Two-headed turtle outlives expectations

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The two-headed snapping turtle found on Sept. 22 in Hudson is still alive and eating from both heads, thanks to Kathleen Talbot, who has been caring for the unusual reptile since discovering it by the road near her home.

“I’m amazed. I really didn’t expect him to live this long,” said Talbot, who came across the tiny turtle while walking along Route 43.

The two-headed turtle was caked with dirt and struggling to climb out of a nest of broken egg shells. Upon washing it off, she realized why the turtle was having trouble following its siblings out of the nest — it had two heads.

A former wildlife rehabilitator, Talbot sent in an application to renew her state wildlife rehabilitator license so she could keep the turtle (or is it turtles?), which she named Frank and Stein.

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Aside from having two heads and two necks, the turtle is fairly proportionate, with four clawed feet, a spiny tail and a tiny shell, which measures about 3 centimeters long.

“It’s a miracle,” Talbot said. “He’s doing great. I hope he continues to.”

Talbot said that Frank and Stein are becoming more mobile, crawling around the casserole dish they call home. In the dish, Talbot has placed rocks and vegetation for the turtle to explore.

“He still tips over, so his water has to be shallow,” said Talbot.

“One thing with two-headed turtles is you need to be careful that they don’t drown,” said state wildlife biologist Derek Yorks when contacted by the BDN a month ago about the turtle. “Basically, they can get stuck in funny positions or flip over and not be able to right themselves.”

York said that two-headed turtles are uncommon but not unheard of. Over the years, he’s heard a number of stories about two-headed turtles and snakes, but oftentimes, these animals don’t live long. Their odds of survival in the wild aren’t good.

By the movement of their throats, it appears that Frank and Stein breathe independently. They also are both capable of eating.

“He knows my voice,” Talbot said. “When I say, ‘Hey buddy, you want to eat?’ He sticks both heads out really far.”

Talbot has been feeding Frank and Stein a variety of food, from hamburger to reptile pellets to houseflies. And the turtle is starting to partake in snacks without encouragement.

“Sometimes I’ll see a little green on one of their mouths, and I know he’s eaten a pellet,” Talbot said.

Talbot doesn’t plan to keep the turtle, but she hopes to find a home for it at an aquarium.

Throughout September and October, she’s continued to keep an eye out for newly-hatched snapping turtles in her neighborhood. Each year, a number of snapping turtles lay eggs in the gravel along Route 43 near her house, and when the hatchlings emerge, they often have to cross the busy road to reach a nearby brook. If Talbot sees them in time, she scoops them into a bucket and carries them across the pavement to safety.

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