Maintaining Eastern Coral Snakes in Captivity
By Greg Longhurst

Micrurus fulvius can be maintained long-term however, not all individual snakes will do well. Once the set-up is made and the animal is feeding, chances are good that it will continue to do so. However, if a snake goes off feed it should be released in the exact area it was captured, if at all possible.

Corals do better in a larger cage than one might imagine they would need. I like a twenty or thirty gallon long tank, or a cage of the same approximate dimensions. Place three or four inches of sphagnum moss substrate in the cage with a large water bowl at one end. Dampen the sphagnum considerably at the end of the cage where the water bowl is, grading the moisture down to the other end where it should be dry.

Corals will eat a wide variety of reptiles in the wild and some will accept several types of snakes and lizards in captivity. Others may prefer a certain one or two types and if you can't find out what the snake prefers, or cannot offer that prey item regularly, the snake ought to be released.

Some of the preferred prey items for corals may include the following:
Ground skinks (Leiolopisma)
Five-lined skinks (Eumeces)
Glass lizards (Ophisaurus)
* Ringneck snakes (Diadophis)
Pine Woods snakes (Rhadinea)
Brown snakes (Storeria)

In addition, I have known Micrurus to eat corn snakes (Elaphe or Pantherophis) and young black racers (Coluber).

Most prey will be consumed after dark, although I have had individuals that would accept prey any time. Prey may be offered alive or dead. Be careful feeding live skinks, as they can bite and damage the snake, particularly young snakes. I have heard from reliable sources that Micrurus fulvius will accept pink mice. I have never offered them mice. It is my belief that a snake that naturally preys upon reptiles would not be getting the nutrition it needs from pink mice.

Corals are not great display animals, but one trick I have seen used to display them is to set a small sheet of glass in an otherwise empty cage, supported by " or " pieces of dowel glued to the glass. No substrate is used but a small water bowl is supplied. The snake feels secure as long as its back is in contact with something. The fact that it can be seen does not seem to bother it. In display situations, one might want to have more than one animal, rotating them on and off display to feed.

* Editor's note - Some Diadophis secrete an irritating musk from glands just inside the cloaca that has been observed to cause irritation and respiratory problems in snakes and other small animals that prey on them. In several reported cases where the ringneck was not much smaller than the coral snake, severe symptoms such as gaping, thrashing and death has resulted. One North Florida keeper exhausts the ringneck's musk glands by teasing the snake and manually expressing the cloaca just before feeding. One of his coral snakes died in respiratory distress after ingesting a ringneck, and he had observed similar symptoms in other snakes that had taken Diadophis. He reports that this seems to reduce or eliminate any problems.

Another possibility would be to feed Diadophis frozen/thawed with the caudal portion removed. It is generally a better idea in any case to freeze snakes before feeding them to another snake because of potential disease and parasite transmission issues.


Return to Veterinary Index