Woman Finds Rare Two-headed Southern Black Racer Snake Inside Florida Home

A rare two-headed snake is being cared for by Florida wildlife researchers after it was found inside a family's home in Palm Harbor.

Images of the reptile, identified as a southern black racer, were published to Facebook on Wednesday by experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), showing off an uncommon multi-head phenomenon that's known as bicephaly.

The snake was found by Palm Harbor resident Kay Rogers. Officials said it would not have survived in the wild if it had not been captured.

"This phenomenon is uncommon but happens during embryo development when two monozygotic twins fail to separate, leaving the heads conjoined onto a single body," the research team wrote in a caption alongside multiple pictures of the snake.

"Both head's tongue flick and react to movement, but not always in the same way. Two-headed snakes are unlikely to survive in the wild as the two brains make different decisions that inhibit the ability to feed or escape from predators."

Two-headed snake
This photo, released on Facebook by the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, showed a two-headed snake that was recently found inside a property in Palm Harbor. Jonathan Mays/FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

Rogers told WFTS that her pet cat caught the snake and brought it into the house via a dog door, and she posted about the reptile online in an attempt to identify it. She kept the snake for five days before it was handed over to state officials. "They don't live very well in the wild... I knew captivity was the best hope for him," she said.

The southern black racer species is a non-venomous constrictor, with adults averaging from 20 to 56 inches. They are one of the snakes "most likely to be seen by Floridians" and are considered harmless to humans, the Florida Museum says.

It can live in rural and urban environments, is fast moving and swims well. It would normally avoid humans and flee if found. Its bite is harmless, but can cause some bleeding.

While it's rare to stumble upon a two-headed snake, it is not unheard of. In September, a North Carolina woman encountered one and nicknamed it "Double Trouble."

"I saw its heads first and couldn't believe it. I didn't want to kill it so we put it in a jar. Everybody was amazed," Jeannie Wilson, of Alexander County, told Newsweek at the time, saying experts had identified the species as a four month old rat snake.

Academics who have studied bicephaly in snakes have said multiple heads would be a death sentence for any of the reptiles attempting to fend for themselves in the wild—impacting hunting and mating—but they can live for years in captivity.

"Watching them feed, often fighting over which head will swallow the prey, shows that feeding takes a good deal of time, during which they would be vulnerable to predators," a University of Tennessee herpetologist, Gordon Burghardt, said in an interview with National Geographic for a profile on the phenomenon published in 2002.

"They also have a great deal of difficulty deciding which direction to go, and if they had to respond to an attack quickly they would just not be capable of it," he said.