondary subspecies that can be found in some regions. Let’s learn how to identify them.

Coral snakes in Florida

Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius)

Coral Snakes in Florida
The eastern coral snake has a unique banding pattern that warns off predators.

The only coral snake species that live in across the southeastern United States is known as the eastern coral snake. The eastern coral snake is a slender, medium-length snake that rarely grows past 30 inches in length.

Identification: The best way to identify a coral snake is through its unique coloring. Eastern coral snakes have a pattern of banding that goes from their head to their tails. The pattern has repeating bands that go: thick black band, thin yellow band, thick red band. There is a famous mnemonic that reads: “red touch yellow, kill a fellow,” and this is true only for North American coral snakes. Eastern coral snakes never have bands of red touching bands of black, but they occasionally have small spots or faded blotches of black on their red bands. Another “tell” for coral snakes is their inky black head, as most mimics have red heads.

Distribution: The eastern coral snake can be found across the entire state of Florida and lives from North Carolina all the way through Florida and west through Louisiana.

South Florida coral snake (M. fulvius barbouri)

Although the eastern coral snake is the only recognized species of coral snake in Florida, there is an occasionally recognized subspecies called the south Florida coral snake. There is little information on what differentiates a south Florida coral snake from an eastern coral snake, although a few scientific papers cite this subspecies specifically.

Commonly misidentified as coral snakes

These are a few of the snakes that look nearly identical to the eastern coral snake and can be easily misidentified. Here’s how to differentiate them.

scarlet kingsnake

Coral Snakes in Florida
The red on black of the scarlet kingsnakes allows for easy identification.

Picture CreditJay Ondreicka/

The scarlet kingsnake is a mimic coral snake that can be found across the entire state of Florida and even into the Keys. They belong to the lampropeltis family and are classified as kingsnakes, although some people refer to them as milk snakes.

These snakes are generally more vibrant in color than coral snakes, although they have the same exact colors across their bodies. The best way to tell the difference between scarlet kingsnakes and coral snakes is the pattern of the banding and the head. Scarlet kingsnakes have a banding pattern that goes: thick red, thin black, thin yellow, and then repeats. The key is that the black and red bands are touching, whereas coral snake bands don’t. Additionally, the heads of scarlet kingsnakes are usually tipped in red, whereas coral snakes are black.

florida scarlet snake

Coral Snakes in Florida
Scarlet snakes have incomplete bands and white bellies.

Picture CreditChase D’Animulls/

The Florida scarletsnake (often called the scarletsnake) is another coral snake mimic that can be found across the state of Florida, save the Keys. They belong to the Cemophora family and are not kingsnakes or milksnakes, which they are often misidentified as.

The best way to identify a scarletsnake is its coloration. They have an identical band pattern to the scarlet kingsnake, but instead of yellow, their coloration is more whitish or cream. The best “tell” for a scarlet snake is their banding completion and belly coloration. Whereas coral snakes and scarlet kingsnake have banding that wraps around their body, the scarletsnake has a white body, and the bands end near their sides. Additionally, their bellies often have a checkerboard white and black pattern.

corn snake

Coral Snakes in Florida
Corn snakes are red and orange but they don’t have any banding like coral snakes.

Picture CreditEnrique Ramos/

The corn snake is a rat snake that belongs to the Pantherophis genes. They are closely related to the eastern and grat ratsnake but have a distinct coloration and are commonly kept as pets.

Corn snakes are orange or red with large splotches or red or brownish-red down their backs. Their bellies are usually white and black, resembling flint corn, which is how they got their name. They are incredibly beautiful snakes that pose no threat to humans in any way.

What is a coral snake mimic?

Coral Snakes in Florida
Coral snake mimics gain an evolutionary advantage by passively keeping predators away.

Picture CreditTheTexasNaturalist/

If you haven’t noticed from the many mimics we’ve listed already, there are lots of nonvenomous snakes that are nearly identical to the venomous coral snake. These mimics have evolved to maintain these colorations as predators understand that preying on coral snakes is usually a quick way to die. If something looks like a coral snake, it’s better to stay away totally. This process of mimicking for defense is known as Batesian mimicry and is a common tactic that gives a distinct evolutionary advantage.

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