A surprise was waiting at the bottom of a sea turtle nest in Cape Hatteras. The national park hosts many of North America’s threatened sea turtle species, and sometimes a rare head – or two – pops out of the sand.
A park ranger’s discovery, the two-headed sea turtle came to light on August 17.
“Are two heads really better than one?! It’s not everyday [sic] that park biologists find a two-headed sea turtle!” Cape Hatteras posts to their Facebook.
The video below comes courtesy of NPS Ranger M. Matthews, who found the incredible turtle himself.
“Are two heads really better than one?! It’s not everyday that park biologists find a two-headed sea turtle! Video taken by NPS Ranger M. Matthews”Cape Hatteras National Seashore
When asked of the baby turtle’s (or is it turtles’ plural?), the national park says “This particular hatchling was released in the ocean along with the others found at the bottom of the nest during an excavation.”
In addition, “Park biologists identified it had good flipper function and was exhibiting overall good health.”
Definitely good news for the little one(s)!
This isn’t the first two-headed sea turtle discovery of 2021, either. While going about a routine nest inventory on the South Carolina coast, Edisto Beach State Park’s sea turtle patrol made their first two-headed turtle discovery back in July.
So what, exactly, causes an animal to be born with two heads?
Two in 2021: Two-Headed Turtles Pop Up on U.S. Beaches
Modern culture, especially the internet, holds a deep fascination with two-headed animals. The phenomenon is common enough in nature that we’re all familiar with it. But what causes it?
According to Edisto Beach State Park upon discovering their own two-headed baby loggerhead turtle, “This two-headed hatchling is the result of a genetic mutation.”
A far more specific answer comes from Dr. Justin Adams of Monash University. Adams studies animal anatomy across the tree of life and is intimately familiar with the mutation.
“Two heads can result from the incomplete splitting of an embryo (also called axial bifurcation),” Dr. Adams explains to ABC.net’s Science division. “This process leads to conjoined twins in humans, although only a very small number of conjoined twins have two heads and one body.”
Dr. Adams says it is also possible “for two separated embryos to incompletely fuse to form a two-headed animal.”
Adams further explains that the phenomenon is more common in reptiles than mammals due to ‘fact-checking’ by mammal mothers’ bodies. This ability tends to “prevent the implantation of embryos that carry errors like this.”
North Carolina was also host to a two-headed snake discovery in late September of last year. There’s gotta be something in the water.