Generally, one head is enough for any living creature, but the mythological hydra had more than its fair share – just perfect for slaying any ancient Greeks unwise enough to cross its path. Of course, many-headed beasts have made plenty of appearances in modern-day fiction, too – from Fluffy the huge three-headed dog in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, to Sesame Street’s bungling two-headed monster.
Yet, as fantastical as it might sound, animals with two (or, more rarely still, three) heads exist in real life as well. And while they may not be as funny, terrifying or gigantic as their fictional counterparts, they’re definitely just as strange.
This bizarre condition is called polycephaly, and believe it or not, it can occur in both animals and humans. The most common cause for animals with two heads is monozygotic (identical) twins failing to separate properly, so that instead of becoming two separate siblings, they end up sharing the same body.
And this is one instance where two heads (or two brains) definitely aren’t better than one. First and foremost, many animals and humans born with polycephaly die soon after birth. And even those that survive can end up “arguing” with themselves; for example, a two-headed terrapin found in Taiwan walked in a zigzag pattern, because one head wanted to go one way, while the other sought to “head” in the opposite direction.
But let’s look at some other individual cases in more detail. Read on to learn more about 10 incredible two-headed animals.
Although the order Testudines (tortoises, terrapins and turtles) rarely has occurrences of polycephaly, from time to time cases do crop up. The terrapin pictured here was found on a riverbank in Havana in 2005. Local scientists checked it and revealed that the creature was in good health.
John Jones from Dorchester in the UK also ended up with a similar two-headed reptile – this time, a tortoise, born in 2004. Jones already owned 37 of the creatures, but this was his first two-headed specimen. “Both heads eat and sometimes they start on the same piece of food and meet in the middle,” he said at the time. And although it might sound kind of romantic and sweet, it’s probably more frustrating than anything else.
An attraction in a Ukrainian zoo, this albino Californian kingsnake has two intensely independent heads. In fact, when the snake is feeding, the keepers have to put a barrier between the heads – because they steal food from each other! What’s more, the losing head gets quite angry! The irony is that the snake would get its fill regardless, as it only has one stomach.
A family in South Carolina discovered a more unusual two-headed snake, according to reports from 2012. The rough earth snake (or Virginia striatula) they found had two heads, but unlike the kingsnake pictured here, it had one on either end of its body! And although one head is larger than the other, both seem capable of controlling the snake’s body. Kids Savannah and Preston Logan loved showing off the non-venomous specimen at their school.
While you might be tempted to call these double-headed animals freaks, in some countries they’re revered as envoys from the gods. In 2008, Mohammed Moussab from the West Bank in the Middle East had a sheep that gave birth to twins. And much to everyone’s surprise, the second-born lamb had two heads! Moussab christened the lamb “Holy” and promised not to slaughter it. According to The Telegraph, he said he would treat it as “God’s own creature.”
The lamb’s mother, however, proved less enamored with her two-headed baby, which was struggling to walk and feed properly. Sadly, problems can often arise with polycephaly. Another lamb (pictured here) had to be put to sleep the day after it was born because it couldn’t lift its head.
Although being born with two heads might guarantee fame and media attention for the creatures affected, it doesn’t make their lives any easier. According to Metro.co.uk, in 2010 this Egyptian-born calf endured a two-hour delivery process that required “lots of pulling.”
The delivery weakened the calf’s legs, and the creature’s heavy head made it impossible for it to stand up right away; it had to be fed with a baby bottle until it had gained enough strength.
This cardinal chick has two heads and three beaks. And although its parents fed it, it soon disappeared from the backyard where it was discovered in 2012.
“It is very, very rare to find a bird like this,” says Valerie Osborne of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “I have seen only one other similar case to this in the past 30 years.”
Sadly, polycephalic animals rarely live more than a few days.
These crocodiles, Chang and Eng, were hatched in 2001 in Bangkok, Thailand. Staff at an adjacent crocodile farm, which houses 60,000 of the creatures, took over with caring for the uncommon reptile.
Staying with water-dwelling creatures, a two-headed trout born in an Idaho stream in 2012 had selenium pollution to thank for its mutation. Selenium can have nasty effects on humans, as well, and may cause hair and fingernails to fall out.
In the 1980s, again due to selenium pollution, waterfowl chicks in California ended up suffering horrific physical defects, such as missing eyes and bulging brains.
This two-headed goat (pictured) owned by Grammy Award-winner Todd Ray is enjoying some couch time. As of April 2012, Ray owns 22 living two-headed animals.
Ray’s collection cost him over $157,000 and includes a tortoise, a kingsnake, a terrapin and a hognose snake. Ray shows off his unusual creatures at California’s Venice Beach Freakshow. But do you think they’re freaks or not?
Bred by specialist pig farmer Liu Shuping in Shaanxi province, northwest China, this hog had the good sense to be born during the Chinese Year of the Pig, in 2007. And whether or not this was auspicious, with two noses, two mouths, and three eyes – yes, three – this creature is truly bizarre.
According to Mike Zohn, who co-owns Obscura Antiques & Oddities in New York, “A two-faced pig is actually quite rare. They pop up now and then, but they’re really highly sought after.” This was probably good news for an artist named Kevin, who visited Zohn’s shop in January 2012, carrying a 50-year-old freeze-dried pig with two heads. If that isn’t strange, we don’t know what is.
Like the pig pictured above, this cute kitten, delivered in 2008, is not actually an example of polycephaly. These two creatures (pig and kitten) have something called diprosopus, or craniofacial duplication. And unlike polycephaly, diprosopus usually has nothing to do with the separation of embryos. In fact, it all comes down to a little protein with a fancy name.
Are you ready for this? It’s called the sonic hedgehog homolog protein, also known as SHH. SHH basically tells the cranial and facial region how to develop when an embryo is growing. Too much can cause the face to end up being extra wide, with duplicated features; too little, and you could end up with a Cyclops.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to survive with an extra face. One exception, however, is a two-mouthed, two-nosed, three-eyed cat called Frank and Louie, who suffers from diprosopus. He’s the longest living “two-faced” cat and features in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records for reaching the ripe old age of 12.
1. Bearded Dragon
This bearded dragon also belongs to Todd Ray, who, as we mentioned, is the proud owner of 22 two-headed animals. We think this scaled critter is pretty darn cool. Ray actually owns two of these exotic reptiles – Jeckyl and Hyde, pictured here, and another called Pancho and Lefty.
When Ray became the proud owner of the lizard in this photograph, Hyde was a little worse for wear, since Jeckyl had a tendency to drag him through the sand. Ray, who’s no doubt used to providing the special care required by his bizarre menagerie, says the pair reacted well to treatment.