Do Copperheads Lay Eggs? (How Are Their Baby Snakes Born)

Believe it or not, not all snakes lay eggs! Even though all snakes are reptiles, some snakes give birth to their young live, much like the way mammals do. These snakes are known as “ovoviviparous,” which means that they give birth to their young in an amniotic sac. So are copperhead snakes ovoviviparous or do they lay eggs? 

Do copperheads lay eggs? 

Copperhead snakes do not lay eggs. They are in fact ovoviviparous! Copperheads usually breed in the spring and then they give birth to their young in August or September. Ordinarily, a female copperhead will give birth to about 3 to 10 baby snakes at a time.  

Female copperheads will keep the eggs inside of their body until they are ready to “hatch,” which is usually after about 105 to 110 days of incubation.  

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Once these copperhead snakes are born, the mother does not care for them. They are completely able to fend for themselves with fully grown fangs that are equipped with venom.

These snakes are usually about 7 to 9 inches long. Something that makes these young snakes unique, is that they have a yellow tip on their tail. This tip then fades as they get older. Scientists believe that these juvenile snakes use their tails to lure and capture prey. 

Do all copperhead species give live birth? 

A closeup of a Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) in a pile of fire wood.
A closeup of a Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) in a pile of firewood.

There are five different types of copperhead snakes. These snakes are:

  • the southern copperhead,
  • the northern copperhead,
  • the broad-banded copperhead,
  • the Trans-Pecos copperhead, and
  • the Osage copperhead.

All five of these subspecies of copperheads give birth to their young live and they are all ovoviviparous.

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What other snakes are ovoviviparous? 

Highland Copperhead
Highland Copperhead

While most snakes lay eggs, there are a handful of other ovoviviparous snakes out there. Snakes are broken up into three categories depending on how they give birth to their young. Oviparous snakes are snakes that lay eggs and then help them incubate in the environment before they hatch.

Corn snakes and cobras are examples of these types of snakes. Viviparous snakes are snakes that develop their offspring internally. Some viviparous snakes are water snakes, boa constrictors, anacondas, and garter snakes. The offspring in these snakes get the nutrients that they need from a placenta and yolk sack.

Ovoviviparous snakes are the snakes in the middle. They do not lay eggs but their young do not develop with a placenta. Instead, they are in an egg that is being incubated inside their mother. Some other snakes that are ovoviviparous are rinkhals, sea snakes, and rattlesnakes

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Why do some snakes give live birth?  

A venomous baby copperhead
A venomous baby copperhead

All of the world’s earliest snake species were oviparous. This means that all snakes descended from egg-laying snakes. So why did some of these snakes evolve to give birth to their young live? Ovoviviparity and viviparity evolved to achieve better survival rates for their young!

Newborn snakes that are hatching out of a shell are more at risk of many things such as predation, scavenging, temperature changes, and the lack of dry land. Snakes that are born live, as opposed to hatching out of a shell, have a better survival rate.

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Even though that is the case, scientists estimate that only about 20% to 30% of all snake species give birth to their young live (those are the snakes that are ovoviviparous and viviparous). 

Are copperheads dangerous? 

You probably know that copperheads are venomous snakes. So how dangerous are they? Copperhead snakes bite more people than any other type of snake in the United States. Unlike most venomous snakes, copperheads do not give any warning signs that they are going to bite. Instead, they will attack almost immediately after they feel threatened. Luckily, the venom that these snakes have is not overly toxic. 

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Copperheads have hemotoxic venom which means that their venom usually only causes temporary tissue damage at the area of the bite. That does not mean that anyone who is bitten does not need to seek medical attention. It is especially important that medical attention is received if the bite victim is a child, an elderly person, or someone with a compromised immune system because these populations of people are more likely to have a more severe reaction.  

Copperheads are far more dangerous to their prey, which is usually rats, rabbits, mice, birds, lizards, turtles, frogs, toads, grasshoppers, cicadas, and even other snakes.  

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