Rare Two-Headed Turtle Hatched On Cape Cod Beach

A turtle swimming in water
Cape Wildlife Center

A baby turtle hatchling with two heads is making headlines after being discovered on a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Believe it or not, it’s the second instance of a two-headed turtle being found on a beach this year.

 Back in July, a two-headed loggerhead sea turtle was found on a South Carolina beach and ushered into the sea where its odds of survival were questionable at best.

The news of the most recent two-headed turtle was first shared by a local wildlife education center’s social media pages Sunday afternoon. The diamond terrapin hatched from a nest at a protected area outside the town of Barnstable. Staff from the Barnstable Natural Resources Department brought the baby turtle to a nearby wildlife hospital.

The hatchling reportedly suffers from a rare anomaly known as bicephaly, which impacts developing embryos based on various genetic and environmental factors. Like conjoined twins in humans, the turtles share some body parts but also have some independent appendages. In this case, the turtle has two heads the operate independently and six legs, with each turtle having its own set of front legs and a shared set of back legs. 

Often turtles suffering from bicephaly have several associated health issues, but both turtle heads seemed alert and active, and the two-headed terrapin has been with the wildlife hospital for two weeks now despite the news just now being made public. The wildlife center noted that the creature appears to be doing well and progressing through its early life cycle like a regular turtle. 

“They are eating, swimming, and gaining weight each day. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get inside the heads of these two, but it appears that they work together to navigate their environment.”

Sadly most animals with bicephaly do not live very long lives and typically have a poor quality of life. However, the early success of this turtle is giving wildlife experts a reason to be optimistic about their future. 

X-ray footage taken of the turtle shows that each head is connected to an individual spine that fuses further back than usual, and each head appears to be in control of three of the legs. The turtles have shown early signs of working together to navigate their environment. 

Each of the turtles also appears to have its own digestive tract. While the right side of the turtle seems to be slightly further along in its growth and development, each turtle is eating independently and digesting food without a problem. 

Caretakers also tested the turtle’s ability to swim in a controlled environment, and each turtle appeared to be able to control its legs underwater. Both turtles were capable of surfacing to breathe air when need be. 

For now, the turtles will remain under the watchful care and monitoring of staff at the wildlife center. 

“No, you are not seeing double! This diamondback terrapin hatchling actually has two heads.

This is a condition called bicephaly and is a rare anomaly that can occur from both genetic and environmental factors that influence an embryo during development. “They” hatched from a protected nesting site in Barnstable and were brought to the hospital by the Barnstable department of natural resources for assessment.

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.

Animals with this rare condition don’t always survive very long or live a good quality of life, but these two have given us reason to be optimistic! “They” have been in our care for just over two weeks and continue to be bright and active. 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.

We are taking this case day-by-day and are working on learning as much as we can about these two while they are in our care. So far, X-rays revealed that they have two spines that fuse further down the body. 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; however, with that resource used up, our next step was to see what their gastrointestinal (GI) tract looked like and if they would each be able to eat and absorb nutrients to continue to grow

. A barium study revealed they each have separate GIs. The right side appears to be slightly more developed, but they are eating and digesting food. A supervised deep water swim test showed that they could coordinate swimming so that they could come 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.” 

No you are not seeing double! This diamondback terrapin hatchling actually has two heads. 🐢🐢This is a condition called…

Posted by Cape Wildlife Center on Sunday, October 10, 2021

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