A rare two-headed turtle is being cared for by the veterinary staff at New England Wildlife Centers.
The diamondback terrapin hatchling is like “nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Katrina Bergman, the chief executive officer at New England Wildlife Centers.
When the baby turtle, which they named Mary-Kate and Ashley, first arrived at the animal hospital, “we were excited, aghast, and concerned,” she said. “We didn’t know if they would be able to eat on their own.”
But Mary-Kate and Ashley have been doing well. They came in on Sept. 22 weighing 6.5 grams, and now weigh 9 grams, she said.
“They’ve grown up to three inches now,” Bergman said. “They’re eating and gaining weight.”
The hatchling, which came from a protected nesting site in Barnstable, has two heads and three legs on each side. Upon further examination, the veterinary staff found that its condition was similar to that of conjoined twins; they share parts of their body but also have parts that are independent.
X-rays revealed that they have two spines that connect at the very bottom, and a barium study showed two separate gastrointestinal tracts.
The staff wondered about their ability to swim, worrying that one side might overpower and drown the other. But that wasn’t the case.
“We were shocked that each head controlled three legs, and they were able to swim together, which was astonishing,” Bergman said. “When they came up for air, they were both able to get air.”
Diamondback turtles are a threatened species in Massachusetts. Adult females can grow up to 10 inches and weigh 1 kilogram.
Right now they’re so young that their genders are unknown.
“They haven’t been sexed yet,” Bergman said. “They have to be older.”
The staff also hopes, when they get a little bigger, to do a CT scan to see how their circulatory system is working and to understand more about how their internal organs work.
It’s unclear what the future holds for Mary-Kate and Ashley.
“Unfortunately the prognosis is definitely questionable,” she said.
For now, they will remain under the care of veterinary staff for the foreseeable future.
Although it’s unlikely they’ll be released back into the wild anytime soon, “everyone is cheerleading for them,” she said.
Bergman said the staff is taking it day by day and trying to learn as much as they can about these two siblings that share the same shell.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “We are always hopeful. A lot of good things happen at New England Wildlife Centers because of hope.”