Coral Snakes vs Kingsnake – What is the Difference?

Sometimes, mistaking one snake for another doesn’t come with too many downsides. Other times, it does. Today’s case belongs to the latter because these 2 species are quite different from one another, despite their visual similarities.

So today, we will discuss the main differences and similarities between coral snakes and kingsnakes. What should you know about each species, and in what areas do they differ from each other?

What is a Coral Snake?

Coral snakes are venomous snakes that are prevalent pretty much throughout the American continent, especially in south and central regions.

This is a colorful and pretty shy snake that doesn’t shy away from attacking and biting when stressed or threatened.

Interestingly, coral snakes are so dangerous and adept at survival that other snake species have begun mimicking their physical appearance. This takes us to the kingsnake.

What is a Kingsnake?

Kingsnakes share the same ecosystem, more or less, as the coral snake. They are also highly popular on the American continent and are quite colorful and energetic.

Combine this with their docile and friendly demeanor, and you can see why kingsnakes are so appreciated in the pet trade.

Now let’s compare the 2 species in more detail!

Comparison: Coral Snake vs Kingsnake

Now let’s dive into a detailed comparison of Coral Snakes vs Kingsnakes. These two serpents may look similar at first glance, but they have some key differences that set them apart.

Here is a quick comparison table between coral snakes and kingsnakes:

Feature Coral Snakes Kingsnakes
Color pattern Banded pattern: black, red, and yellow, sometimes white Dark red bodies with black and white bands, color variation
Base color No base color, black and red bands of equal size Dark red
Body shape Same thickness from head to tail, the head has no distinct features Same as coral snakes
Size Small, up to 1.5-2 feet, rare specimens may reach 3 feet Large, up to 6-7 feet
Growth Reach max size in 2-3 years, influenced by diet, genetics, and environment Up to 5 years to reach max size, same influencing factors
Housing 72-85 F temperature, 65-80% humidity, UVB and UVA lighting, open space with a hiding spot 70-80 F temperature, 40-60% humidity, UVB lighting, open space with a hiding spot
Behavior Shy and withdrawn, more likely to bite when threatened Friendlier and more docile, won’t bite unless provoked
Handling Shouldn’t be handled often, prefer solitude and peace Shouldn’t be handled often, prefer solitude and peace
Biting More likely to bite and cause harm due to neurotoxic venom Unlikely to bite, but can if cornered
Lifespan Short lives, 7-10 years, may not adapt well to life in captivity Longer lives, 12-15 years, may adapt well to life in captivity
Care Level Medium/advanced, more sensitive and venomous Beginner/intermediate, hardy and adaptable
Health problems Vulnerable to respiratory infections, shedding issues, and feeding problems Vulnerable to mites, nutritional deficiencies, and dehydration
Price & cost More expensive, ranging from $250-$2,000 or more Cheaper, ranging from $50-$150 on average
Diet & feeding Similar diets, including rodents, lizards, and occasional birds Similar diets, including rodents and occasional birds


Coral snakes usually come in 3 colors as part of a banded pattern: black, red, and yellow. There are very few exceptions where a coral snake would have white instead of yellow, as most specimens only showcase these 3 base colors overall.

Then you have the Malayan blue coral snake, which is plain blue with a red head, but that’s for another topic.

The snake’s body has the same thickness from head to tail, and the head has no distinct features, making it look just like the tail.

This is a welcomed evolutionary feature because it causes predators to mistake the snake’s head for the tail. This confusion is even likelier if you consider that the snake’s face and tail tip are both black.

Kingsnakes bear the same color pattern, but they showcase different coloration. Most kingsnakes have dark red bodies with black and white bands.

By comparison, coral snakes don’t have a base color; rather, the black and red bands are of equal size, with only the yellow bands being narrower.

More importantly, kingsnakes exhibit far more color and pattern variation than coral snakes. Some specimens lack any red whatsoever and only come in black and white.

Other specimens, like the desert kingsnake, don’t have bands at all but rather stripes and only come with 2 colors, black and light brown/yellow.

In terms of body shape and composition, kingsnakes are very similar to coral snakes, with the same distinct features. This is one of the reasons that the 2 are often mistaken for one another.

Size and Growth

Coral snakes only grow up to 1.5-2 feet. Some specimens may even reach 3 feet, but that’s highly unlikely. So, coral snakes are fairly small overall.

They can typically reach their maximum size within the first 2-3 years of life, but this depends on numerous factors like diet, genetics, environmental conditions, etc.

Kingsnakes are considerably larger, often 2 times as large as coral snakes. The maximum size is 6 feet, sometimes closer to 7 feet, depending on the specimen.

Kingsnakes also take longer to achieve their maximum size, up to 5 years. This doesn’t mean that they grow slower, it’s just that they have more growing to do.


Coral snakes don’t exactly make for the best pets in the world, but you can keep them with sufficient care and maintenance planning.

The ideal housing conditions for them include:

  • Temperature – 72-85 F, with basking temperatures of around 95 F.
  • Humidity – The humidity requirements may vary, but you’re looking for at least 65% and a maximum of 80%, depending on your snake’s comfort level.
  • Lighting – The typical UVB radiation and UVA lighting 10-12 hours per day.
  • Layout – Open space with at least one hiding spot for security and some alone time when necessary.

Kingsnakes aren’t too far in terms of requirements, either. Their standard conditions include:

  • Temperature – 70-80 F in the main dwelling area and up to 90 F in the basking region. Nighttime temperatures shouldn’t go lower than 65 F, which stays true for both species.
  • Humidity – The standard humidity requirements for kingsnakes sit between 40 and 60%. These values may differ depending on the specimen.
  • Lighting – The same lighting conditions are necessary with moderate UVB radiation for proper digestion and improved health.
  • Layout – The same goes for the overall layout. Aim for sufficient available space with one hiding area and easy access to a water bowl.

Both snakes require sufficient space to be comfortable, which depends on the snake itself.

Adult coral snakes may need a 40-gallon setup, while kingsnakes could use almost double that because they’re nearly double in size.


The 2 species are fairly different in terms of behavior. For instance, kingsnakes are considerably friendlier and more docile than their venomous counterparts. They don’t mind the human presence and will often learn to recognize their handlers.

They also prefer to keep to themselves and won’t bite unless clearly provoked and stressed.

Coral snakes, though, aren’t as easygoing as their mimics. They, too, are shy and withdrawn, but they are far more likely to bite when threatened.

This, combined with the potent venom that can lead to complications fast, explains why coral snakes aren’t as popular as pets.


The following advice works for both species: do not handle your snakes too often. It’s important to remember that snakes are not really pet material.

So, you can’t play with them the way you can play with other pets like cats, dogs, and even some lizards. These snakes prefer solitude and peace, and you, handling and petting them violate both of these requirements.

The situation is even more concerning when discussing the coral snake. This venomous reptile is not your friend by any stretch of the imagination.

Just feed it properly, clean its habitat, and limit your interactions to staring at the snake. The snake will repay you by staring back. Judgmentally.


Kingsnakes are unlikely to bite because they are typically shy, friendly, and docile. So, they prefer to flee and hide if stressed or threatened. However, they can bite if cornered and feel like that’s the only way to escape. Their bites aren’t harmful since they don’t possess any venom, but you should always clean the bite area to prevent infections.

Coral snakes are much more likely to bite and cause actual harm due to their neurotoxic venom.

Their bites cause paralysis and can inflict respiratory failure if left untreated. More importantly, the bites are sometimes almost painless and leave no visible marks. But the venom is still there. If bitten by a coral snake, seek medical attention urgently.

Scarlet kingsnake
source: Land Between the Lakes KY/TN via Flickr


The 2 snakes also differ wildly in terms of lifespan. Coral snakes live short lives, including in captivity, and they are only able to reach 7 to 10 years. Most won’t even reach the 7-year mark.

Kingsnakes, on the other hand, can live double that. The typical kingsnake will usually reach 12-15 years in captivity, and some may even go beyond that.

While both species’ lifespan is influenced by standard factors like meal frequency, nutritional intake, housing conditions, and genetics, there’s one more that matters significantly: the snake itself.

Some snakes are simply not meant for life in captivity as they get too stressed out, and there’s little you can do to improve their comfort. A similar thing happens with the coral snake.

This is even more obvious if you consider that coral snakes can live up to 15 years in the wild and generally live more than 10.

So, it’s not a matter of poor genetics but one of incompatibility with life in captivity.

Care Level

Coral snakes qualify as medium/advanced in terms of care level in captivity. One of the reasons links to what we’ve already discussed. Coral snakes are more sensitive than your typical captive-bred snakes and are more likely to stress out in captivity.

They don’t enjoy being handled, are always on edge in human presence, and can exhibit low immune systems due to constant stress. This causes them to fall sick more often, and everything is downhill from there.

Not to mention, coral snakes are venomous and not the mild type either. This makes caring for and handling them a risk, which is definitely not one a beginner would like to take.

Kingsnakes, however, are slightly different. They qualify as beginner/intermediate first due to their easygoing demeanor and chill attitude and second to their overall hardiness and adaptability.

Kingsnakes are less likely to react violently when interacting with their keepers, and they are also more adapted to life in captivity.

Health Problems

Coral snakes are more sensitive than kingsnakes in terms of health prowess. This isn’t due to a genetic weakness but rather due to their sensitivity to stress. Coral snakes can get stressed a lot when kept in unfit conditions, mishandled, fed improperly, etc.

These issues can cause stress and anxiety, which end up affecting the reptile’s immune system.

This leaves the snake vulnerable to conditions like:

  • Respiratory infections – These are usually the result of bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that affect the snake’s respiratory system. Stress plays a major role in sabotaging the reptile’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable and sickly.
  • Shedding issues – The condition is called dysecdysis, and it refers to abnormal shedding, including incomplete shedding and stuck skin. This can result from improper environmental parameters, stress, improper diet, or other health problems that affect the snake during the process. Shedding can lead to deadly complications in some cases.
  • Feeding problems – These are also the result of stress because stressed coral snakes may refuse to eat. As a result, the reptile may experience nutritional deficiencies, which can be deadly in more severe situations.

Kingsnakes aren’t as vulnerable as coral snakes, but they can still struggle with a variety of health issues.

Some are stress-related, others are not, as they are usually triggered by poor enclosure husbandry, lack of regular general maintenance, inadequate diets, improper layout, etc.

So, it’s safe to say that you can prevent and correct the following issues fairly easily:

  • Mites – Skin parasites are almost always the result of poor enclosure hygiene. These parasites are likely to grow and infest the reptile’s habitat when there isn’t sufficient cleaning taking place. A warm, humid, and dirty ecosystem is all that these organisms need to thrive.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – You’re mostly concerned about Metabolic Bone Disease because this is the most feared outcome when discussing nutritional deficiencies. MBD is the result of severe and prolonged calcium deficiency, which also has a lot to do with vitamin D deficiency. So, a lot of things need to go wrong for your snake to get there. You can prevent MBD by providing your snake with proper food and supplementation and allowing daily access to UVB radiation for adequate vitamin D synthesis.
  • Dehydration – Preventing and combating dehydration isn’t as easy as you might think. It’s not enough to add a water bowl to your snake’s tank; you also need to adjust the enclosure’s humidity and pay attention to your snake’s needs. Reptiles can also become dehydrated when sick and experiencing diarrhea, so this is something to watch out for if your reptile is ill.

Many of these problems are easily preventable by providing your snakes with a personalized diet, sufficient water, top cleaning and maintenance, and regular vet checkups.

The goal is to increase your reptiles’ quality of life, and they will live longer and happier lives in your company.

Price & Cost

Coral snakes are slightly more expensive than kingsnakes, capable of reaching $250-$2,000 or more, depending on the specimen. You can find cheaper individuals, but don’t expect significant drops in prices.

It makes sense, too, given that these snakes are harder to come by in the wild and they are venomous. Coral snake venom can sell for $4,000 per gram or even more in some cases.

Kingsnakes are cheaper, only reaching $50-$150 on average. Some are more expensive, depending on the morph, but they are generally more affordable overall.

Also, consider the costs associated with purchasing the necessary equipment and building the snake’s enclosure. These expenses alone can jump in the thousands, depending on your preferences and how much you are willing to invest.

While the acquisition price and that of setting up the animal’s enclosure matter, long-term costs are even more important. After all, you will sink regular batches of dollars into your reptile pet for years to come.

Overall, though, you shouldn’t spend more than $50-$150 per month, with the higher end only being justified in case of health issues that require the vet’s intervention. Other expenses include electricity bills and the snake’s food and supplements, if necessary.

Diet & Feeding

Both species have similar feeding requirements, given that they have similar diets in the wild. The only difference is that coral snakes also have other snakes on their menu, including venomous species.

But you don’t need to go there to feed your coral snake properly. A variety of rodents, lizards, and some occasional birds should be enough for both reptiles.

An important note here: make sure that your snakes don’t need additional supplementation because most snakes do need that. Speak to your vet about your snake’s nutritional profile and see whether it is experiencing any deficiencies.

Kingsnake or Coral Snake – Which is Better for You?

If you’re a beginner, you should definitely go for a kingsnake. These snakes are easier to care for, are likely to live longer with fewer efforts, and aren’t as aggressive or dangerous as coral snakes.

As a more advanced snake keeper, you can easily go for a coral snake, especially if you’ve had venomous snakes before.

Just keep in mind that these reptiles are more prone to stress and tend to live shorter lives in captivity. That being said, I totally understand the preference for a venomous species over a non-venomous one.


Overall, both snake species are unique in their own right, but they’re not equal.

Fortunately, today’s article now allows you to distinguish between the 2 properly so you know how to differentiate between them in the wild. Or decide which has more pet material.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...