Luckily, the rest of the baby viper's anatomy is shared, Kleopfer says, which means that "both heads are getting the nutrition they need."
In a news release, the Wildlife Center of Virginia says Kleopfer brought the snake to the hospital on Sept. 20 for an examination. X-rays revealed that one head has a more developed esophagus, Kleopfer says, while the other has a more developed throat. "Based on that, we're just attempting to feed the [left] head," he says.
That's because the left head appears more dominant, the wildlife center adds. "It's generally more active and responsive to stimulus," the release reads. "It would be better for the right head to eat, but it may be a challenge since the left head appears more dominant."
That unusual mutation also prevents the snake's heads from quarreling with each other over the same food. Instead, Kleopfer says, the separated heads "seemed to be oblivious to each other."
The gender is still unknown, but Kleopfer estimates the baby viper to be about 3 weeks old and 6 to 8 inches long. Copperheads typically reach 18 to 36 inches in length. The scientist says a private keeper who specializes in vipers for zoological facilities is currently caring for the snake.
Venomous copperheads are a fairly common sighting for U.S. residents, especially in the Southeastern United States or in forested, temperate climates. Captive-bred two-headed snakes are slightly more common, he says, "but that's usually the result of inbreeding."
Kleopfer has been in the field of herpetology for some 30 years. Still, he says, "This is definitely a first" and an "extraordinarily rare" sighting that few of his colleagues have seen.
He hesitates to name the snake, as his goal right now is to keep it alive. If it survives, he says he hopes to donate the snake to a zoo.
As for the current state of the snake, Kleoper tells in NPR in a follow-up email, "The little guy or girl is doing well. It [has] eaten and pooped, which are excellent signs."
NPR's Sarah Handel and Viet Le produced and edited the story for broadcast.
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