Two-Headed Snake – Double the Danger?

by | Jul 25, 2016

Two-Headed Snake – Fear Squared?

Alright, so the title is a little doom and gloomy. A – be afraid very afraid – type vibe. And while it is totally not what we usually portray (after all snakes aren’t actually dangerous until we make them so), you may be forgiven for finding this image of a two-headed snake a little strange.

Two-headed snake - Puff adder

Two headed puff adder by Dave Honiball

Two-Headed Puff Adder, South Africa

Yes, believe it or not, that is a puff adder with two heads. Dave Honiball came across this unusual two-headed snake in Naboomspruit, South Africa. He was asked to relocate it but unfortunately arrived a little too late; even with two heads it wasn’t going to survive being pelted with rocks. It was donated to the Museum of Natural History in Pretoria for preservation.

As far as I’m aware this is the first record of a two headed puff adder. The phenomenon of an organism having more than one head is known as Polycephaly. Two-headed snakes, or any two-headed animal, is referred to as being bicephalic or dicephalic.

It occurs when mono-zygotic twins fail to separate completely meaning that it’s really a case of conjoined twins – not a mutation that caused two heads to grow. In other words, the developing embryo of the snake twins begins to split, but then stops somewhere along the way, leaving the twins joined at the hip. Erm, head – in this case.

Can Two-Headed Snakes Survive?

In the wild, two-headed snakes naturally have the odds stacked against them from the start. They have two independent brains, but one body to keep alive. Movement may be erratic and not snakey-smooth, while hunting is like giving two children one remote. Neither one ever fully in control.

Snakes primarily use their sense of smell to hunt and if one head gets the scent of prey on it, the other head might mistake it for a meal. Eating your twin’s head, while being attached to your own body is not ideal – for obvious reasons. The same conflict occurs while eating. This wouldn’t be an issue if each head realised they were sharing the nutrients of their food. However, the heads usually end up fighting for the food which may lead to starvation or the cannibalism of the other head.

Two-Headed Snakes In Captivity

However, in captivity two-headed snakes have been recorded to live as old as 20 years. Some might even go on to reproduce and have “normal” offspring.

Their chances of survival varies depending on where the split occurs. Some twin snakes share a stomach while others may have two stomachs. If the two heads are very close together it is usually more difficult for the snake (snakes?).

Care needs to be taken that prey item provided isn’t too large and that damage isn’t done to either head in the feeding process.

Is a two-headed snake double the danger?

Well, the long answer, and the short answer, is no. The snakes ultimately pose less danger due to their likely uncoordinated movement from uncooperative brains. However, that being said they may also be more inclined to strike due to a feeling of vulnerability.

As we know, snakes never bite unprovoked and I guess a two-headed snake could probably be likened to an injured snake. The same rule applies to any snake; admire from a safe distance and leave them be.

All they want to do is live. Give it (them?) a break – the two-headed snake has got his sidekick to fight off as well now.

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