When Aussie snake breeder John McNamara saw two heads poking out of one coastal carpet python egg, he thought it was twins. The truth was much more unusual.
In fact, it was a two-headed snake.
University of Melbourne School of Bio-Sciences senior lecturer Ben Phillips told The Bendigo Advertiser that depending on how well everything was integrated inside the snake, it could live in captivity for many years.
“They no doubt require extra care,” he said.
“Snakes aren't all that clever, if you throw a mouse to a two-headed snake, it is likely one will grab the front and one will grab the back and they attempt to eat each other.
“There is something fascinating about any animal that has two heads because there is a sense of them being separate entities and the same.”
Two-headed snakes are rare, and their chances of survival in the wild are virtually nil.
"We hear of one every several years," says Gordon Burghardt, a herpetologist at the University of Tennessee who has studied several two-headed snakes.
"Just watching them feed, often fighting over which head will swallow the prey, shows that feeding takes a good deal of time, during which they would be highly vulnerable to predators," said Burghardt.
"They also have a great deal of difficulty deciding which direction to go, and if they had to respond to an attack quickly they would just not be capable of it."
And that's assuming that both heads are hungry at the same time, and both are interested in pursuing the same prey.
"Having two heads would be a hindrance in the wild," agreed James Badman of Arizona State University. "It would be much harder to catch prey."
Even in captivity, there are problems. Snakes operate a good deal by smell, and if one head catches the scent of prey on the other's head, it will attack and try to swallow the second head.
On the whole, though, they can do quite well in captivity, said Burghardt. Thelma and Louise, a two-headed corn snake at the San Diego Zoo that's now deceased, had 15 normal babies.
[Images: Mark Jesser]