A few days ago, I was on my way out to check our Box Turtles when I caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. There, crawling slowly across the gravel of our driveway was a beautiful 14 inch long Arizona Coral Snake. I quickly brought into my head the old adage “Red to yellow kills a fellow. Red to black venom lack.” I did this because, in addition to having the highly venomous neurotoxic Coral Snake locally we also have the Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake in the area and the New Mexico Milk Snake is native to the next mountain range to the east of us. Both are harmless Coral Snake “look a likes.” The above adage helps to sort out the venomous from the harmless.
It was easy to see the bright red bands of this snake bordered with light yellow bands even from 10 feet away so I knew that the snake I had was, in fact, venomous. Arizona Coral Snakes are fairly common in our area of southeastern Arizona although very few people actually see them. For the most part they are nocturnal and are most often observed at or soon after dusk on warm rainy evenings. Their generally flat build is an indication of their preferred habitat under rocks and in crevices in rock walls. They feed on other small snakes including the Blind Snakes and Black-headed Snakes and small lizards. All of these are common in our area.
As Arizona Coral Snakes go, this was one of the largest I have observed. Most individuals in our area are from 8-12 inches in length. We have an informal truce with all of the wildlife on our property. Unless they are causing property damage we leave them alone to go about their lives. This snake made its way into our rock wall which should provide it with a happy home and a great food source.
Two days after the sighting in our yard a neighbor called to report that he had a Coral Snake caught in his cattle guard. He is much nearer to Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake habitat than our local Coral Snake habitat so I thought at first that he might be mistaken. Upon reaching the scene 10 minutes later I found that he was correct and he did, in fact, have a 12 inch Arizona Coral Snake trapped in his cattle guard. I took out my Midwest snake tong and hook and worked the little fellow out of the cattle guard and into an empty quart jar. I had learned long ago that Coral Snakes are escape artists and that they easily find the way out of my snake bucket that I use for moving rattlesnakes and snake bags. As our friend really did not want a venomous snake near his home, I took this little waif home with me and released him in the rock wall near where the first snake had disappeared. Maybe we will get a population on our property in years to come.
Previous to this year I had never observed more than one Arizona Coral Snake in any one year. Last night I was called out on a fire near my home ( I am a volunteer fireman in our small town.) During the course of putting out a small structure fire I located a third specimen. This one was a little smaller than the first two and, in an effort to save it from any other firefighters which might notice him, I caught him and placed him in an empty Gatorade bottle. This specimen was donated to a friend who maintains an educational reptile collection. He will be set up next to a display with a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake to show off the differences between the two species.
These are truly beautiful little snakes and it has been a pure pleasure to see three of them within a week’s time.