We recently received a phone asking if we moved snakes. We will move snakes for anyone. Then he asked if we rescued snakes. Of course we would, but what were we rescuing the snake from? It seems that a coral snake had fallen down inside the cattle guard at his gate. Now for those of you who are not familiar with the construction of cattle guards, they are four sides of a box without a bottom and grates across the top. The cattle guard is recessed into the ground, so essentially it is a pitfall trap.
This rescue turned out to be harder than we thought it would be. This Arizona Coral Snake was only about 14 inches long and chasing it around the box became humorous. The pipe grates and cross bars kept us from reaching the little guy. Finally I was able to use a snake hook to gently move the snake into a corner and Tom was able to grasp it with standard snake tongs.
There are three coral snakes in the United States the Eastern, Texas and Arizona. The Eastern Coral Snake ranges from Florida to North Carolina. Narrow bright yellow rings separate wider black and red rings and they can reach a length of thirty-nine inches. The Texas Coral Snake ranges from the middle of Texas to Louisiana. It also can reach a length of thirty-nine inches. The Texas Coral Snake has the same color pattern of the Eastern but has black spots in the red bands. The Arizona Coral Snake can reach a length of 24 inches and the yellow is often a light off white color. This red, yellow and black coloration is important because within the United States the rhyme "Red to Yellow Kills a Fellow, Red to Black Venom Lack." applies. It will help you distinguish it from the Scarlet Kingsnake, Scarlet Snake, milksnakes and Mountain Kingsnakes.
All species of coral snakes have almost-neckless heads and it can be hard to tell the head from the tail. This characteristic is one line of defense. The snakes will bury their head within the coils of their bodies and wave their tails. Hopefully the predator will attack the tail instead of the head. Another line of defense according to Joseph Gemano Jr. is their ability to make a popping sound. This sound is made by expelling air from the cloaca. The cloaca is the single opening for the intestinal, reproductive and urinary tracts. Gemano associates this noise with an aggressive-defensive behavior. Some scientists feel this noise is a mating call. Obviously more research is needed.
The coral snake is believed to have the second strongest venom only behind the Black Mamba. However, the coral snake has a less effective delivery system for the venom than rattlesnakes. The fangs of the coral snake are fixed and cannot be retracted like a rattlesnake. The fangs are fragile, breaking easily and they must use a chewing motion to deliver the venom. Also, their mouths are relative small. This combination makes human bites difficult. Most human bites result when people pick up the snakes. In fact, the National Geographic has reported no deaths in the United States since the 1960s and no deaths ever from the Arizona Coral Snake. However, the toxicity of the venom can be very painful and symptoms include double vision, slurred speech and muscular paralysis. If not treated, the paralysis can lead to cardiac arrest.
The little Arizona Coral Snake we rescued was released next to the cattle guard and was last seen heading through the grass. We felt the gentleman who called us had definitely saved the snake's life and deserved a reward. What better way than to give him a coral snake cap!