30 May 2011

Red, Yellow, & Black

This morning when I arrived at work I saw several people standing around and looking down at a couple of snakes that our watchman killed because he thought they were poisonous. When I took a look at the snakes I quickly dismissed the notion that they were poisonous but with this type of snake the mistake is quite common. In Florida and along the Gulf into Northeastern Mexico there is a snake called the Coral snake that has bands of red, yellow, and black along its body. It is quite venomous and there are several subspecies. In Texas it is called the "Texas Coral Snake" and in Mexico it is commonly called "El Coralillo" (Kohr-ah-LEE-yoh). However, there is a non-venomous snake called the "Scarlet King Snake" in English, and "El Serpiente Escarlata Real" in Spanish, that looks something like the Coral snake but with several differences.

The Scarlet King snake rarely gets over twenty inches in length while the Coral snake can grow to thirty inches or more. The bands of color are also different. The colors alternate red, yellow, black, yellow, on the Coral Snake and on the Scarlet King snake the colors are red, black, yellow, black. When I was a Boy Scout (fifty years ago) they taught us a little rhyme to help us tell the difference. It went:

Red to yellow
Kill a fellow.
Red to black
Venom lack.

In the photos below you can see a Coral snake that was killed by a laborer near Monterrey, Mexico where I was working in 1999. Below that there is a photo of one of the Scarlet King snakes that was killed today. The Scarlet King snake is a friend of man and a very beneficial little animal. The problem is that many people fear snakes so much that they usually kill them before they try to identify them. The poor little Scarlet King looks so much like his dangerous cousin the Coral, that in order to be on the safe side he usually gets the double "whammy"...OUCH!


C and G Taylor said...

Thanks, Bob, I'm glad to know the rhyme, because I have encountered one of them...don't remember which, but it was thrilling!! and you can be sure I kept my distance!

Bob Mrotek said...

Chuck and Gigi,

Yes, I think that we are always better off if we "live and let live" :)

Anonymous said...

I met one of these beautiful snakes on a hike here in Southern Arizona. It behaved shyly, coiling and actually hiding its head. Revealed no aggressive behavior at all.

Perhaps that's why there has never been a reported Arizona death from a coral snake bite. Even being bitten by one is extremely rare.

I'm guessing a person would have to work really hard to persuade a coral snake to bite.

As for killing any venomous snake? No, thanks - I'd rather follow the Chinese proverb: "Him kill snake must love rat."

Rodney said...

I heard a similar version of that rhyme...

Red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black friend of jack.

On another note, I was told by some snake wrangling professionals that most snake bites occur for one of two reasons:

(1) People trying to catch or kill the snake, or (2) putting your hand or feet in places where you can't see, and therefore invade the snakes territory. In both cases the snake has a solid case for biting you out of self-defense.

They also gave me what seems to be some very sound advice. If you see a snake coming, get out it's way. You leave it alone, it'll leave you alone. Also, don't reach or step into places where you can't see. I for one, am heeding this advice, because I live in an area where it's very common to see snakes, even venomous ones.

I'm actually a fan of snakes. I have been since I was a kid. And my daughter is as well, which is why we have a pet snake.

taio said...

excelente post

Calypso said...

NOT a snake fan - poisonous or not

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.