Rare Double-Headed Turtle Species Hatched With 6 Legs

The Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center, located in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and a branch of the New England Wildlife Centers, made room for two new turtle residents. They won't take up too much space because they share the same shell.

The wildlife center published a post to its Facebook page announcing that a diamondback terrapin hatched with two heads and six legs.

"This is a condition called bicephaly and it is a rare anomaly that can occur from both genetic and environmental factors that influence an embryo during development," the post read. "'They' hatched from a protected nesting site in Barnstable and were brought to the hospital by Barnstable department of resources for assessment."

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

Katrina Bergman, the CEO of New England Wildlife Centers, told Newsweek that there is a protected area on one of the beaches in Barnstable on Cape Cod for the turtles. When the turtles hatch, they are brought to the wildlife center where they are cared for until they gain some weight.

"They are threatened in Massachusetts," Bergman explained. "Part of it is because of the threat to their habitat and it's also because they are a snack to birds."

The post explained that while the turtles, named MaryKate and Ashley, share some parts of their body, they have some parts of their body that operate independently. Many animals with this rare condition typically don't survive for very long, but the staff at the wildlife center are hopeful because they "continue to be bright and active."

"They are eating, swimming and gaining weight each day," the post read. "It is impossible to get inside the heads of these two, but it appears that they work together to navigate their environment."

Bergman told Newsweek that MaryKate and Ashley are working well and in tandem together. After a supervised deep water swim, researchers found that they did well together.

Baby Turtle
Researchers on Cape Cod, Massachusetts have discovered and are caring for a turtle that hatched with two heads and six legs. A photo of a newly hatched sea turtle on Cyprus. ETIENNE TORBEY/Getty Images

Various species of diamondback terrapins, according to National Geographic, can be found from Massachusetts, along the Atlantic coast, down to southern Texas. Though they prefer brackish water, which is water with more saline than freshwater but less saline than most marine environments, the turtles also need fresh water to avoid dehydration.

Per National Geographic, the species is now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable to extinction. There are a number of factors that have led to this, including accidental drowning in commercial blue crab traps and the destruction of the habitat for terrapins, which may be attributed to coastal development.

As the two-headed diamondback terrapin continues to grow, Bergman said the wildlife center will conduct a CT scan to learn more about the body and the system. Researchers did learn that they each have their own spine and are connected at the bottom. They also have their own gastrointestinal tract and are gaining weight.

Whether MaryKate and Ashley can be separated and given separate shells remains to be seen following the CT scan. They'll remain under the care of the center through the winter along with about 60 other turtles that are being cared for.

Double-Headed Turtle
A photo of the double-headed turtle that is currently being cared for by the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center. Wildlife official said MaryKate and Ashley are working well and in tandem together. Photo Courtesy of the New England Wildlife Centers

In August, Newsweek reported on a group of biological technicians that came across a baby sea turtle with two heads on a North Carolina beach.

Updated 10/11/2021, 6:18 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with a photo of the double-headed turtle.