A female Near Eastern fire salamander taken recently from the Kaukab Springs in the Galilee Mountains gave birth in a lab to a two-headed tadpole. Since amphibians are our ‘canaries in the coal mine’ when it comes to environmental problems, this is probably a case where two heads are not better than one.
Two-headed mutations are seen in other species but are rare in fire salamanders, according to Leon Blaustein, an ecologist in the laboratory at the University of Haifa in Israel where the tadpole was born. Near Eastern salamanders are listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and are endangered in Israel. Human development is shrinking their habitats in Israel, Lebanon and Syria by either flooding or drying up the small streams and temporary pools where they live. Crossing the road to get to the other stream isn’t safe either as autos are a leading cause of fire salamander deaths in Israel
While this tadpole’s twin heads could be random, pollution is the more likely cause since the Kaukab Springs are extremely polluted. A rumor that the salamander was also radioactive proved to be false.
This salamander tadpole’s two heads are a cause for concern, since deformities in the species are extremely rare. Blaustein says he has seen salamander larvae with six legs instead of four or with partial heads.
While they’re rare, two-headed animals seem to be appearing more frequently. A two-headed dolphin was found earlier this year on a beach in Turkey. In 2013, a pregnant shark with a two-headed fetus was caught in Florida and a baby ray with two heads was found in Australia. Then there was the long-lived two-headed Janus cat that died recently in Massachusetts.
Are we going to heed these warnings of the consequences of pollution and human-caused climate change or must we wait until we have two foreheads to face-palm?