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Micrurus tener is a species of venomous snake in the family Elapidae. The species is endemic to the southern United States and northeastern and central Mexico. Four subspecies are recognized; the nominotypical subspecies, Micrurus tener tener, which is found in both the US and Mexico, is commonly known as the Texas coral snake. This species was once considered to be a subspecies of the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius).
M. tener ranges from the southern United States south to northeastern and central Mexico. It inhabits the states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Morelos.
The Texas coral snake has the traditional coloration associated with coral snakes: black, yellow, and red rings. It is capable of growing to 48 in (122 cm) in total length (including tail), but most are closer to 24 in (61 cm). Males are typically smaller than females. It has smooth dorsal scales, a rounded head, and the eyes have round pupils. Albinistic (lacking black pigment) and anerythristic (lacking red pigment) specimens have been found in the wild. "Pastel" (pink, translucent cream, and very light blue) coloration has been noted, and completely black (melanistic) specimens, are known. The Texas coral snake is somewhat larger (longer and stouter) than the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), and has a somewhat larger venom yield.
All coral snakes are shy, secretive animals, typically nocturnal. They spend most of their time hiding in leaf litter, under logs. They can be seen crawling on the surface, after heavy rains, when the nighttime temperatures rise above 78 °F (26 °C).
When grabbed suddenly, or sometimes just when touched, they may thrash about, swing around, and bite. Sometimes they are calm, and then suddenly swing around and bite, for no apparent reason.
The primary diet of M. tener consists of other snakes, primarily earth snakes, and other small fossorial species. It is cannibalistic. It also occasionally eats small lizards, but the consumption of rodents by coral snakes is rare.
Other nonvenomous snakes resemble the Texas coral snake as a form of Batesian mimicry. In the United States ONLY, all three species of venomous coral snakes (Micruroides euryxanthus, Micrurus fulvius, and Micrurus tener ) can be identified by the red rings contacting the yellow rings. A common mnemonic device is "red and yellow, kill a fellow".
Texas coral snake venom is a powerful neurotoxin, causing neuromuscular dysfunction. Until 2006, no deaths from coral snake bites had been reported since the 1970s in the United States. However, rare, fatal bites have occurred according to several scientific journals in the '80s and '90s.
Because of the low profits, the production of coral snake antivenin has been discontinued for several years. Prior to the availability of antivenin, the fatality rate of coral snake envenomations has been estimated at 10%, and death was primarily due to respiratory or cardiovascular failure as a result of paralysis induced by the neurotoxic venom.
Pfizer Labs now produce antivenin for the eastern coral snake..
A coral snake (genus Micrurus) is proteroglyphous, meaning it has a pair of deeply grooved, semihollow, chisel-shaped, fixed fangs in the front of its upper jaw, through which the venom is injected and encouraged via a chewing motion. Coral snakes do not necessarily need to bite and hold on for a brief time to deliver a significant amount of venom. They expel venom quickly during extraction into collection media in the lab. Severe envenomations have occurred after a quick bite. Many bites from coral snakes do not inject any venom at all (dry bite). A bite from any coral snake should be considered an extremely serious medical emergency, and medical treatment should be sought immediately, because symptoms of envenomation are known to sometimes delay manifestation for as long as 24 hours, but once present, often progress very rapidly.
The five recognized subspecies of M. tener are:
- M. t. tener (Baird & Girard, 1853)
- M. t. fitzingeri (Jan, 1858)
- M. t. maculatus Roze, 1967
- M. t. microgalbineus B.C. Brown & H.M. Smith, 1942
- M. t. tamaulipensis Lavin-Murcio & Dixon, 2004
The Texas coral snake was once considered a subspecies of the eastern coral snake, Micrurus fulvius, but more recent research has determined that it has enough morphological differences to be considered its own species.
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- Hammerson GA, Lavin P, Mendoza Quijano F (2007). "Micrurus tener ". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2007: e.T64033A12738512. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T64033A12738512.en. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
- Species Micrurus tener at The Reptile Database
- Powell R, Conant R, Collins JT (2016). Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. xiv + 494 pp., 47 plates, 207 Figures. ISBN 978-0-544-12997-9. (Micrurus tener, pp. 434-435, Figure 196 + Plate 44).
- Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Micrurus tener fitzingeri, p. 91).
- Baird SF, Girard C (1853). Catalogue of North American Reptiles in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Part I.—Serpentes. Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution. xvi + 172 pp. (Elaps tenere, new species, pp. 22–23).
- Brown BC, Smith HM (1942). "A New Subspecies of Mexican Coral Snake". Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington 55: 63-65. (Micrurus fitzingeri microgalbineus, new subspecies).
- Hubbs, Brian; O'Connor, Brendan (2012) A Guide to the Rattlesnakes and other Venomous Serpents of the United States. Tempe, Arizona: Tricolor Books. 129 pp. ISBN 978-0-9754641-3-7. (Micrurus tener tener, pp. 89–90).
- Jan [G] (1858). "Plan d'une Iconographie descriptive des Ophidiens et Description sommaire de nouvelles espèces de Serpents ". Revue et Magasin de Zoologie Pure et Appliquée, Paris, Series 2, 10: 438-449, 514-527. (Elaps fitzingeri, new species, p. 521). (in French).
- Roze JA (1967). "A Check List of the New World Venomous Coral Snakes (Elapidae), with Descriptions of New Forms". American Museum Novitates (2287): 1-60. (Micrurus fulvius maculatus, new subspecies, pp. 27–28, Figure 10).
- Schmidt, Karl P.; Davis, D. Dwight (1941). Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 365 pp. (Micrurus fulvius tenere, pp. 274–276).