Milk Snake vs Coral Snake vs King Snake (Dangerous vs Docile)

Many people confuse milk snakes with king and coral snakes. And you’ve just seen some black, red, and, yellow bands slither away from you.

Was that a coral snake? Should you be weary of it?

In this article, we have listed all the differences between the milk snake, coral snake, and king snake so you know what to look out for and whether the snake you see is dangerous or not.

Key Takeaway:

Milk snakes and king snakes are not dangerous and do not have a venomous bite. Coral snakes do deliver venom when they bite. All of these snakes are reclusive and will only bite when they feel threatened. If you are bitten by a coral snake, seek immediate medical attention.

How can you tell apart a coral snake from a king snake or a milk snake?

Check out the extended guide below to find out.

Coral Snake vs King Snake vs Milk Snake

Coral snakes live in different parts of the world. They make up a group of venomous snakes with erect fangs.

There are at least 81 species of these snakes that are recognized today.

King snakes have 45 subspecies. These snakes are non-venomous and inhabit North America.

Milk snakes are also non-venomous snakes. They are species of king snakes that have smooth scales and vary in color.

What is the difference between these reptiles? How dangerous or how docile are they?

Let’s find out.

Venomous Snakes

The coral snake's bite is dangerous but it is seldom lethal. Coral snakes are highly venomous, so you must treat snake bites as serious.

When the coral snake bites, it delivers the venom via two, small, hollow fangs. Although it has the potential to do more damage, the venomous coral snake usually attempts to flee when you confront it and will only bite when you restrain it.

The king snake is not venomous. It will only bite when you threaten it, but a bite from a king snake is not too painful.

Milk snakes are not venomous. They tend to be shy and will only bite you if they feel under threat.

Milk snakes only have small teeth and their bites are not painful.

You must be weary of coral snakes as they have fangs and a venomous bite.

Color Pattern

To distinguish a coral snake, look out for its red, yellow, or white and black bands.

If you see this color pattern on a snake in the US, you know you are looking at a coral snake. In other parts of the world, however, some different species mimic this same banding pattern.

The king snake comes in different colors such as dull browns, and black.

It has brightly colored markings on it that are usually white, or shades of red, yellow, gray, or lavender. The markings come in different shapes such as rings, stripes, speckles, and bands.

Some species have red and yellow bands like coral snakes which is why people often confuse them.

Milk snakes come in many different color patterns. But some resemble coral snakes because they have red-to-black-to-yellow bands or white-to-black-to-red bands.

You must be familiar with the red-yellow-black bands that are infamous on coral snakes.

Behavior, Dangerous or Docile?

Most coral snakes prefer to keep themselves to themselves. They usually only come out when it rains or when the breeding season begins.

Because they are reclusive, they do not tend to bite and snake bites are rare. When a coral snake does bite, it holds onto its prey with its fangs making chewing motions as it delivers its venom.

King snakes are normally docile and will not attack you unless they feel you pose a threat. They spend most of their time hiding.

Milk snakes are secretive, docile, nocturnal animals.

When they feel threatened they usually try to escape. They will only attack when you corner them.

They shake their tails and bite. But because they only have small teeth, their bites do not hurt.

While all three types of snakes will avoid confrontation, you must be wary of the coral snake as it delivers venomous bites.


Coral snakes are in the Elapid family group of snakes. Elapid snakes have permanently erect fangs and most are venomous.

Coral snakes fall into two groups. This includes the old-world coral snakes and the new-world coral snakes.

The king snake falls into the Colubrid family group of snakes. They are in the genus Lampropeltis.

All king snakes are new world snakes.

Milk snakes are a species of king snakes. They fall into the Colubrid family group and the Lampropeltis genus.

All coral snakes are in the elapid family group. King and milk snakes, however, are part of the Colubrid family group.

Number of Species

There are many different types of coral snakes. There are 16 species in the old world group and over 65 in the new world group.

Some old-world coral snakes are:

  • Spotted coral snakes
  • Black coral snakes
  • The blue Malaysian coral snake

Some new world coral snakes are:

  • Eastern coral snakes
  • The Arizona coral snake

There are in total 26 species of king snakes.

Some of these include:

  • Scarlet kingsnakes
  • California kingsnakes
  • Speckled kingsnakes
california mountain king snake
California King Snake

There are currently 24 recognized subspecies of milk snakes.

Here are some of its subspecies:

  • The red milk snake
  • The eastern milk snake
  • The Mexican milk snake
milk snake white background
Mexican milk snake

Coral snakes are part of a big group of Elipad snakes.


Most coral snakes are small snakes. On average, they measure 90 cm in length.

Although very rare, some coral snakes grow up to 150 cm long.

King snakes vary in size. On average, they measure 100 cm.

Some are small, averaging just 61 cm. Other snakes are much longer, measuring up to 152 cm.

Milk snakes also vary in size. On average, they measure between 51 and 152 cm.

Some of the subspecies are small, just 36 cm. Other snakes in the subspecies are much larger, up to 183 cm.

King and milk snakes belong to the largest snake family, Colubridae.


Coral snakes have many different small animals in their diet. Here’s what they will eat.

  • Small snakes that are venomous and harmless
  • Lizards
  • Frogs
  • Birds
  • Rodents

Here is a list of what king snakes eat.

  • Lizards
  • Snakes that are venomous and harmless
  • Snake eggs
  • Birds
  • Rodents

Milk snakes have a slightly different diet. Here’s what they eat.

  • Small mammals
  • Lizards
  • Birds and bird eggs
  • Frogs
  • Snakes that are venomous and harmless
  • Snake eggs
  • Fish
  • Invertebrates

All of these snakes eat other snakes as part of their diet.

Milk Snake King Snake Coral Snake Similarities and Differences

The 3 types of snakes we have discussed today have some things in common, but also some key differences between them.


The king snake and the milk snake are closely related. Coral snakes and milk snakes can look alike.

But how are all three of the snakes we’re discussing similar?

  • Many coral snakes and milk snakes come in the same colors, but the order of the bands sets them apart.
  • They all have the potential to bite when you provoke them.
  • They are generally reclusive animals that will retreat rather than attack.
  • They are all reptiles of the Serpentes suborder.
  • They eat other snakes. Including those that are harmless and those that are not.


Coral snake vs king snake vs milk snake, what are the key differences between the three?

Let’s see.

Factor Coral snakesKing snakesMilk snakes
Venomous?YesNo No
Color patternRed, yellow, or white and blackDull browns and black Red, black, and yellow or white, black, and red
Family groupElapidColubrid Colubrid
Number of species or subspeciesOver 80 2624
Length90 cm100 cm51 to 152 cm

Coral Snakes, King Snakes, and Milk Snakes In a Nutshell

So, what’s the verdict? What are the key differences between coral snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes?

Coral snakes are:

  • Venomous
  • Brightly colored, with red, yellow, or white and black bands.
  • Reclusive and non-aggressive but can deliver a venomous bite when provoked.
  • Part of the Elapid family group of snakes.
  • 90 cm in length.
aquatic coral snake
Aquatic Coral Snake

King snakes are:

  • Harmless
  • Dull brown or black with bright markings.
  • Reclusive and non-aggressive.
  • Part of the Colubrid family of snakes.
  • 100 cm in length.

Milk snakes are:

  • Harmless
  • Different colors with some resembling the coral snake because of their red-to-black-to-yellow bands or white-to-black-to-red bands.
  • Reclusive and non-aggressive.
  • Part of the Colubrid family group of snakes.
  • 51 to 152 cm in length.

Did you find this article interesting?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we always strive to provide you with the best articles about dangerous and harmless snakes. For more guides on the eastern coral snake and the scarlet kingsnake, check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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