“Hey man, red and yellow means friendly fellow.”
Those words would have been laughable if they were not coming from a young teenage boy who was dangling a 2.5 foot long Texas coral snake over his hand.
Wrapped around a stick it was within striking distance and this kid thought he had caught a scarlet king snake.
When I told him it was a coral snake and he needed to allow me to take it from him, he give me the deadly mistaken version of the children’s poem to distinguish venomous coral snakes from their mimickers.
That’s when I replied, “No kid it means KILL a fellow.”
At that point I walked over, pulled the stick out of his hand and told him he was flirting with disaster.
He really did think this was a scarlet king snake which lives nowhere near Orange, TX where this occurred. We do have the Louisiana milk snake but this was the genuine article-a real and large coral snake.
His plan was to sneak the snake past his mom and keep it in his sock drawer. Some 20 years later, I use this story every time I bring out one of our milk snakes to let kids know that if you have to rely on poetry to identify snakes you could get in trouble.
I have no doubt if I had not seen the kid walking down the street he would have gotten bitten and possibly died. Coral snake bites are very serious.
A recent story about an Alabama man named Jeffrey Phillips shows the sad result of mishandling wild snakes.
Phillips’ children were the first to spot the snake. Initially thinking the serpent was a harmless king snake, Phillips decided to catch it and give the snake as a gift to his older brother, who has owned snakes in the past
At the time of this writing he was in the hospital paralyzed and fighting for his life, a truly tragic situation.
“You see this. These are fangs,” VanHorn said as he carefully rolled open the mouth of an eastern coral snake while I filmed there a few years ago.
The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth and destroy the commonly held myth that coral snakes are rear-fanged and must chew on a person to inject venom.
“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” VanHorn said.
He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up and it is often young men.
“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes. And a coral snake has a very dangerous venom that is difficult to treat so people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.
Coral snakes like all other snake species are not out to get anyone but they are fully capable of hurting someone if they are toyed with. The best thing to do with them is leave them alone and feel blessed you saw one of the strikingly beautiful reptiles in the world.
The moral of the story?
Don’t tread on the coral snake.