The rhyming poem to identify a dangerous snake with red, yellow and black colors varies, but in general, the rule is:
Red Touch Yellow Kills a Fellow
Red Touch Black Venom Lack
Poisonous, or I should say venomous, Coral Snakes have red black and yellow bands around their bodies, and a black nose. In a case of batesian mimicry, some other
snakes have adopted this color scheme, but the order of the colors is different, with more black bands.
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Snake Rhyme–A Coral Snake Reminder
For some people a catchy rhyme is used to remember whether a snake is poisonous or not. This is especially true of the coral snake, one of the deadliest snakes in America. There are other colorful snakes that are not poisonous and have the same attributes of the coral snake, hence the snake rhyme. The Milk snake and the Scarlet King snake are the two reptiles that the rhyme is referring to when it is said “yellow touching red: you’re dead. Red touching black: safe for Jack. Red against yellow can kill a fellow.” This rhyme does not work for the shovel nose snake that looks like the coral and is non-venomous. This might read like “Red touches yellow, might be safe for a fellow?” The point of these rhymes is to give you a guideline to being safe with certain snakes.
Geographical Uses Of The Rhyme
The rhyme will only work in the United States as there are other coral snakes in the world that are just as deadly but have distinctively different patterns. Some have red bands touching black bands, some have pink bands or blue banding and some will not have any bands at all. There are also aquatic coral snakes that live in calm bodies of water that have lots of vegetation surrounding it. The most common coral snakes in America are the Eastern coral snake and the Arizona coral snake. Texas also has a distinctive snake but it is very localized and similar to the Arizona snake.
General Characteristics Of The Coral Snake
The very colorful coral snake is known for its red, yellow/white and black bands. In some areas the band color order is what distinguishes the non-venomous from the venomous coral snakes and is the reason the rhyme was developed. Most corals are reclusive and stay away from people. The fangs of the coral are small and are at the front of their mouth. They have a tendency to hold on to the victims longer than most venomous snakes making sure that the prey has a full dose of venom. In most cases the snakes will move away from humans and only bite when they have no other choice. The coral snakes live on other reptiles, birds and invertebrates; and are sometimes called cannibalistic.
The Western Arizona Coral Snake
The Arizona coral is in the Indian Cobra family and its venom is twice as deadly as the rattlesnake. But due to its size and elusive manner there are no deaths associated with the reptile. It mostly lives in the southwest below 5,800 feet and is among the rocky desert regions where the Saguaro Cactus exists. The Arizona breed grows to about twenty two inches and has a very slim body. It has red and black bands that are wider than the yellow and white bands and encircle the whole body. The red bands are touching the white or yellow bands which goes along with the snake rhyme of “yellow touching red: you’re dead” The neurotoxin venom causes rapid paralysis and respiratory failure.
The Eastern Coral Snake
The Eastern coral is different than the Arizona coral snake in coloring. They have bright red, yellow and black bands that cover the entire body. The sequence is black, yellow, red, yellow, and black. This also goes along with the snake rhyme and is correct in saying that the venomous snake is deadly. The eastern coral will grow up to forty eight inches and are slightly heavier than their other counterparts. These snakes have mild dispositions and usually do not want to bite, but if bitten the venom is quite deadly. All coral snakes live below the ground and are active primarily during the night. They avoid human contact.