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Any of about 90 species of strongly patterned burrowing elapids. True forms are limited to the New World, chiefly the tropics, but similar species live in Asia and Africa. Secretive and docile, coral snakes rarely bite when handled, but the venom of some can kill a person. Most prey on other snakes. More than 50 species in the largest genus, Micrurus, range from the southern U.S. to Argentina. They are ringed with red, black, and yellow or white. The eastern coral snake, or harlequin snake (Micrurus fulvius), ranges from North Carolina and Missouri in the U.S. to northeastern Mexico and is about 30 in. (76 cm) long, with wide bands of red and black separated by yellow. The rhyme Red on yellow, dangerous fellow distinguishes it from similarly coloured but harmless species.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on coral snake, visit Britannica.com.