Two-Headed Tortoise Celebrates 25th Birthday With a Big Celebration

by Lauren Boisvert

Saturday, September 3, was a big day for Janus the two-headed tortoise. The miraculous Greek tortoise celebrated his 25th birthday at the Geneva Natural History Museum in Switzerland, where he hatched in 1997. Angelica Bourgoin and an expert team at the museum care for Janus.

He eats organic fruits and vegetables, gets a daily toothbrush bath with green tea and chamomile, as well as daily massages and regular walks around the museum grounds. His health and quality of life are constantly monitored by his team, and someone is always there in case he flips over on his back. For Janus, it’s impossible for him to get back on his feet and he could potentially die if he becomes stuck on his back. Overall though, he probably lives a better life than most people on Earth.

On his special day, Janus got a toothbrush bath, then went out to meet his adoring fans. The 25th birthday celebration included a “selfie with Janus” opportunity, a Q&A with his caregivers, and a scientific lecture that explained the peculiar story of Janus’ two heads.

Along with having two heads, Janus also has two hearts, two pairs of lungs, and two distinct personalities. Sometimes, the heads fight with each other, with one wanting to go in a different direction than the other. Essentially, they’re like conjoined twins. “The right head is more curious, more awake, it has a much stronger personality,” said caregiver Angelica Bourgoin. “The left head is more passive and loves to eat.” 

Two-Headed Tortoise Turns 25, Geneva Museum Celebrates

According to the Geneva Museum of Natural History, Janus is an animal anomaly. When he hatched, there was absolutely no way he was going to survive in the wild. The two heads don’t have the ability to retract into the shell, so he would have been a target for predators.

Now, Janus lives a healthy and happy life at the museum, even riding around on a skateboard made just for him. “I think it’s because of the attention we give him and our devotion that he’s still here today,” Bourgoin told Reuters ahead of Janus’ birthday.

Janus is considered bicephalic, which in the zoology world means simply “having two heads.” Additionally, he is the oldest bicephalic tortoise in the world. Snakes and turtles are the most common animals born with two heads, and the defect happens when identical twins are formed. Sometimes, a zygote only splits halfway instead of completely, which causes the animals to be born with two heads.

Sometimes it happens to lambs, calves, and, in rare cases, dogs and cats. Unfortunately, two-headed animals usually don’t live long. If they are born in the wild, the presence of two brains makes it harder for the animal to make decisions and escape from predators. Born in captivity, most live for a few days. There are usually other birth defects that accompany polycephaly, another word for “one or more heads.”

For Janus, being born in the museum and having his team of caretakers has definitely prolonged his life. Hopefully, he can live the full lifespan of a Greek tortoise. This comes in at a whopping 125 to 200 years. Not as old as Jonathan the Seychelles tortoise, but still a long time. Happy 25th birthday, Janus, and may there be 100 more years ahead of you.