JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — It appears Lori Neuman-Lee will be specializing in double-headers at Arkansas State University.
Neuman-Lee, an assistant professor of biological sciences, is currently sharing an office with a two-headed timber rattlesnake called Deuces by some and Hydra by others. A two-headed snapping turtle is expected to join her at the office today.
“(A creature having two heads) is more common in snakes than other species, but it is certainly not common,” Neuman-Lee said Thursday, adding there are no official records or statistics about this because it is so rare.
When Neuman-Lee joined A-State’s staff about a month ago, she did not expect to care for one two-headed creature, let alone two. But, she quickly agreed to when a state employee asked if she would take the snake, which is now housed in a secured cage next to her desk.
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“A timber rattlesnake can live over a decade in the wild. Two headed snakes don’t have a great survival rate,” she said. “They don’t live very long, especially in the wild.”
The Jonesboro Sun reports Deuces/Hydra had trouble moving onto a log in its cage at first. Neuman-Lee, who has studied reptiles for about 15 years, said the snake just does not move like a normal snake.
“He is a little awkward so he probably would not have survived,” she said.
However, she said the snake’s four pupils dilate, and both tongues flick so it can sense. Both heads move slightly independently, but the left head is more dominant and leads the body.
The snake is 2 weeks old. A Woodruff Electric worker found the snake outside a home last week on Arkansas 248. It was first taken to the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center.
“The individual who found him said he found two other individuals that were normal right next to him, so I’m guessing he found them right after the mom gave birth, which is pretty cool,” she said.
Deuces/Hydra is 11 inches — the average adult timber rattlesnake is 3 to 4 feet — and weighs 35 grams. She said the snake does weigh more than most newly born ones, but “I think it is because he is basically two.”
“There are parts of him that are a little bit wider,” she said. “I’m guessing there are some parts that have multiple organs or enlarged organs.”
Since the snake is venomous, Neuman-Lee said she has not been able to closely study its anatomy nor discover whether it is a female or male. Newborn vipers do not eat right away, but shed its skin and then eat. Deuces/Hydra is shedding right now so Neuman-Lee hopes to provide its first meal soon.
With that first feeding, she hopes to gain more information — such as will the snake eat with one head or both. Timber rattlesnakes, the most common rattlesnake in the state, typically eat rodents, although juveniles also might eat small lizards. Snakes eat every other week depending on the size of the meal.
“I’m hoping he can survive, not so much for the research, but as an ambassador,” Neuman-Lee said. “This is a really cool animal that was found right here in Northeast Arkansas.
“Snakes, especially those caught in the wild, one of the problems you can have is they don’t eat when they come into captivity because they are stressed out or because it is unfamiliar prey. That is kind of our biggest challenge and that would be a challenge even if it was not a two-headed snake.”
She hopes to one day move the snake’s cage into the Lab Sciences East lobby. But for now, she said she wants to leave the snake alone as much as possible to ensure it will acclimate to the new location.
“One of the things I think is the coolest about this is how much attention it is generating,” Neuman-Lee said. “While there have been some people who have had negative reactions, you know, ‘Oh, I wish we could kill it. Why are you keeping it alive?’ Most people are really intrigued and excited about it.
“To me, that is going to be his value. It is not going to be so much the research we get from this individual, but people saying, ‘Wow, snakes are really cool.'”
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com