A rare two-headed snake is maintained by wildlife researchers in Florida after it was found in the house of a family in Palm Harbor.
Images of the reptile, identified as a black racer from the south, were posted on Facebook Wednesday by experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and show an unusual multihead phenomenon known as bicephalia.
The snake was found by Palm Harbor-based Kay Rogers. Officials said it would not have survived in the wild if it had not been caught.
“This phenomenon is unusual, but occurs during embryonic development when two identical twins do not separate and their heads remain united to form a single body,” the research team wrote in a caption next to several images of the snake.
“Both heads snap their tongues and react to movement, but not always in the same way. It is unlikely that two-headed snakes will survive in the wild because the two brains make different decisions that hinder their ability to feed or escape predators.
Rogers told the WFTS that her pet cat caught the snake and brought it into the house through a dog door, and that she posted online about the reptile to identify it. She kept the snake for five days before handing it over to state officials. “They do not live very well in the wild… I knew that captivity was the best hope for him,” she said.
The Southern Black Rattle Snake is a non-toxic snake species, with adult animals averaging between 20 and 56 inches in size. They are among the snakes “most likely to be seen by Floridians” and are considered harmless to humans, says the Florida Museum.
They can live in rural and urban environments, are fast moving and swim well. Normally she would avoid people and flee when found. Its bite is harmless, but can cause some bleeding.
Although it is rare to stumble upon a two-headed snake, it is not unknown. In September a woman from North Carolina met such a snake and nicknamed it “Double Trouble”.
“I saw their heads first and couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to kill them, so we put them in a jar. Everyone was amazed,” Jeannie Wilson of Alexander County told Tekk.tv at the time and said experts had identified the species as a four-month-old rat snake.
Academics who studied bicephalia in snakes said multiple heads were a death sentence for any of the reptiles trying to resist wild hunting and mating – but they can live in captivity for years.
“Watching them eat and often fighting over which head swallows the prey shows that eating takes a lot of time, during which they would be vulnerable to predators,” said a University of Tennessee herpetologist Gordon Burghardt in an interview with National Geographic for a profile of the phenomenon published in 2002.
“They also have great difficulty deciding which direction to take, and if they had to respond quickly to an attack, they simply would not be able to do so,” he said.