King Snake Versus Coral Snake

When it comes to identifying venomous snakes in North America, two species frequently cause confusion: the king snake and the coral snake.

The king snake and coral snake share some physical similarities, such as their vibrant patterns of red, black, and yellow bands. However, there are distinct differences between these two snakes that can help you differentiate them and avoid any potential danger.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the differences between king snakes and coral snakes, including their physical characteristics, habitats, behaviors, and venom.

Physical Characteristics

One of the most obvious differences between the king snake and the coral snake is their banding pattern. Coral snakes have alternating bands of red, yellow, and black, while king snakes have broad bands of black and white or brown and yellow. The bands on king snakes are typically thicker and wider than those on coral snakes.

Another distinguishing feature between these two types of snakes is their head size and shape. Coral snakes have small, rounded heads, while king snakes have elongated heads that are slightly wider than their necks.

Additionally, king snakes have smooth scales that are shiny and reflective, while coral snakes have dull scales with a matte finish. Coral snakes are also typically smaller than king snakes, with an average length of 2-3 feet compared to the 3-6 feet of king snakes.

Habitat and Behavior

King snakes and coral snakes have different habitats and behaviors. Coral snakes prefer a warm and humid environment and are commonly found in the southeastern United States, from Florida to Texas. They can also be found in tropical regions in Central America and South America.

Coral snakes are reclusive and usually stay hidden under plant debris or in burrows. They are not usually aggressive and will only bite if they are threatened or provoked.

King snakes, on the other hand, are found in a wider range of habitats and regions, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and even urban areas. They are more active and outgoing than coral snakes and will sometimes venture into open areas to hunt for prey.

King snakes are also known for their unique behavior of killing and eating other snakes, including venomous ones like coral snakes. This behavior has earned them the nickname “snake eaters” and has made them valuable in controlling populations of other snakes.


Coral snakes are considered to be highly venomous and should be avoided at all costs. Their venom contains a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system and can cause respiratory failure, leading to death.

King snakes, on the other hand, are not venomous to humans. While they may have some mild venom that can be harmful to their prey, it is not dangerous to humans. However, king snakes are still powerful predators with strong jaws and should be treated with caution.

Final Thoughts

In summary, while king snakes and coral snakes may look similar at first glance, there are several differences between them that can help you identify them and stay safe. If you encounter a snake in the wild and are unsure whether it is a king snake or a coral snake, it is best to keep your distance and seek the help of a professional. Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to dealing with venomous snakes.