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Twenty snake species are known to live in North Korea and South Korea. Species fall into one of three families: Colubridae, Viperidae and Elapidae. Most snake species endemic to Korea are found throughout the peninsula; however, some are concentrated in smaller regions.
Snakes in Korean Culture
Like most cultures, snakes are typically feared in Korea and associated with danger. The Korean word for snake, "sa," has the same pronunciation as the words for death and the number 4. The number 4 is considered to be unlucky, just as the number 13 is thought to be in Western culture. Despite the snake's association with death and bad luck, snake parts are an integral part of local folk medicine. Dreaming about snakes is also considered to be a sign of good luck.
The majority of snake species in Korea belong to the family Colubridae, a total of 11 species. Common examples include the Asian keelback (Amphiesma vibakari) and the Red-banded snake ( Dinodon rufozonatum ) Another common species is the Manchurian black water snake (Elaphe schrenckii), the largest in Korea, growing up to 70 inches long. Most Colubridae specimens in Korea are nonvenomous, but the Asian tiger keelback (Rhabdophis tigrinus) is a notable exception. In addition to packing venom, the snake also absorbs poison from prey toads to ward of predators.
Six species from the family Viperidae inhabit Korea. Multiple subspecies of the mamushi pit viper (Gloydius blomhoffii) lurk about in Korea. These snakes are the most venomous in Korea and carry a potentially lethal does of hemorrhagic venom. The mamushi vipers are also found in China and Japan. Korea is also inhabited by the common European adder (Vipera berus). The adder's bite is harmful but rarely fatal. The adder is one of the world's most widely distributed snakes, with habitats as far flung as the United Kingdom, the Arctic Circle and the Mediterranean Sea.
Three species of sea snake are known to live in Korea, including the venomous annulated sea snake ( Hydrophis cyanocinctus). The annulated sea snake coloring and markings varies from specimen to specimen. Other examples include the slender-necked sea snake (Hydrophis melanocephalus) and the yellowbelly sea snake (Hydrophis platurus). Sea snakes spend most of their lives in water; their paddle-like tails help propel them through the water.
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