The reptile is actually two turtles that have a condition called bicephaly – a rare anomaly that can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors during embryonic development, according to a statement from the Cape Wildlife Center.
The turtles hatched in Barnstable and were immediately brought to the hospital by Barnstable Department of Natural Resources for assessment. Similar to conjoined twins in humans, these turtles share some parts of their body but also have some parts that are independent of one another; the unnamed twins have two heads and six legs. X-rays and tests have shown that they have two spines that fuse further down the body and separate gastrointestinal tracks.
After being examined, both turtles were very alert and active and the veterinary team at the Cape Wildlife Center said they are excited to see the twins grow up. While animals with this condition aren’t known to survive very long or have a good quality of life, the turtle twins so far appear bright, active, eating, swimming, and gaining weight, according to the center. Based on observation, the turtles have the use of at least three of their legs.
A supervised deep water swim test showed that the turtle twins can coordinate to swim safely. The Cape Wildlife center has said the next step for studying the amphibian is to get them a CT scan to provide more information on what internal structures the twins share. This won’t be possible until they are a bit bigger to ensure they fit in the machine.