The Virginia Living Museum is seeing double with its new two-headed turtle.
A Williamsburg resident recently found the two-headed turtle as a hatchling and took the turtle to VLMS to be cared for.
The turtle, who has not yet been named, is of the red-eared slider family, which isn’t native to Virginia but has grown in population since being introduced to the area.
Travis Land, herpetology curator with museum, said during a Facebook livestream that the turtle has a condition known as Polycephaly, which means it was born with two heads.
The condition occurs during the process of embryonic development when the embryo stops just short of separating into two separate creatures.
“Like you would have during the formation of twins, during that process [things] can go wrong and there’s a couple of different ways that can happen,” he said.
Land said while that isn’t a common condition, it’s more likely to occur in snakes and turtles. That’s because the development of a snake or turtle egg is more complicated and susceptible to different variables.
Additionally, many mammals have the added challenge of having to be born into the world which can cause more complications and less survival rates, whereas animals such as turtles are hatched from an egg.
However, Land said this is not a genetic condition. If someone wanted to create a turtle with two heads, they couldn’t just simply mate two turtles with this condition. It’s more chance than genetics.
Both of the two heads are unique, Land said. The turtle’s left head appears to be more dominant, in that it is able to look ahead and direct the body where to go. However, the right head also shows curiosity and will look at various surroundings and smell them.
Land said both of the heads eventually will have to work together to learn how to swim correctly or move around.
That’s why having this condition makes the turtle much less likely to survive in the wild, but bringing it to expert care gives it a better chance.
Land said VLMS has placed the turtle in a special tank. But even with the added level of expertise, there’s no guarantee the turtle will survive because this type of condition could also mean other internal organs won’t develop properly.
“Even in the best circumstances, he may still not make it,” Land said. “So we’re going to do the best we can here and hopefully be able to have this guy around for a while to come.”
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