Copperheads are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to their young in an amniotic sac rather than laying eggs, as do many other snakes. Ovoviviparous is intermediate between viviparous (give live birth) and oviparous (lays eggs).
The yolk sac is mainly in charge of feeding the embryo. The young ones emerge from the womb without a shell, which stays in the mother’s body.
Copperheads often breed in the spring and have their young in August or September. A female copperhead will usually give birth to an average of 3 to 10 young snakes and does not care for her young after birth.
The snakes derive their name from their bronze-colored heads. These deadly snakes, which may be found in the southern and eastern United States, have tan, copper, or gray bodies with hourglass-shaped stripes. The snakes may reach lengths of two to three feet. Their muscular bodies slope sharply toward their tiny tails.
How Do Copperheads Give Birth?
Copperheads usually mate in the spring, but fall mating is also possible, and they give birth in August or September. Females gather beneath rocks, in crevices, or other spots that are difficult to access.
Females giving birth tend to congregate in birthing rookeries, which can be as close as their winter dens or as far as a mile away. Giving birth at or near the winter den reduces the distance infants must travel from their birthplace to where they will shortly den for the winter.
Ovoviviparous female snakes lay eggs inside their bodies. As a result, the hatchlings are born alive, not in an egg. Essentially, the eggs hatch inside the mother, and the newborn snakes emerge fully alive without a shell.
Unfertilized egg yolk and unique compounds released by glands in the oviduct walls nurture and feed the newborns. When the babies have grown sufficiently within their eggs, they hatch and enter the oviduct.
This typically happens after around three months. They continue to feast on the leftover egg yolk and gland secretions that help them develop better for a longer time before they are born into the world. Colder conditions are more commonly connected with egg retention and live birth.
How Do Copperheads Mate?
During the breeding season, males use their tongues to scent pheromones in the atmosphere and seek out sexually active females.
Males compete with one another for the privilege to mate with females. Females may also fight potential mates and not mate with anyone who backs down after an initial encounter.
Fun fact: Males that lose a mating fight are unlikely to challenge another male in the future.
When a female is selected, the male will start to move his head or rub his jaw on the surface. After courting, the male lines up his body with hers. If the female does not reply, the courting may extend an hour or longer. The female rises, bend her tail, and brings down the scale that hides her cloaca after being suitably excited.
To mate, the male bends his body and tail at the cloaca, which serves both the reproductive and excretory processes. The male sticks out his hemipenes (a two-pronged sex organ in his tail) and puts sperm into the female’s cloaca with each half. Mating lasts between 3.5 to 8.5 hours, and fertilization occurs after ovulation.
Males release a pheromone during mating, rendering the female unappealing to other males. Females are similarly uninterested in mating after a lengthy, fortunate first mating.
Females can store sperm as well. The amount of time they can keep sperms appears to vary depending on where they are stored. However, when the female store sperms in the cloaca, the period is usually shorter.
On the other hand, they last longer when stored at the upper end of the oviducts or vascular tissues specialized as seminal receptacles. A female that spawns in the fall can retain sperm until she wakes from hibernation.
How To Know If A Copperhead Is Pregnant
The length of pregnancy in snakes varies depending on the species; Copperheads are pregnant for 3-9 months. Various parameters will help you to know when a copperhead snake is pregnant.
One of the earliest indicators of a probable pregnancy is when copperhead stops feeding or eats a tiny amount, lasting for several weeks. However, this occurs both before and during shedding.
To keep her body relaxed, a pregnant female may frequently avoid a heat lamp or the warmest region of her tank. She may also lie on her back to remain calm. A pregnant copperhead may rest on her back with her tummy exposed or take regular showers in the water.
Pregnant copperhead females will be less happy with the handling and may even become aggressive. So it’s best to keep away from her until she gives birth. She will also have changes in her body proportions; the region between the midsection and the vent of a pregnant copperhead will thicken and have small lumps indicating the presence of eggs.
How To Identify A Baby Copperhead
Baby copperheads have virtually the same pattern and colors as adult copperheads. However, they may have a yellow-colored tail or a black head at birth. In addition, baby copperheads may be grayer in hue than adult copperheads.
Look for prominent yellow or green streaks on the tails of baby copperheads to identify them. This mark usually is present in baby copperheads for the first year of their existence. Their coloration is ordinarily light brown or reddish, with some juvenile snakes appearing dark gray. This brilliant hue is intended to attract and lure animals into striking range. The patterning on copperheads resembles an hourglass, and their heads are occasionally triangular in appearance.
Adult copperheads have no pattern, only a bright red copperish hue. Meanwhile, baby copperheads have two tiny dark marks on the upper part of their heads. Be aware that some newborn copperheads have clear heads with no spots like their parents; thus, the lack of markings does not always imply that it is not a newborn copperhead.
The pupils of most poisonous snakes are known as cat-eyes. Unlike nonvenomous snakes, which have circular pupils, the venomous copperhead baby snake pupils are split vertically. Their eyes are golden-yellow with a small black pupil slit along the middle.
Babies range from seven to eight inches and are sometimes confused with non-venomous water snakes, rat snakes, and corn snakes. Copperheads may grow to be two to three feet long as adults.
How To Tell If A Snake Will Lay Eggs Or Give Birth?
The majority of snake species, almost 70%, are oviparous, which means they lay eggs. Snake eggs have a leather-like texture and can be flexible or stiff. Rigid shells are often more challenging to lay; however, most snakes lay malleable shells.
The eggs must then be incubated, or at the very least kept warm, until the hatchlings are completely matured and ready to emerge from the shell, just like those of birds. Hatchlings will use their teeth to break through the shell when it is time to hatch.
Almost all members of the Colubridae family lay eggs, including king snakes, rat snakes, grass snakes, and other species. Mambas, cobras, adders, and many other Elapidae family members are likewise oviparous.
Snakes that do not lay eggs can either be viviparous or ovoviviparous. Snakes classified as viviparous feed their developing young via the placenta. Boa constrictors and green anacondas are viviparous snakes, which means they give birth to live young and do not use eggs at any stage of development.
The ovoviviparous approach may be considered a “mix” of an egg-laying snake species and one that gives birth to live offspring. They lay shelled eggs that contain an embryo. However, these eggs are not laid but rather develop inside the mother’s body. After they are fully developed, the mother gives birth.
Copperheads are ovoviviparous, meaning their eggs are incubated within the female’s body. After which, live offspring are born. Females give birth to 3-10 newborns in fall or late summer after mating in the spring.
Another unique characteristic of this snake is that the female can store sperm and delay conception for months after mating in the fall until she has completed hibernating.
Baby copperhead snakes resemble their adult counterparts in appearance, with copper-colored heads, facial pits, hour-glass-shaped splotches, and elliptical eyes. On the other hand, babies have distinct characteristics like grayer coloration, a yellow tail tip, and typically two tiny black spots on their forehead.
Even though snakes have three separate reproductive mechanisms, viviparous, ovoviviparous, and oviparous, all snakes use internal fertilization.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.