About two weeks ago, a rare diamondback terrapin was born with two heads and six legs, a condition referred to as bicephalic.
According to the center, this condition “is a rare anomaly that can occur from both genetic and environmental factors that influence an embryo during development.”
The animal hatched at a nesting site in Barnstable and was brought to the center by the Barnstable Department of Natural Resources for examination.
A barium study showed the small species of turtle to have two independent gastrointestinal systems that nourish both sides of its body. The center said both sides were very alert and active.
“Similar to conjoined twins in humans they share parts of their body but also have some parts that are independent,” the center wrote on Facebook. “Our veterinary team was eager to learn more about them.”
Veterinarians at the center said the reptile is doing extremely well despite its condition that usually results in early death. The center said the duo continues to be bright and cooperative.
“They are eating, swimming, and gaining weight each day,” they said. “It is impossible to get inside the head of these two, but it appears that they work together to navigate their environment.”
X-rays have also revealed that the turtle has two spines that fuse together further down the body.
Staff will continue to closely monitor the rare specimen and when it reaches four weeks old, they hope to learn more about the animal’s circulatory system as well as how the two turtles can share one shell.
WBZ’s Tim Dunn (@ConsiderMeDunn) spoke to the director of the center: