A smol snake caused a big fuss in Germany on Valentine’s Day, after a six-month-old South African coral snake escaped from its terrarium. Concerned for the baby snake and the potentially lethal venom it was packing, its owners contacted the emergency services triggering the evacuation of 10 apartments in Cologne, Germany. Staff from Feuerwehr Köln attended the scene, putting out a description of the mini escapologist on Facebook. “The animal is a ′′ South African coral snake ′′ aged six months. The animal is approximately 20 centimeters long and of small diameter,” read the post.
While it might seem like a lot of noise over a snake smaller than the average ruler, when it comes to coral snake venom it’s always best to be cautious. Also known as the Cape Coral Cobra, these venomous snakes can be bad-tempered animals and will rear up, spread their hood and hiss when they get the rage. They’re not afraid to strike but - while being on the receiving end of one is not advised - they quite often strike with their mouths closed.
Venom is energetically expensive for animals, meaning they want to reserve it for opportunities where they might realistically get a meal out of it - or die if they don’t deploy their secret weapon. Their bold coloration is an indicator of their toxicity, which easily kills lizards and small rodents but is less likely to take down an adult human.
The threat to humans is less clear with few documented cases of envenomation, but the experience is certainly never a positive one. A case report published in 2019 detailed an adult man who received bites to both hands from a captive coral snake. The day from hell reads, “Approximately one hour after receiving the bite, he developed vomiting, respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation, and paralysis of the bulbar and upper extremity muscles, with retention of voluntary motor control in the lower extremities. Supportive care was provided, and paralysis and respiratory failure resolved spontaneously 12 hours after onset.”
Incidences such as this mean coral snake venom are considered to be neurotoxic to humans, calling for immediate medical care for anyone who’s bitten. It’s understandable, then, that the fire service took the approach they did in the case of Baby Coral’s Big Day Out, evacuating residents from 10 nearby apartments to reduce the likelihood of a run-in. In their initial post, they urged that the animal was not as dangerous as an adult owing to its small size and young age, but regardless extreme care was merited as severe reactions couldn’t be ruled out.
The impressive search really left no stone unturned in the effort to track down the snake, with reptile teams assessing the health of the captive snakes still in the apartment (which was found to be “exemplary”), searching bins, and hard to access areas using endoscope technology.
Fortunately, the search had a happy ending for all involved as the coral snake "was caught on the way to a feed trap and is now safely back in the terrarium,” wrote Feuerwehr Köln on Facebook. If giving up on an escape attempt because you got snack’ish isn’t a whole mood I don’t know what is.