Be Adventurous! / Be Prepared! / Environment / Safety / Scouting / Sports & Recreation

Creature (Dis)Comforts, Part II: Coral Snakes

In the last post, we took a look at that bizarre creepy crawler, the scorpion. I’ve always thought I should like them more than I do; I’m a Scorpio by birth, after all. In fact, based on birth place and time, I’m actually a triple Scorpio. So don’t mess with me.

Anyway, we’re taking a look at some poisonous critters in the ‘hood right now, and that leads me to a really dangerous neighbor: the coral snake.


My walking partner (and Virtual Troop Leader) Adrienne was the one to spot it. She was lucky she didn’t step on it, actually, but I’m glad she pointed it out. We weren’t sure what it was until we looked it up online.

Spotted on a regular morning walk with my friend Adrienne. This snake was (happily) not interested in engaging us.

But here’s the picture — it really is a coral snake, not to be confused with a similarly banded milk snake. As vivid as it is, I’m impressed at how well it blends into the leaves

How can you tell the difference? Just remember this little rhyme: “Red on yellow, poison fellow; red on black, safe from attack.”

It’s one of four poisonous snakes found in Texas, the others being the rattlesnake, copperhead, and cotton mouth. I’m not the kind of gal who plays with snakes, but I’m glad my dog Freida was thoroughly disinterested in this one. A bite would’ve meant some serious trouble.

Here’s a little good news: coral snakes aren’t particularly aggressive. This is completely in line with our observation; this snake was pretty quick to bury itself in leaves and slither away from us. So there’s that.

And a little more (kind of) good news: coral snakes have much smaller fangs than, say, a rattlesnake. In fact, their venom is actually delivered through their teeth. And because it’s not a really big snake, it means that there really isn’t a quick delivery of loads of venom. The snake pictured here was about a foot and a half long, I’d say.

Having said that, there’s some dispute over how, exactly, that venom is delivered. Most resources suggest that the snake must actually chew on its victim, and each bit releases more venom. The folks at Snake Removal beg to differ. They would like you to know that, “Contrary to common belief, the maximum amount of venom can be delivered without chewing; the venom deliver is related to the duration of time the snake is attached, not how many times it bites its prey.”

Either way, coral snakes account for fewer than one percent of snake bites in the U.S., and only about 10 percent of “bitees” die.

This stat probably explains why there was an anti-venom — but it’s about to become pretty hard to find.

Wha? No available anti-venom??

Yep. Pfizer used to make the anti-venom (well, Wyeth made it, but they were bought by Pfizer), and it’s crazy expensive (over $1500/vial). Production actually stopped in 2003, and according to the FDA, remaining supplies are (obviously) diminishing and in pretty short supply. You’d think any drug made in 2003 would’ve already expired by this time, but the FDA says the existing supply is still safe and effective through… October 31, 2012.

Wait. That’s, like, two weeks from now. Oh, dear. Apparently, in this supply and demand world, looks like there’s not a lot of demand for the high-priced anti-venom.

Now there’s no way a smart scout would get bitten by a coral snake. Smart scouts don’t camp in flip-flops. But what happens if her crazy friend gets a honkin’ dose of venom from a coral snake?

Symptoms & Treatment

According to Web MD, severe symptoms won’t be immediately felt. Let me quote:

“At first, mild pain may be the only symptom of a coral snake bite. Within 90 minutes, a feeling of weakness or numbness may occur in the bitten extremity. Other symptoms may appear up to 12 to 24 hours after a bite. Symptoms may include:

— Increased salivation and drooling.

— Drowsiness or euphoria.

— Slurred speech.

— Nausea and vomiting.

— Numbness and tingling. 

Symptoms that occur less often include double vision, difficulty breathing, sweating, muscle aches, and confusion.”

You know what this tells me? FRIGGIN’ CALL 911 or POISON CONTROL (1-800-222-1222) right away! Just because you don’t feel horrible doesn’t mean a small part of hell ain’t coming your way.

But let’s say you’ve got to wait some time for rescue. Here’s what our scout should — and should not — do until help arrives:

  • Encourage calm. Yes, i know it’s easier said than done. But just breathe and do it.
  • Take off anything that might be binding the wound (like rings on a finger). There might be swelling around the bite.
  • It’s okay for the victim to lie down, but don’t elevate the bite above his/her heart. We don’t want that venom coursing towards it any faster than it might.
  • Follow direct guidance from 911 or Poison Control, and don’t assume they do it right in the movies. In other words,
    •      Don’t cut into the wound with a knife or try to suck out the poison just because you saw it in a John Ford western.
    •      Don’t give any kind of medication unless instructed.
    •      Don’t apply a tourniquet or compress of any kind unless instructed.
  • You might be tempted to capture the snake to show it to healthcare pros. Be warned: post-mortem reflexes mean that snakes can bite for several hours after their death. Caution, people, caution on this one.
  • Feel free to sing a song to or with the victim. I didn’t read this anywhere, but I don’t see how it could hurt, and it could help, imho.

Whew. That’s enough of the creepy crawlers for now. Stay safe, people, and don’t forget your close-toed shoes out there in the wild.


4 thoughts on “Creature (Dis)Comforts, Part II: Coral Snakes

  1. Just a few other tidbits about ye Olde Coral Snake. Not only are the fangs very small but also they are in the back of the mouth and thus they have to “gnaw” on ya a bit to get any venom in the wound. Most folks get bit on the hands or feet while asleep while outdoors. That being said, they are also only on of 2 snake species in the USA with neurotoxin instead of hemotoxin. Neurotoxins affect the nervous system by paralyzing involuntary muscles like the diaphragm. Hemotoxins break down the red blood cells, taking longer to affect the victim than a neurotoxin.


    *°▼/;>)~ ☺

  2. There is at least one other poisonous snake in Texas, the ground rattler (pygmy rattler). It isn’t a true rattlesnake since it doesn’t have a rattle. It shakes the end of its tail as though it has one. It’s a species of pit viper about the size of a coral snake or maybe a little bit smaller. Unlike the coral snake, it is not so easy to see and it’s very aggressive. One chased my grandfather one time and tried to slither up his pants leg. I had one get in my house one time and, not knowing what it was, we put it in a terrarium for a day or so. Then we found out it was poisonous and kinda freaked.

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