Why did the snake have two heads? Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, I know. Relax, it’s not, although I am known for those as well.
It was another weird and wonderful find which awaited Durban’s resident snake wrangler, Nick Evans, this week when he responded to a call from a stunned gentleman in Ndwedwe, north of Durban.
“This is something I certainly wasn't expecting to pick up on a call!” Evans said.
The snake catcher was relaxing with friends at a braai in Durban North when he received a rather surprising image from a gentleman in Ndwedwe. It took longer than usual for Evans to realise just what exactly he was looking at. It was a Southern Brown Egg-eater, a common, totally harmless species. However, this little egg-eater had two heads. Yes, two heads!
A normal, single-headed snake can give many people a fright, but add to it another head, and it’s a whole new level of bizarre. It sounds like clickbait, trust me, it's not. As crazy as it sounds, two-headed snakes do exist. In fact, two-headed snakes are much more common than any other two-headed creatures.
The snake was found sunning itself out in the open. “I’m sure he was just as surprised as me!
“He didn’t want anyone to harm it so he thought it best to place it in a bottle until I arrived,” said Evans. The gentleman asked Evans if he could come through to collect the peculiar serpent, an invitation Evans gladly accepted.
“It was such a strange sight, seeing this deformed snake. A juvenile, the little guy was only around 30cm in length. It was quite interesting to see how it moved. Sometimes, the heads would try to go in opposite directions from one another, other times, it would rest one head on the other which seemed the most effective way of moving,” Evans explained.
The snake will live out its life in a reptile sanctuary receiving professional care from trained experts. Evans said that two-headed snakes do not generally live for a long time and that this egg-eater would definitely not grow old in the wild.
“It can barely move, and when it does, it does so incredibly slowly. Very easy pickings for a predator. If it hatched months or weeks ago and survived this long, I’ll be truly surprised. I'm intrigued to hear if it can feed on its own or not. They only eat bird eggs, so they will have to be tiny eggs. We want to try and learn as much as possible from this little one,” Evans concluded.
According to the My Snake Pet website, the egg eater snake is a non-venomous snake that finds its home throughout the African continent. Its scientific name is Dasypeltis fasciata and it is a very popular pet snake. Most people find them easy to look after as long as you have a supplier of smaller eggs.
Mocomi.com, a children’s educational website explains the phenomenon quite well. “Two-headed snakes are a result of what is known as bicephaly, meaning the phenomenon of an organism being born with two heads.”
In a nutshell, the birth of conjoined twins, like this two-headed egg-eater, occurs when an embryo splits while developing inside the egg. But instead of growing into identical twins, the embryo does not split completely.
The point at which the embryo stops separating varies with each birth, snakes can be joined at any part of the body. They are thus two beings that share organs, and one of them is a parasitic head.
Being hatched as a conjoined snake is not great. The two heads will fight each other for food but if one snake eats, both of them feel full, and this causes confusion for the one that didn’t eat.
They have two brains, each giving them directions to go in. This again causes confusion and often results in the dominant one dragging along the other one. When attacked, their survival instincts are often different. This causes them to lose time before taking action, and in many cases, costs them their safety.
Thus, survival in the wild is a major issue for two-headed snakes. In captivity, however, they can live up to 20 years, with the right head usually being the dominant head and the decision-maker.
In some cases, two heads are not better than one.