Coral Snake vs King Snake

Coral Snake

There are lots of different kinds of snakes with different strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve always wondered the difference between a king snake and a coral snake. I wanted to learn more, so I did a little research and here’s what I found.

So, what is the difference between a coral snake and a king snake? The main difference between coral snakes and king snakes are their color patterns and whether or not they are venomous. 

Scarlet king snakes have often been confused for coral snakes but they are actually two very different species. Learning that they were different snakes made me want to know why and what truly made them so separate. After doing more research I found a lot of cool facts and even some rhymes that may keep these two snakes apart and yet almost identical. 

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Coral Snakes and Scarlet King Snakes? 

What happens when you come upon a yellow, red, and black snake and want to catch it but are uncertain if it is venomous or not? This scenario might just happen with coral snakes and scarlet king snakes. Coral snakes are beautiful but dangerous while scarlet kink snakes are almost identical in beauty but not harmful to humans. 

Scarlet king snakes and coral snake are mistaken so often because they both are stripped snakes with yellow, red, and black strips.

The red, yellow and black pattern on coral snakes is red yellow black yellow red, for scarlet king snakes, it is red black yellow black red. Coral snakes always have their yellow stripes touching and scarlet coral snakes yellow stripes never touch red. This is important because if you can see red and yellow touching you need to move away from the snake slowly and careful: if you see yellow only touching black you are safe to proceed. 

Another way to try to tell the difference between both of these snakes from far away is to look at their head colors. Scarlet king snakes generally have red heads while coral snakes have black heads. While this is not always 100 percent accurate it is a good general description that can help you differentiate between the two snakes before you get too close. 

Rhymes That Help You Remember How to Tell Whether or Not a Snake is a Coral Snake

While taking a walk through the woods you run into an adorable or scary (depending on your perspective) stripped snake but you don’t know if it is venomous or not. Well have no fear because there is a nifty rhyme that helps people remember how to tell if the snake they are looking at is a coral snake. 

              Red touches black, friend of Jack                 Red touches yellow, kills a fellow  

This little rhyme was invented to help recognize coral snakes but also how to tell the difference between coral snakes and scarlet king snakes. There are a couple of variations on this rhyme that some find easier to remember though if you struggle to remember the original. 

Alternate rhymes: 

Yellow touches red, you’ll be dead                                                                              Black touches red, keep your head 

Red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow                                                                  Red touches black, venom lack 

Why Do People Mistake Coral Snakes and Scarlet King Snakes?

Despite the fact that coral snakes and scarlet king snakes look incredibly alike there are actually a few other reasons that these two snakes are mistaken for each other. The first being location. 

Scarlet king snakes and coral snakes are both located in the South Eastern United States specifically in states like Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Both of these twin snakes like habitats that are wooded, sandy, and marsh-like.

Because of the similarities in these two snakes’ habitats people struggle to be able to tell the difference between them. 

Another reason that these two snakes are hard to differentiate is that they both love to burrow and are exceptionally good at it. Walking down a path in the woods it is very unlikely to see a coral snake or scarlet king snakes slithering around in the trees, although it does happen sometimes, it is way more likely to see one of these little guys hiding in a pile of leaves or poking out of a burrow in the ground. 

Another way that these snakes like to be confusing is their diets. Even though you hopefully wont be using food intake to try and tell the difference between coral snake and scarlet king snakes this information is really cool. Both of these snake make lizards, frogs, and bird eggs a part of their normal diet. The crazy thing about these two different species of snakes is that THEY BOTH EAT OTHER SNAKES! 

Because these snakes have so many similarities like colors, pattern, and even habitats it is hard to see or understand how they are different. There are some major differences that these two snakes have that keep them very seperate. 

Other Major Differences Between Coral Snakes and Scarlet King Snakes

Coral snakes are belong to the same family as cobras, mambas, and sea snakes. This is why they are venomous and why they are so dangerous. Scarlet king snakes on the other hand are a species of king snakes that are only dangerous if you happen to be another snake. 

Their biggest difference though is the fact that scarlet king snakes are not venomous while coral snakes are. 

Scarlet king snakes are fairly small snakes and are far smaller than other species of king snake. They normally only grow to be about a foot and a half. Coral snakes are mammoths compared to scarlet king snake because they grow to be three or four feet in length. This is a huge difference and one that is fairly visible. 

Why do Scarlet King Snakes Look like Coral Snakes?

Many animals and reptiles use camouflage as a way of staying out of danger. Scarlet king snakes cannot camouflage and so instead they mimic a dangerous neighbor. 

Scarlet king snakes have evolved over the years to look like coral snakes so that they could scare away other predators that may be dangerous and would want to hurt them. 

“This type of mimicry, where a harmless species mimics a harmful species, is known as Batesian mimicry”   

Bill Heyborne, a herpetologist and professor of biology at Southern Utah University

Although this evolution was supposed to protect scarlet king snakes it sometimes backfires because humans think they are coral snakes and kill them. Even with this risk though, this intimidation device that is their skin has been helpful for protecting scarlet king snakes. 

Can King Snakes be Harmful to Humans?

Scarlet king snakes and really all king snakes in general are not harmful to human. They are normal very docile snakes and often make for fantastic pets. 

If a scarlet king snake were ever to bite a human it would maybe draw blood but would hurt more than a cat scratch would hurt. As was stated above these little guys like to look harmful for protection but really their “bark” truly is stronger than their bite. 

If you happen to be a snake or want to own two snakes scarlet king snake and all king snakes in general should not be paired together in the same terrarium. King snakes will eat their cage mates and will become very vicious if their home is occupied be another snake. This is even true when trying to mate king snakes, so be very careful. 

Related Questions

Milk Snakes vs. King Snakes? These snakes are very similar and docile. Although they are different snakes, they both belong to the same family. If looking to keep one of these snakes as a pet both are beautiful and make for splendid pets. 

Can Coral Snakes Kill You? Coral snakes are extremely venomous but are rarely fatal to humans. While their venom is very toxic it takes coral snakes multiple bites to be able to inject the kind of venom that can kill a human.

Can a Coral Snake Bite Kill a Dog? Coral snakes can actually be quite venomous and dangerous for dogs, so it is important to take your pet into the vet if you suspect that it has been bit by this venomous snake.  

Gracie Lords

Hi, my name is Gracie Lords and I am a crazy but hilarious English major. I love to write and love even more to edit. I don't love classic literature but probably because I consider Harry Potter to be one of the best books ever. I love learning more and as my husband can attest I have a need to be right, even when I am wrong. I hope you enjoy learning more about snakes!

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