The River Tern Lodge run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts is situated near the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. The region is in the midst of the Western Ghats of Karnataka and hosts a large variety of flora and fauna.

It was on one of those days during the monsoons of 2014 at Bhadra. I was sitting in the reception of the River Tern Lodge, when one of my colleagues called to inform me about a colourful snake near the golghar (dining hall). I rushed to the spot and saw a beautiful snake near the steps leading to the golghar.

At first sight, I thought it was one of the colour morphs of the Common Krait and sent the pictures to my friend Sunil Sachi, who is knowledgeable about reptiles and amphibians. After a while, he let me know that it was one of the Western Ghats endemics, and a rare sight. It was the venomous Bibron’s Coral Snake (Calliophis bibroni).

I then looked for more information on this snake on the internet and referred to some books too. Coral snakes are separated into two groups: the Old World coral snakes (found in Asia) and the New World coral snakes (found in the Americas). They belong to the family Elapidae.

The most distinctive physical characteristics of coral snakes are their brightly coloured and patterned bodies, short, fixed fangs and potent venom. Unlike most other venomous snakes, coral snakes cannot contract their fangs into the mouth. Instead, they are constantly out and erect. Moreover, their fangs are relatively weak.

Their colours and patterns range from cherry red to dark purplish brown and dorsal scales may be dotted with scarlet red in the middle. The belly is bright coral red or pinkish red with large black square-like spots till the end of the tail. The tail itself is very short and has a thick end. The head is depressed and blunt with a rounded snout and is not distinct from the neck. Eyes are small and entirely black. They can grow up to 50-88cm and their venom is neurotoxic.

The Bibron’s Coral Snake is a nocturnal species and rarely seen at daytime. It spends most of its life as a burrower and surfaces occasionally on the ground for foraging and mating. Shy, elusive and usually non-offensive, it mainly feasts on other snakes.