Polycephalic animals (two-headed animals)

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: September 24, 2022
Image Credit vieleineinerhuelle / pixabay
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Key Points

  • It is very difficult for a two-headed animal to survive.
  • This occurrence is caused by a birth defect.
  • Normally, twins would be born; however, with polycphalic animals the zygote does not fully split into two bodies.

Six Real-Life Two-Headed Animals

Two-headed animals are common in legends, myths, and folk tales. Sometimes, however, they appear in real life. These polycephalic animals are rare and mysterious. Perhaps they are the origin of some of the stories about hydras, ettins, and even the three-headed hound, Cerberus from Greek mythology. Before modern science, seeing a two-headed animal would surely call for wonder, amazement, and leaping to conclusions about magical and other fantastical explanations.

What causes them to have more than one head? Can they live normal lives? What are some of the physiological challenges? We’ll explore those questions while sharing six verified cases of two-headed animals.

Are There Any Naturally Polycephalic Animals?

There are no naturally two-headed animal species. If an animal is born with two heads, it is a birth defect.

The animals most likely to be born with two heads are snakes and turtles. Lambs and pigs are occasionally born with two heads. On extremely rare occasions, it can happen to dogs and cats.

What Causes Polycephaly?

The process that creates monozygotic (identical) twins can sometimes result in two heads or two conjoined bodies.

When twins form in the uterus, the embryo splits into two identical halves. This leads to identical twins. They’re identical because they’re two halves of one zygote. Fraternal twins come from two zygotes that were fertilized together.

In some cases, an abnormality causes the zygote to split only part of the way. Instead of two fully formed twins, it splits into two half-formed babies that share a body. In most cases, this means the two-headed baby is doomed from the start.

Are Two Heads Better Than One?

Unfortunately, having two heads is not an advantage for any animal. An animal with two heads usually has an oddly shaped body that has difficulty moving through the animal’s natural terrain.

Two-headed animals also have trouble getting enough nutrients to their brains. Their divided systems can’t pump enough blood to their organs. For these reasons, few polycephalic animals survive to adulthood.

There are some cases of double-headed animals who lived for at least a few days, however. Following are six verified, real-life animals that were born with two heads.

Polycephalic animals
A two-headed calf at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, New York.

William Warby / flickr – License

6. Image the Kitten

In 2000, a two-headed kitten named Image was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Owner Sandra Pyatt recounted that she took extra care of the little tyke from the moment he was born. She also turned down many offers from people who wanted to buy Image.

“He’s not for sale,” said Pyatt, who said she took extra care to feed the tiny kitten as instructed by her vet. “Nobody wanted him to live more than I did,” she told a local newspaper.

Sadly, he did not make it. Image died four days later.

5. Two-Headed Black Racer

In 2020, Florida wildlife officials rescued a two-headed southern black racer that was found in a family’s home. Black racers are non-venomous snakes that are common in Florida.

Wildlife officers said the snake was better off at a sanctuary because its chances of survival in the wild were low. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said, “Two-headed snakes are unlikely to survive in the wild as the two brains make different decisions that inhabit the ability to feed or escape from predators.”

4. The Perth Kitten

In 2008, a Perth, Australia, veterinarian was surprised when a cat in her care gave birth to a two-headed kitten. A news photographer happened to be at the vet’s office for unrelated reasons, and he took a picture of the unusual kitten.

Like many cats born with two heads, he suffered from a cleft palate in one of his mouths. One mouth could eat, however, and both could meow.

The veterinarian didn’t think the kitten would survive, so his owners took him home to be with his mother. He died the next morning after asphyxiating on the fluid in his lungs.

3. Squirt and Crush: Two-Headed Baby Loggerhead

Polycephalic animals
A two-headed baby loggerhead found by volunteers monitoring a nest.

Rezaeir28 / Creative Commons – License

During a sea turtle patrol in 2021, volunteers in South Carolina discovered a rare, two-headed baby loggerhead hatchling. What’s even more astonishing is that this wasn’t the first time a two-headed hatchling turned up in that state.

In 2017 and 2019, conservation workers reported finding other two-headed baby turtles while checking the nests.

The nest monitor who found the two-headed turtle named it Squirt and Crush.

All baby loggerheads face the same perilous journey when they are still tiny. After they are born, they must run from their nests to the ocean before predators can catch them. Conservationists can protect nesting sites, but they can’t remove baby hatchlings, even rare ones.

In a Facebook post, Jayme Davidson Lopko wrote, “This little guy is on his own just like his brothers and sisters that came from the nest and like they have been doing for millions of years. Good luck and safe travels, special guy.”

2. Paris and Nicole: Two-Headed Bearded Dragon

There is only a one in 25 million chance that a bearded dragon with two heads will survive into adulthood. One of those lucky lizards was born to reptile enthusiast Tony Rowe. Rowe is a Texas man who loves bearded dragons. In 2005, he was breeding bearded dragons to sell the little ones to a pet broker. Everything went well, but one of the babies had two heads.

Rowe knew the unusual beast was at risk of dying without the proper care. “If someone unfamiliar with bearded dragons had treated it as a normal hatchling, it would have died,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

In this case, the lizard was lucky. Rowe gave the two-headed wonder the extra care it needed. He later sold the live, healthy two-headed dragon to a broker.

1. Frank and Louie: Two-Faced Kitty

We’ve seen that cats with two heads rarely make it past kittenhood. One two-faced cat, however, lived for a long time with his condition. Frank and Louie, a cat with two faces and two names, was a media sensation when he was born in 2000.

The cat was a Janus cat, which is born with two separate faces. He had two noses and three eyes. He had whiskers on both noses. Although many people predicted that the unusual cat would die soon, he surprised the world by going on to live a full cat life.

One reason is that, unlike many Janus cats or two-headed cats, he didn’t have any birth defects. The owners discovered this when they were making special feeding arrangements for the two-faced feline. Frank and Louie didn’t have breathing problems, a cleft palate or other problems.

In fact, in 2012, Frank and Louie made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-living two-faced cat. He died at 15.

According to owner Marty Stevens, the cat had a loving, friendly personality. He was clearly a remarkable kitty.

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

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