The veterinarians at Barnstable’s New England Wildlife Center were seeing double recently when a turtle hatched with two heads and one body. This two-headed diamondback terrapin is truly one of a kind.

Dr. Patel is the chief wildlife veterinarian for the Cape Cod branch of New England Wildlife Center, and she explained just how rare this occurrence is.

“It’s the first bicephalic turtle that I’ve seen,” she said. "And they are doing surprisingly well.” The condition is called bicephaly and it is a rare anomaly that can occur from both genetic and environmental factors that influence the embryo during development.

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In a post shared to Facebook, the wildlife center explained how “they” hatched from a protected nesting site in Barnstable and were brought to the hospital for assessment.

With two heads, six legs, and one shell, the center is busy with testing and analysis to learn as much as possible.

“We don’t know what exactly is happening internally and if they can survive independently or survive together,” Dr. Patel said. “We want to make sure that they have a good quality of life. All of these tests are to see if we can continue to keep them alive.”

Unfortunately, this condition typically results in a short lifespan, but so far, this turtle is very active, swimming, and eating a lot.

So far, the x-rays have shown a partially separate spine that is fused toward the bottom. The center is tracking their gastrointestinal system, which shows both sides can eat, digest, and gain nutrients. They can even coordinate swimming and come to the surface to breathe when needed.

“The next step would be a CT scan, but we need a specialty hospital for that,” explained Dr. Patel. “It would give more details about their inner structure, like the lungs and the rest of their organ systems.”

Diamondback terrapins are a threatened species in Massachusetts. If “they" are determined to be able to live a good quality of life, they would become an educational animal and live in a facility where we could learn more about them.

The New England Wildlife Center continues to take this case day by day, and it is safe to say it’s been an exciting two weeks at the Cape Cod branch.

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