Rare Two-Headed Baby Copperhead Snake Found, on Display at Wildlife Center

Reptile aficionados who find themselves in Frankfort, Kentucky, can now get a glimpse of a rare, two-headed baby copperhead snake.

On October 4, an unnamed couple living in Leslie County, Kentucky, found the snake in their yard and called a conservation officer. The snake was donated to the Salato Wildlife Education Center so it could be properly cared for, and so the general public could have the opportunity to learn about the rare phenomenon.

"I have never seen a two-headed copperhead before," herpetologist John MacGregor said in a video on Facebook. "I've seen thousands of copperheads."

The Salato Wildlife Center wrote in a Facebook post that its staff was "thrilled" to host the unique animal, adding that it hoped the snake would thrive under its care to become an "educational ambassador" of the native Kentucky species.

The wildlife center said that both of the snake's heads moved and both sets of eyes moved. Both tongues were also functional; the center did not yet know if both of its mouths could swallow food.

To educate the public about two-headed snakes, the wildlife center decided to put the reptile on display from 10:00 a.m. EDT to 12:00 p.m. EDT, and then again from 2:00 p.m. EDT to 4:00 p.m. EDT.

rare baby two headed copperhead
The two-headed copperhead has two functional heads, two sets of eyes that move and two functional tongues. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Two-headed snakes can often have serious health complications that can pose a risk to the animal's livelihood. The center explained that the snake would also be taken out of the public's eye and off display.

Two-headed snakes come to be the same way as human conjoined twins do, in that an embryo begins to split into identical twins but stops before the split is completed. This baby copperhead is only slightly separated at the neck, but the separation can continue farther down the body.

Gordon Burghardt, a herpetologist at the University of Tennessee, told National Geographic that two-headed snakes will fight over which head gets to swallow prey. That makes them more vulnerable to attack than their one-headed counterparts, because feeding takes more time.

With two brains trying to make decisions about which way to go and how to respond to an attack, Burghardt explained, two-headed snakes rarely have a long life in the wild. However, he cited "Thelma and Louise," the the two-headed snake which survived for years in the San Diego Zoo, as proof that two-headed snakes had a longer life span while in captivity. Another snake lived for 17 years in captivity at Arizona State University.

rare two headed snake
A rare two-headed baby copperhead snake was found in Kentucky and is on display at the Salato Wildlife Center, in Frankfort. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

While there were rumors that only one head of a copperhead will eat, Robert Brock, a zookeeper who cared for numerous two-headed snakes including Thelma and Louise, said, "It depends on the snake." With Thelma and Louise, a corn snake, the right head did all the eating, while the left head drank occasionally. However, another two-headed snake Brock cared for ate with both heads, often at the same time.

Although two-headed snakes are rare, this is at least the second two-headed copperhead snake to be found in the United States in the last two months.

In September, a woman found a two-headed eastern copperhead outside her home in Woodbridge, Virginia, and contacted the Virginia Wildlife Management and Control. The snake was turned over to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, where experts continue to care for it.

Two-headed animals often share internal organs, meaning they only have one heart and one set of lungs. But in March, a snake breeder in Florida found out his two-headed boa constrictor snake had two hearts.

"I was shocked it has two hearts," veterinarian Dr. Lauren Thielen told National Geographic. "But it was really cool to understand that the Siamese twin snake was really two snakes in one outer skin."

Pending health complications, the snake recently found in Kentucky will be on display until November 21, when the center closes for the season.