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Coral Snake VS Kingsnake: How Are They Different?

Coral Snake VS Kingsnake: How Are They Different?

It’s true that coral snakes and Kingsnakes are frequently mistaken for one another, and it’s not a difficult mistake to make, given how strikingly similar they’re. They’re both vividly colored and bear similar markings and reside in similar ecosystems. Given how similar they appear, is it possible to distinguish them? It is possible and there are some important distinctions between them.

To begin with, one is deadly, the other quite harmless, and the other is more powerful in comparison to the others. They also kill their prey in various ways and the other is an ally of the other. 

Coral snakes are often smaller than Kingsnakes. Their size range is about 18 to 20 inches whereas a Kingsnake is 24 to 72 inches. Coral snakes are brightly colored meanwhile Kingsnakes tend to be a bit darker.

Let’s have a quick look at a very interesting informative video about the differences between both coral snakes and kingsnakes.

How to tell the difference between snakes

There’s more there is to know about these amazing snakes, so come along with us to learn about their distinct characteristics and precisely what to look for in the poisonous one.

What is a coral snake?

A snake slithering on the ground
Coral snakes are small but deadly

Coral snakes are tiny, vibrantly colored, and highly deadly snakes. They are usually regarded as less harmful than rattlesnakes since coral snakes possess a less efficient venom-delivery system.

Coral snakes are divided into two categories which are: they belong to the Old World coral snakes found in Asia as well as their New World coral snakes found in America.

Coral snakes are thin and tiny, usually, between 18 and 20 inches (45 fifty centimeters) Some species can reach three feet (1 meter). Based on DesertUSA The Western coral snake is slim as pencils. They are characterized by their bulbous, almost neckless heads, round noses, and similar-looking tails. That means it is difficult to differentiate a snake’s neck or tail.

They employ this technique to deceive attackers by burying their heads within their coiled bodies while raising their tails which look like their heads. “The concept behind this technique is that it’s always better to get rid of your tail than lose losing your head,” Varnum said.

When they feel threatened when they are provoked, coral snakes can produce a booming sound, blowing air out of their cloaca. It is a small opening that houses the urinary or reproductive tract, as well as the intestinal tract, and alerts the predator. 

Based on research conducted by Joseph F. Gemano Jr. in an article published in the Reptiles magazine the behavior of these “microparts” was observed in different species, like that of the Western hooked-nosed snake. Scientists are divided on the behavior’s motive. Some speculate that it’s a signal to the mat but Germano claimed that in his study the fart was always connected to aggressive and defensive behavior.

What is a king snake?

A snake on a wood
Kingsnakes are nonvenomous but are still dangerous.

Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes of medium size that kill via constriction. They are among the most commonly encountered snakes that live in North America. They are known as Kingsnakes due to the fact that they can consume other snakes, just as is the case with the King Cobra. Kingsnakes are very popular with pet owners. milk snakes are a species of Kingsnake.

Kingsnakes are part of the family Colubridae and the subfamily Colubrinae. Colubrid snakes form a huge family of snakes with no venom that is found all over the globe including in North America. Kingsnakes are part of the genus Lampropeltis. In Greek, the word translates to “shiny shields” in accordance with The name is fitting for the genus that is known for its clearly defined and glossy scales.

In recent times this classification in recent years has been thrown into doubt. Alan Savitzky, a professor of biological sciences at Utah State University and snake biology expert, attributes the change to advancements in molecular evolutionary research. 

Scientists used to establish subspecies and species classifications by looking at whether snakes crossbreed and create fertile children, scientists now study DNA to determine the degree of closeness between snakes. Based on this information scientists can now categorize snakes into groups based on the extent to which they are on an evolutionary pathway.

Based on these brand new methods of data collection and methods, a group of researchers in a 2009 article published in Zootaxa that a variety of snakes can be classified into subspecies within the general snake (ampropeltis getula) (black kingsnakes and eastern kingsnakes speckled kingsnakes Sonora snakes, and California kingsnakes) — must be classified as distinct species Savitzky said. 

Savitzky also pointed out that the 2013 research paper published in the Journal of Systematic Biology suggested that the scarlet kingsnake previously thought to be a milk snake in the past, actually is a species of its own. Certain publications have embraced the idea, while others refer to them as subspecies of the kingsnake.

Distribution and physical characteristics

The majority of species of kingsnake exhibit striking designs on their skins, with vibrant colors that contrast. The patterns, particularly speckles and bands are able to split the snake’s outline to make it less noticeable to predators such as mammals, birds of prey such as coyotes and foxes, and snakes of other species as per the San Diego Zoo.

Their color can be interpreted through their geographical location in the words of Savitzky. For instance, the further west one is in the eastern part of the kingsnake’s range and the more their color resembles that of the black kingsnake which is found in Tennessee.

As per the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, the snakes have smooth scales and a single anal plate with round pupils, similar to snakes that are not poisonous, and a spoon-shaped head, with an elongated jaw. They usually range from two to six inches (0.6 up to 1.8 meters) in length, based on species.

There are several different kinds of Kingsnakes, they are:

  • Eastern Kingsnake
  • Black Kingsnake
  • Speckled Kingsnake
  • California kingsnake
  • Kingsnake in scarlet

Eastern Kingsnake or Common Kingsnake

They are often referred to as “chain snakes” or “chain kings” due to their distinct patterns that can resemble chains connected to their bodies, according to Savitzky. They sport shiny black scales, with yellowish or white chains that span their backs and join to the sides. As per the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Eastern kingsnakes along the coast usually have large bands whereas those in the mountains of the east have extremely thin bands. They could be almost black.

Eastern Kingsnakes can be found throughout southern New Jersey to north Florida and westwards up to the Appalachians and southern Alabama according to Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Black Kingsnake

The almost black eastern kingsnakes found in the Appalachians change to the black kingsnake species found in the mountains of Tennessee. The snakes range from 4 to five inches (1.2 to 1.5 meters) in length, and range between south Ohio along with the western part of West Virginia to southeastern Illinois and from the south towards northwestern Mississippi as well as northwestern Georgia as per Outdoor Alabama the official web site for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The black kingsnakes look almost jet black, however, they do have yellow or white spots or bands, or even white throats, according to Savitzky.

Speckled Kingsnake

As one moves further west, the tiny areas of black on the kingsnake develop into the vibrant, full markings of the speckled Kingsnake. The snake’s colorful design has a speckle of white or yellow on every scale, according to Savitzky. Scales are brownish or black in hue. The size of the speckles may be distributed evenly and hence the name “salt and pepper snake” or they may be denser in certain areas, resulting in an appearance that is banded.

Speckled kingsnakes can be located in the middle of the United States, ranging from Illinois to Iowa and down towards Alabama and Texas according to Cincinnati Zoo.

California Kingsnake 

This is a tiny species of kingsnake that is typically increasing approximately 2.5 to 4 inches (0.7 to 1.2 meters) according to Rosamond Gifford Zoo. California Kingsnakes are glossy black scales that are adorned with white markings. The majority of California Kingsnakes are white with bands however, some populations also have longitudinal stripes running from their head towards their tails. These populations typically reside found in Southern California. Both colors may appear in the same egg clutch according to Savitzky.

California Kingsnakes can be found all over California, and are found everywhere in the Golden State except in the rainy redwood forests. They are also found in dry regions of Oregon and as far west as Colorado and to the south of Mexico according to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

Kingsnake in Scarlet

“In the past few years it’s been going between an individual species of the Kingsnake Lampropeltis the elapsoidor a species of milk snake Lampropeltis triangulum-elapsoides” Savitzky said.

These are small snakes that range from one to two feet (0.3 to 0.6 millimeters) According to the Virginia Herpetological Society. They can be located throughout central Virginia up to Key West, Florida, and westward across the Mississippi River. This area is shared with deadly coral snakes’, that scarlet kingsnakes imitate in Savitzky’s words. Like coral snakes with venom, the scarlet kingsnakes have red, black, and yellow bands that surround their bodies.

Nonvenomous scarlet snakes evolved to resemble the venomous species to frighten predators. “This kind of mimicry, in which a harmless species imitates an aggressive species, is referred to as Batesian imitation,” said Bill Heyborne who is a herpetologist who is also a professor in biology at Southern Utah University.

Although the color is identical, the pattern is different between scarlet and coral Kingsnakes. Coral snakes are spotted with yellow and red bands next to one another. On the other hand, harmless scarlet kingsnakes feature black and red bands next to one another.

“In regions that have both species, There are many varieties of rhymes, that are used to aid people to identify the two. For instance”Red on Yellow is a killer of a fellow. Red on black is a friend of Jack” stated Heyborne. While Batesian mimicry can be useful in keeping predators out, however, it could create problems for the scarlet kingsnakes. People often kill them believing they’re dangerous.

How do you tell them apart?

Kingsnakes and coral snakes share several significant differentiators. They are first, larger and do not have venom, whereas coral snakes make use of venom when hunting prey. 

Kingsnakes can even be hunting coral snakes. Additionally, the black and red bands of the king snakes connect to one another, while coral snakes have yellow and red bands that connect to each other. Let’s look at the main distinctions between these two snakes!

1. Color

Coral snakes feature distinctive bands in which yellow and red lie close to each other.

While coral snakes and kingsnakes typically have the same appearance, however, there are some distinct differences between the two. Kingsnakes are smooth and shiny scales that are typically black, red, and yellow. The black and red bands typically touch one another.

Coral snakes are brightly colored, and generally have black, red, and yellow stripes. The yellow and red bands typically touch each other. Coral snakes are also known for their short, sharp snouts, with blackheads in front of their eyes. There is a saying that is common in the areas where the king snake and coral snake are found to aid people to recognize the distinction in the species. “Red in yellow killed another while red on black is will be a friend of Jack.”

2. Venom  

One of the most significant and most important distinctions between kingsnakes as well as coral snakes is their venom. The coral snakes are extremely venomous and are the second-strongest venom of any snake. They have long, upright fangs. Their venom is a source of highly potent neurotoxins which alter the brain’s ability to manage muscles. Signs of poisoning include nausea and paralysis, blurred speech as well as muscle twitching. even death.

On the other hand, the kingsnakes do not have fangs, and they don’t carry venom therefore they aren’t dangerous to humans. The teeth of kingsnakes are conical in shape, however, they aren’t huge, which means even a bite won’t be harmful.

3. Size

There’s a significant difference in the size of Kingsnakes in comparison to coral snakes. Kingsnakes are longer than coral snakes, and generally around 24 to 72 inches (6 feet) in length. Coral snakes are typically smaller and typically range between 18 to 20 inches. Yet, New World coral snakes are bigger than Old World coral snakes and may reach as high as 3 feet long.

4. Habitat

There are two kinds of coral snakes, Old World (live in Asia) and New World (live in the Americas). The majority of coral snakes are found in forests or woodlands in which they can burrow beneath the ground or hide in heaps of leaves. However, some snakes are found within areas of desert regions and they usually burrow in soil or sand.

Kingsnakes are common throughout North America and even down to Mexico. They are extremely adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats such as grassland, shrubland rivers, rocky slopes forests, and desert areas.

5. Diet

Kingsnakes are constrictors that take their prey to death by suffocating them.

Kingsnakes along with coral snakes share some slight variations in their diets However, one of the main distinctions is the way in they kill the prey. Coral snakes feed on lizards the frog and many other snakes. Because they are venomous, they attack their prey by using their fangs. Their fangs inject poisonous prey with venom that can paralyze and subdue them prior to taking it in whole.

Kingsnakes eat range mice and rats and lizards, bird snakes, bird eggs, and lizards. Certain species of kingsnakes consume coral snakes! They are “king” aspect of their names is a reference to them as predators that feed on snakes. Kingsnakes are constrictors, and they begin by killing their prey and wrapping their bodies tightly over them until the hearts stop due to a deficiency in blood flow. Although they have teeth, they don’t consume their meals. Instead, they eat their prey in whole after they’ve killed the animal, and then use their tiny teeth to direct it into their throats.

For a summary, have a quick look at this table:

 King SnakesCoral Snakes
SizeTypically, 24 to 72 inches, however, the dimensions vary based on the speciesThe typical range is 18 to 20 inches, however, New World can go as high as 36 inches
LocationNorth America all across the US and up to MexicoAsia(Old World Coral Snakes)
The Americas(New World coral snakes)
HabitatVariable, but it includes grassland, forest, deserts, and shrubland.Forest areas are burrowed underground or beneath leaves. Coral snakes living in areas of desert regions burrow in soil or sand
ColorThe coloration of bands – usually black, red, and yellow, or in varying shades. The black and red bands are in contact with each the otherBrightly colored – typically black as well as red and yellow bands. The yellow and red bands are close to one another
DietLizards as well as rodents, birds, snakes, bird eggs (including poisonous ones)Lizards, frogs, and other snakes
Kill MethodConstrictionSubdue and paralyze prey using their poison
PredatorsPrey-like birds that are large like HawksBirds of prey, such as Hawks as well as other serpents such as King snakes
Lifespan20-30 years7 years old
The difference between a Kingsnake and a Coral Snake


A milksnake in leaves
Coral snakes and Kingsnakes are often confused with each other.

Coral snakes and Kingsnakes are two different kinds of snakes, yet they are often confused with each other due to the similar pattern they carry on their scales.

Coral snakes are small but highly deadly snakes. They’re vibrant in color and are quite venomous. Kingsnakes on the other hand are nonvenomous and often consume other snakes. They are popular with pet owners due to their lack of venom, however, they kill their prey via constriction.

There are many types of snakes out there and sometimes it is difficult to tell which is which. I hope this article helped.

Other Articles

A web story that differentiates coral snakes from kingsnakes can be found here.

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