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Elapid Snakes

Species Of Elapid Snakes

Perhaps the world's most famous species of elapid snake is a subspecies of the Asian cobra (Naja naja) known as the Indian cobra (N. n. naja), which is the serpent that is most often used by snake charmers. Often, the cobra emerges from the urn or sack in which it is kept, and then assumes its warning stance of an erect fore-body and spread hood. In addition, the serpent "dances" sinuously in response to the movements of the flute, as it is waved about in front of the cobra. Actually, the cobra is deaf to most of the music played by the charmer's flute—it is only responding to the movement of the instrument.

The world's longest venomous snake is the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), which can attain a length of 18 ft (5.5 m). This impressive but uncommon snake occurs in India and southeast Asia, and it feeds primarily on other species of snakes.

The mambas are four species of African elapids, of which the black mamba (Dendroapsis polylepis) is most feared, because it is relatively common and many people are bitten each year. This snake can grow to a length of 13 ft (4 m), and is probably the most swiftly moving of all snakes.

Elapid snakes are relatively diverse and abundant in Australia, where species of venomous snakes actually outnumber nonvenomous snakes by four to one. The largest, most dangerous species is the taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus), an uncommon, aggressive, tropical species that can reach a length of 11.5 ft (3.5 m). However, several species of tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus and N. ater) are more common and widespread, and have particularly deadly venom. The death adders (Acanthophis antarcticus and A. pyrrhus) are viper-like elapids that are relatively common and widespread.

American elapids are represented by about 40 species of coral snakes, in the genera Micrurus and Micruroides. These snakes have extremely potent venom. However, coral snakes are not very aggressive, possessing relatively short fangs and a small mouth, so they cannot easily bite most parts of the human body, with fingers and toes being notable exceptions. Coral snakes are brightly colored with rings of black, red, and yellow.

The most widespread species in North America is the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius fulvius), occurring widely in the southeastern United States from southern North Carolina to eastern Louisiana. The eastern coral snake likes to burrow, and is not often seen unless it is specifically looked for. This snake feeds almost entirely on reptiles, with frogs and small mammals also occasional prey. The eastern coral snake has brightly colored rings of red, yellow, and black on its body. These are a warning or aposematic coloration, intended to alert predators to the dangers of messing with this potentially dangerous, venomous snake.

However, in the coral snake the red and yellow rings occur adjacent to each other, unlike similarly colored but nonpoisonous species such as the scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) and the scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea). These latter snakes are mimics of the coral snake, which share aspects of its coloration to gain some measure of protection from predators. A folk saying was developed to help people remember the important differences in coloration between the coral snake and its harmless mimics: "Red touch yellow—dangerous fellow. Red touch black—venom lack." The Texas coral snake (Micrurus fulvius tenere) occurs in parts of the central and southwestern United States and Mexico.

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