Peninsula de Nicoya Travel and Vacation Guide

Snakes in Costa Rica

Part III - Real and False Coral Snakes

With their gaudy colors coral snakes scare away potential predators. The real, venomous coral snakes however are secretive and elusive and human envenenation occurs very seldom. The snakes are not at all aggressive. When threatened it rather agitates the end of its tail to distract attention from the sensible head. In Costa Rica you are more likely to see one of the 20 non-venomous snakes who mimic the coral snake's colors.

Coral snake
Coral snake

Central American Coral Snake / Coral macho Venomous Snake

Micrurus nigrocinctus
Length: up to 1 meter

The Central American Coral Snake inhabits dry forest to humid forests of the Pacific side of Costa Rica. To distinguish the real coral snake from its imitants it's best to concentrate on the black ring in the middle which is bordered by narrow white rings set between broad red rings.

Costa Rica False Coral Snake
Milk Snake

Tropical Milk Snake / Coral Falsa

Lampropeltis triangulum ssp. micropholis
Length: up to 1.1 meter

The milk snake belongs to the family of tropical king snakes and is often mistaken for a coral snake. The difference however is very clear as it has the white ring in the middle of narrow black stripes. The milk snake occurs all over Costa Rica, from lowland dry forests to humid forest until elevations of 2,000 m. The terrestrial snake hunts at night for lizards, other snakes, amphibians and small mammals.


Costa Rican Coral Snake
Costa Rican Coral Snake

Costa Rican Coral Snake / Coral costarricense Venomous Snake

Micrurus mosquitensis
Length: 60 - 75 cm

The Costa Rican Coral Snake has yellow rings around the inner black ring. It is only found in the humid tropical forest of the Atlantic side of Costa Rica up to an elevation of 1,500 meters. Distribution Atlantic coast of Costa Rica

False Coral Snake
Neckband Snake

Neckband Snake / Corredora Coral

Scaphiodontophis venustissimus
Length: up to 90 cm

The most accomplished mimicker of the real coral snake is found in all parts of Costa Rica. The false coral also has yellow rings around the black inner ring.
However, at least on the Northern Pacific side of Costa Rica it should be clear that we have a false coral if we see this color pattern because here the real corals with yellow rings don't occur

We can conclude from the distribution maps that on the Nicoya Peninsula snakes with red, black and yellow are false coral snakes. The only real coral snake which occurs here has narrow white rings around a black ring in the middle.

Alans Coral Snake
Alan's Coral Snake

Alan's Coral Snake / Coral gigante de agua Venomous Snake

Micrurus alleni
Length: up to 1.2 meters

This coral snake can either have yellow or white rings around the inner black ring. It occurs in the moist and wet forests of the Atlantic lowlands and adjacent premontane slopes. Also in the southern part of the Pacific side of Cost Rica. The snake feeds mostly on freshwater eel, worms, snakes, and some lizards.

Many-banded Coral Snake
Many-banded Coral Snake

Many-banded Coral Snake / Coral gargantilla Venomous Snake

Micrurus multifasciatus
Length: up to 1.1 meters

A bi-colored coral snake with black rings, and the second color either in orange, red or white, depending on the individual. The terrestrial snake is very rare and only found in the humid tropical forest on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
The terrestrial snake feeds on small amphibians and possibly other snakes.


More: Part I - Snakes with brown patterns
          Part II - Non-venomous colored snakes


Nearly all bites from coral snakes occur when people try to catch the snake to sell them to serpentariums or for medicinal use. Coral snakes can't open their mouth very wide, in fact only as much as to bite into a finger.