This was a 'Texas coral' snake, Micrurus tener tener in Galveston County, Texas. The 'eastern coral' snake, Micrurus fulvius fulvius, is very similar in appearance, and differs primarily in the distribution of black mottling within the red segments. To the uninitiated, the harmless 'milk snake', Lampropeltis triangulum annulata, (see PHIL# 8142), is often mistaken for this highly venomous counterpart. In contrast to the vipers, the fangs of the coral snakes and other elapids are short hollow structures that are permanently fixed in position on the anterior maxillary bones, i.e., proteroglyphous dentation (Porter, 1972). Because of their small size and short fangs, the North American coral snakes pose little risk to individuals wearing appropriate clothing and footwear. Most human envenomations occur on the hands after a coral snake was erroneously identified as a harmless king snake, and intentionally handled (Kitchens 1987).
CDC/ Edward J. Wozniak D.V.M., Ph.D.
October 30, 2012