- Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Media Contact for Copperhead birth caught on camera
Media Contact, MassWildlife
The copperhead is listed as endangered in Massachusetts. It is one of only two venomous snakes in the state (the other is the timber rattlesnake, also listed as endangered). Both species give birth at the end of summer. People often mistake milk snakes and even northern water snakes for copperheads, but actual copperhead observations are very rare. Even more rare is the opportunity to see them give birth to their young! Luckily, MassWildlife State Herpetologist Mike Jones was able to document and share a live birth.
Copperheads typically mate in spring, although fall mating can also occur. They usually give birth to 3–10 young in August or September. Jones admits he was lucky to capture the footage. “Females gather under rocks, in crevices, or other areas that are hard to access, so observing the birth of a copperhead is something very few people have the opportunity to see.” Females giving birth tend to gather together in areas called birthing rookeries, which may be their winter dens or sometimes up to a mile away. Giving birth at or near their winter den helps minimizes the distance newborns have to travel from their birth site to where they will den during winter.
Copperheads are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to their young encased in an amniotic sac, rather than laying eggs like many other snakes. After giving birth, a copperhead mother does not care for her young. Each of the young is equipped with venom, fangs, and a supply of egg yolk for nourishment in their abdominal cavities. Newborn copperheads measure about 7–9 inches long at birth and have a unique yellow tail tip, which fades as they mature. Some hypothesize that juveniles use these tail tips to lure prey. When the animal gets close enough, the copperhead can strike and acquire its meal.
As young copperheads grow, they face many threats. Destruction of rocky, wooded habitat and summer feeding grounds, removal from the wild by collectors, and mortality from snake "hunters" and the general public continue to imperil the endangered copperhead.
Massachusetts copperheads live only in a few areas of the Connecticut River Valley and greater Boston. You can help support their populations, as well as the conservation other rare animals and plants, by donating to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, as well as by reporting your own observations of rare animal and plant life. Learn more at Mass.gov/supportNHESP.