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Rare two-headed turtle in Cape Cod is in good health, centre says

Sunday, October 17th 2021, 4:05 pm - According to the Cape Wildlife Center, the two heads resulted from a condition called bicephaly, a rare anomaly that can occur from genetic and environmental factors that affect an embryo during the development stage.

Two heads are better than one is often an expression referring to people working together to solve a problem, but for this particular turtle, it is the real deal.

A rare two-headed turtle recently hatched in Cape Cod in Massachusetts, with photos of the individual shared on Facebook earlier this month by the Cape Wildlife Center. The unique specimen is a diamondback terrapin, hatched from a protected nesting site in Barnstable, Mass., and brought to the hospital by members of the town's natural resources department.

SEE ALSO: How we can help Canada's at-risk turtles survive and thrive

According to the organization, the two heads resulted from a condition called bicephaly, also known as dicephaly, a rare anomaly that can occur from genetic and environmental factors that affect an embryo during the development stage.

This turtle is referred to as "they" by the group.

Two-headed turtle/Cape Wildlife Center Cape Wildlife Center.

"Similar to conjoined twins in humans, they share parts of their body but also have some parts that are independent. In this case 'they' have two heads and six legs. On admission, both sides were very alert and active, and our veterinary team was eager to learn more about them," the organization said in the social media post.


Animals that have bicephaly often won't survive long or experience a "good quality of life, but these two have given us reason to be optimistic," the wildlife centre wrote, noting "they" has been in its care for a little more than two weeks and is showing signs of good health.

"They are eating, swimming, and gaining weight each day. It is impossible to get inside the heads of these two, but it appears that they work together to navigate their environment," Cape Wildlife Center said.

Staff are handling the well-being of "they" day-by-day, working to learn as much as it can about them while they are in in its care, it said. To date, X-rays disclosed the presence of two spines that fuse further down the body.

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"We have been observing them moving and swimming, showing they each have control of three legs. After hatching they had one shared yolk sac that provided them nutrition in the first few days after entering the world," the Cape Wildlife Center said.

A barium study then revealed they each have separate gastrointestinal (GI) tracts, with the right side looking to be slightly more developed, but they are eating and digesting food. As well, the results of a monitored deep-water swim test showed they can co-ordinate swimming, with an ability to head to the surface to breathe when needed.

"There is still so much to learn about them and our next step is to try and get them a CT scan when they are a little bit bigger, which would provide more information on what internal structures they share," the post concludes.

Thumbnail courtesy of Cape Wildlife Center.

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