These snakes all look very similar, how many of them are venomous and/or dangerous?
The answer to this question is – Only one is venomous and dangerous, the other two are harmless. Allow me to elaborate because the answers may be very surprising.
"Red and black, venom lack" is the rhyme, indicating that the snake is harmless. "Red and yellow kill a fellow" refers to the coral snakes.
This is why those rhymes should be done away with all together, if people don't remember them properly it could be very bad news. Plus in Belize it doesn't work, as some venomous species can lose the banding and just be all red, or red and black only.
1) The snake in the photo at the top is Micrurus hippocrepis (The maya coral snake). This snake is part of the family Elapidae, the family of snakes that is comprised of coral snakes, kraits and cobras; the most venomous snakes in the world.
This snake can be identified by its red banding touching its yellow banding, however this “red touch yellow kills a fellow” phrase doesn’t always work in Belize, as the variable coral snake and even the maya can lack several bands and can sometimes have no bands at all…. The best way to identify them is by the tail! The tail of all coral snake species in Belize is yellow and black banded with about 4 – 9 black bands (no red on the tail).
One interesting fact about coral snakes are that they are known “opheophages” this term translates as Opheo (snake) phage (to eat). Coral snakes are a snake eating species. So if you don’t like snakes, and you see a coral snake on your property, you’re in luck, they’re on your side! Otherwise, coral snake bites are extremely rare and generally only occur from being in the wrong place at the wrong time (in a shoe or something to that extent). They do not strike at a passerby or anything like that behavior of a viper.
Coral snakes are elapids, the most venomous family of snakes. Don't let the small fangs throw you off!
If you are afraid of them, safe distance watching is A-ok. As long as that fear doesn't drive you to pursue and kill them I see no problem with it.
If you were around during my educational talks on them I'm sure I could change your mind, you just need to be directly faced with one that you know is harmless. That's generally the first step to appreciation.
2) The snake in the second photo (middle photo) is Pliocercus elapoides (The coral snake mimic). This snake is not only harmless, but has no developed teeth or fangs and when handled generally doesn’t bite even when encouraged to.
The way you can Identify this snake from the coral is by the tail, the red/yellow/black coloration runs all the way down the length of its body; also the tail is about half of its body (indicated by the anal scale) whereas the tail of coral snakes is very small and not even ¼ of its body.
3) The snake in the third photo (bottom) is also non-venomous and harmless. This is lampropeltis triangulum (King snake). They are a strong-bodied snakes and use that strength to constrict their prey. King snakes are called such because they are also opheophages, just like the coral snakes they ALSO eat snakes! You can identify this species by the rhyme “Red touch black, venom lack” as their red bands touch their black bands, before they touch yellow.
A bite from a king snake is the equivalent to pricking your hand on a thorn bush, or with a younger individual, the equivalent to brushing yourself with velcro. The point being that they’re very harmless.
Snakes of Belize
A short educational video on the snakes of Belize, debunking the mythologies of their danger and outlining basic behaviors and habits.
Covers Fer de lance, Maya coral snake, Blunt headed tree snake, green parrot snake, Cloudy snail eater, False fer de lance, Bird eating snake, Cat-eyed snake, Lizard eating snake, Speckled racer, King snake/ Milk snake, Black striped snake, Mussurana, Black tailed Cribo, Mexican parrot snake, Brown vine snake, Banded snail eater, Tiger tree snake, Black coffee snake.
When my family first came to Belize, the only cure for a bite of a poisonous snake was through a Snake Doctor. In the Sittee River area that person was known as Sailor - sadly he passed away while out gathering natural herbs.... by a snake bite. Normally the knowledge is passed from generation to generation, he died without passing his knowledge on.
My uncle (also now deseased) was bitten by a fer-de-lance. The hospital could do nothing for him and sent him to the local snake doctor where he was treated by Sailor for over a week. Part of the treatment was using a "sweat house" along with drinking some very bitter mixtures.
I wonder if Belize still has any snake doctors walking amongst us? And if so, which would you trust most - hospital or snake doctor?
Unfortunately, anti-venom is the only combatant against snake venom. Please don't take this as "closed minded" there are in fact many peer-reviewed studies on herbal remedies for snake bite and 100% of them had no active effects or had negative effects.
Homeopathic and herbal "cures" that are distributed through snake doctors actually have no effect on the venom itself, but rather the bite victim is simply waiting out the venom, exactly the same as if they had done nothing at all. Not all bite victims die from venomous snake bite. Actually very few do.
Allow me to explain:
Snake venom is comprised of proteins that bind to different sites on cells, different binding sites cause different reactions. In the case of the fer de lance, the venom is hemo(blood) and myo(muscle)- toxic, and primarily attaches to muscle cells.
1) once bitten the worst thing to do is apply a tourniquet, as this concentrates the venom in one area, destroying the cells at a faster rate; this can lead to amputation of the limb most of the time... the best thing to do is let it freely flow through the bloodstream and by the law of particles per million, act on smaller areas in a larger range. which leads me to my next point....
2) Heating the body in any way, such as a "sweat room" will cause blood to flow faster, and cause reaction rate to increase; this is the LAST thing you want to happen. As venom activity will increase and do more damage.
3) Ingested herbs do not work for snake bite, because they are not entering the blood stream (where the venom is), but rather being digested through the GI tract and absorbed by the body.
herbs applied to the bite site also have absolutely no effect, because, again, after the bite occurs, the venom is already flowing through the ENTIRE BODY, not just the bite site.
Another unfortunate factor about snake doctors is that their claim to fame is usually through a non-venomous snake bite.
Because of the lack of knowledge people have on snakes, many people assume the one they've been bitten by was venomous. So when they go to these "snake doctors" the person applies whatever herbal remedies to the bite victim; and almost miraculously see that there are no repucussions.... little do they know, the snake wasn't venomous at all and the "doctor" did absolutely nothing.
That being said, the trained medical professionals in Belize have treated several bite victims of FDL, two of which, to my personal knowledge, had absolutely no after effects. So I would definitely put my trust in them.
By the way, incase anyone is wondering the 9 venomous/dangerous species I am referring to in the video, they're:
1) Fer de lance (Bothrops asper)
2) Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus)
3) Yucatan Hognosed Viper (Porthidium yucatanicum)
4) Rainforest Hognose Viper (Porthidium nasutum)
5) Eyelash pit-viper (Bothreichis schlegelii)
6) Jumping pit-viper (Atropoides nummifer)
7) Cantil (Agkistrodon bilineatus)
8) Maya coral snake (Micrurus hippocrepis)
9) Variable coral snake (Micrurus diastema)
Photographs and text by Russell Gray
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