FAQ's About Coral Snakes
How many bites occur each year?
An average of 47 bites to humans are reported to Florida poison centers each year.
How can the eastern coral snake be identified?
Multi-colored rings encircle its body with red, black and yellow bands. Every other band is yellow. Red bands touch yellow bands. The nose is black. The pupils are round.
Teeth are small (see bite pattern diagram). It does NOT have large fangs like pit vipers. The head is the same width as the rest of the body and does NOT have a large head like pit vipers. The average size is about two feet long.
Where are coral snakes found?
They are only found in the southeastern USA (see map). Their preferred habitat is pine/oak scrub, but they have been sighted in suburbs.
What is the Latin name and classification for eastern coral snakes?
Micrurus fulvius in Elapidae family.
About coral snakebites:
For emergency assistance, please call 911 for EMS transport to your closest hospital. To notify experts of your envenomation, please contact your regional poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
About snakebite toxicity: What happens when a person is bitten?
The neurotoxic effects of the coral snake venom are manifested by muscle weakness, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, unable to move eyelids (ptosis), blurred vision (diplopia), tongue fasciculations (twitching), decreased oxygen saturation, paralysis, and potential respiratory arrest. A patient may face weeks of ventilator support with subsequent pneumonia, tracheotomy and multi-system failure. Long term rehabilitation may be needed for neuromuscular damage. Prophylactic use of antivenom, which has long been the recommendation of poison centers, has been effective in preventing these signs and symptoms. Case reports of patients in which antivenom was delayed show that symptoms can progress to paralysis over a 12-18 hours period. In the last 40 years, there has been one fatality reported when a person failed to seek medical treatment after a bite.
What does the bitten area (bite site) look like?
The coral snake may deliver venom by hanging on to chew but can also deliver venom in one quick strike. Blood at the puncture site signals that the skin has been broken and a possible envenomation has occurred. The mild signs around the bitten area and the delayed onset of symptoms (up to 18 hours) often lead people to believe that no damage has been done.
About medical treatment: How effective is the antivenin treatment?
Before the antivenin was developed in 1967, the fatality rate was reported as high as 10-20%. Since then, the recommended treatment involves giving antivenin as soon as possible after a bite. Call the poison center for advice on each coral snakebite.
Go to emergency department immediately. Do not apply tourniquets. Do not apply ice. Do not cut the skin and suck the bite.