Friday, November 09, 2007

Poisonous or Not

Is the snake in the image a poisonous or non-poisonous one? Pat yourself on the back if you said, “Neither.” There are no poisonous snakes, only venomous snakes. Next question, “Is the snake in the image a venomous one or not?”

How does the safety rhyme go? “Red on yellow can kill a fellow…red on black a friend of Jack.” The only Jack we know is deathly afraid of spiders, so we don’t think any snake will be a friend of his. Maybe the rhyme is, “Red on yellow is a friend of a fellow…red on black means take a step back.” Frankly, we can never remember the rhyme when we are safely in our office, so we doubt that we’ll remember it when faced with possible death! We prefer to keep it simple and use brain cells already filled securely with useful safety information. When you are driving and the light is yellow, you know that the next color will be red and that means stop…even if you thought the correct answer was “mash the accelerator.” Therefore, if the snake has yellow next to red, STOP! This would be the venomous Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius). As you can see, the snake in the image has red next to black, so it is the non-venomous Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides), which is a subspecies of the milk snake.

Scarlet Kingsnakes are secretive and rarely seen crawling about during the day. They are active at night, and spend the day hidden below ground or behind the bark of trees, so their bright colors are not a liability. These snakes eat mostly lizards, especially skinks, but will also eat small snakes and rodents.

Photo by Jeff Mollenhauer

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