Cryptic or Brilliant Snake Coloration – Which is Better?

Posted by Nancy on 2/20/2018 to All About Reptiles

Question:  If arboreal snakes like tree boas and tree vipers are supposed to use their coloring to blend into the background for survival why are there morphs with such vivid coloring?

Answer:  Mother Nature has evolved the coloration of all animals for only one reason – survival.  The coloring can be used for two purposes.  The cryptic (less colorful) tree boas and eyelash vipers presumably use their coloring to blend into the surrounding habitat.  The splashes of color on these snakes may be used to simulate the dappled lighting coming through the leaves of the trees.  This cryptic coloring may be used to sneak up on or to ambush their prey. This camouflage will help hide them from predators.

The opposite purpose for coloring may be to attract attention.  These colors are often used as a warning to predators as these snakes are often venomous.  The beautiful color schemes of coral snakes, sea snakes and some cobras warn off assailants.  Mimics such as milk snakes have adapted this attention getting method to warn off predators without the venom to back up the coloring.  The coloring of the yellow amazon tree boa and the golden eyelash viper attracts prey within striking distance.  These snakes may look like ripe fruit or flowers which offer food to birds and rodents. Once the prey is close enough, the snake gets a meal.  Young Banded Rock Rattlesnakes use this coloring technique in a limited way. They use the yellow caudle on the tip of its tail to attract prey by wiggling.  Once the prey is close the snake will strike.

So as you see Mother Nature has a plan. Whether with cryptic coloring or vivid coloring, she has provided a way for the snakes in question to survive in the wild.  I don’t know why there is a polar opposite in the coloring scheme, but obviously it works for the snakes.  Now who can tell me which of the snakes below is a milk snake and which is a coral snake?

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