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Rare two-headed copperhead snake found in Virginia

A two-headed copperhead snake found in a flower garden in northern Virginia is alive and able to feed itself with some assistance, according to a state wildlife official there.

Two-headed — or bicephalic — snakes are “exceptionally rare” because they don’t live long in the wild due to the challenges of survival with two heads, according to the state herpetologist, John Kleopfer, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).

The snake is a recent hatchling only a few weeks old.

An unidentified Virginia resident who found the snake in a home garden alerted the Virginia Herpetological Society, which then contacted VDGIF.

Kleopfer retrieved the snake and took it last week for tests at the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, a teaching and research hospital for wildlife.

Radiographs, a type of X-ray, revealed the two-headed snake has two tracheas with the left one more developed and two esophaguses with the right one more developed, according to Amanda Nicholson, spokeswoman for the Wildlife Center.

The two heads share one heart and one set of lungs, according to Nicholson.

Both heads are capable of attempting to feed, “but we believe the right head is better developed for eating,” said Kleopfer.

The snake is in the care of a private reptile keeper experienced in rearing vipers.

“With some assistance, the snake actually fed over the weekend, but it still has a long way to go before we are confident of its survival,” Kleopfer said on Monday.

VDGIF will provide updates on the progress of the snake on its Facebook page.

Previously, a two-headed copperhead was documented in Charlottesville, Va., in 1996 but was killed by the person who found it, according to Kleopfer.

Most other examples of bicephalic snakes are from captive-bred animals, where inbreeding probably was the cause, he added.

If this most recent specimen survives, Kleopfer hopes to donate it to a zoological facility for exhibit.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.


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