Coral snakes are carnivorous (obligate carnivores) by nature. These venomous, deadly snakes have a varied palate, seeking sustenance by hunting for smaller prey that lives and wanders through the undergrowth. They use venom, rather than constriction, to subdue their prey.
Coral snakes envenomate smaller prey with a potent neurotoxin. Corals eat other reptiles, such as lizards, frogs, or snakes (including subspecies of coral snakes), and amphibians or nesting birds.
Despite being a member of the Elapidae family and America’s most venomous snake, corals are surprisingly shy and timid. So, they prefer to remain undetected by remaining underground. Coral snakes may be mistaken for other snakes, such as the kingsnake, but you’re unlikely to come across one unless it’s by accident.
What is the Diet of the Coral Snake?
The kinds of prey that coral snakes eat in the wild and captivity include:
|Small Lizards:||These are a favorite delicacy of the coral snake. Geckos, iguanas, and skinks will not be able to defend themselves against a coral snake’s potent venom.|
|Snakes:||They will look to eat another snake as their similarity in shape ensures that swallowing one will not be a problem. Coral snakes are ophiophagous, and will have no qualms about eating another smaller coral snake.|
|Frogs:||Coral snakes are not necessarily aquatic, but they will hunt in moist and humid conditions. This means that they may eat frogs and toads in the wild.|
|Birds:||Coral snakes eat small birds, but can’t digest feathers. They prefer to eat recent hatchlings from a nest.|
|Insects:||If a coral snake is struggling to find prey, it may eat insects. This would be an unfavored type of food.|
This snake is only interested in eating live prey. Although corals dwell in leaves and trees, they will not eat vegetables, plants, or berries. Neither humans or pets (cats, dogs, etc.) form part of a coral snake’s diet. Dogs, cats, and humans will only get bitten as an act of self-defense.
Unfortunately, cats and dogs are far more vulnerable to a coral snake’s deadly venom due to their much smaller size, where they’re most likely to be bitten (around the face and nose), and a slower rate of detection.
What Do Baby Coral Snakes Eat?
A newly-hatched coral snake will be about 7 inches in length and fully venomous. This means that it will hunt for prey from its earliest days.
Baby corals like to eat bird and reptile eggs for sustenance. They’ll even eat the eggs of siblings before they hatch, or weaker hatchlings. Hatchlings are left to survive on their own, so they will do whatever it takes.
When Do Coral Snakes Feed?
Coral snakes are nocturnal. This means that they will hunt late at night, or very early in the morning. As with all snakes, temperatures and different seasons play a sizable role in the activity of these snakes.
Coral snakes are cold-blooded. This means that they will only eat food when it’s warm enough outside. Snakes depend on their living environment for heat, and can’t digest their prey when it’s too cold. Snakes brumate during the late fall and winter, so they don’t eat at that time.
A coral snake can go for weeks, or even months, without eating food. They eat more during the breeding season, when they’re most active. Prey also tends to be more plentiful and easier to find during those months.
How Do Coral Snakes Catch Their Prey?
Corals may stalk slow-moving and unsuspecting prey in the undergrowth, using their excellent camouflage as cover.
The coral snake may also choose to be patient. Rather than actively stalking prey, it may lie there very still and wait. Ambush hunting uses up less energy, which means that a coral snake needs to eat far less frequently.
When the time is right, they strike quickly, sinking their front fangs into their prey. This will subdue, and eventually paralyze, the animal or bird.
The more a coral snake chews, the more venom it’ll release. According to NCBI, the venom gains access through the lymphatic veins, resulting in “neurotoxicity and respiratory muscle weakness.”
Some prey animals will escape if the fangs fail to penetrate the skin. More often than not, one venomous strike will completely immobilize prey.
How Do Coral Snakes Eat Their Food?
Once the prey has been fully subdued, the snake is ready to start eating its meal. The coral snake swallows its prey whole. There’s no chewing involved, but the venom does release enzymes that soften up the prey.
Snakes open their mouths extremely wide as they have a quadrate bone. This allows the mouth to open up to 150 degrees. The jaws are joined together by muscle tissue, not bone, providing far more flexibility. This means that the sides of the jaw are able to open up independently.
Once swallowed, the food will make its way to the stomach. From there, the acids and enzymes get to work. This will allow the snake to digest its meal.
What Preys on Coral Snakes?
Despite having such deadly venom, there are predators that can catch the coral snake off-guard or use their own physical attributes (sharp teeth, claws, size, etc.) to overpower them. The coral snake’s predators include:
- Birds of Prey. Eagles, buzzards, hawks, and owls are among the most common predators of coral snakes.
- Larger Snakes. Just as a coral snake eats smaller snakes, a larger snake may eat a coral snake. This is known as ophiophagy.
- Toads. It’s rare that a toad will be large enough to eat a coral snake. However, some very large amphibians confuse snakes with worms, particularly if they’re baby/juvenile coral snakes.
- Nocturnal Mammals. Foxes, raccoons, skunks, and mongoose will all gladly eat coral snakes when the opportunity arises.
A coral snake may be able to use its venom to protect itself. However, in most cases, the above animals will strike quickly and render them defenseless. Some predators steer clear of coral snakes as their bright colors serve as a warning sign.
Coral snakes have a varied diet that ensures that they will rarely, if ever, go hungry. However, you’re unlikely to see one as they stay well-hidden.