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Desert Diary
Reptiles/Coral Snake


Snakes fascinate everyone, either as things of evil or beings of beauty. Venomous snakes raise the stakes even higher, with some people convinced that their overriding aim is to seek out humans to kill. Other people are merely enthralled by beauty that threatens death.

Talk to anyone in the Chihuahuan Desert about poisonous snakes, and almost certainly they'll think of rattlesnakes, represented by numerous species. Yet, there is another snake, though barely entering into the western edge of the desert, that belongs to an entirely different group—in fact, to the family that includes the cobras! A cobra in our desert? Well, not exactly—the serpent under consideration is the small, secretive Western Coral Snake, which manages to avoid most of the more threatening characteristics of cobras. Nonetheless, like all other family members, it's possessed of highly toxic venom. Bands of red, yellow, and black superficially resemble the colors and pattern of some king snakes. The old rhyme, "red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, friend of Jack", is still a bit of folklore worth knowing. pen and ink



Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a production of KTEP, National Public Radio for the Southwest at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Western Coral Snake

Western Coral Snake (Micruroides euryxanthus), Pima Co., Arizona. Photograph by Carl S. Lieb.



Degenhardt, W. G., C. W. Painter, and A. H. Price. 1996. Amphibians and reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 431 pp.

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