What would happen if a live, full-grown headless toad met an equally live and also full-grown two-headed snake? It could happen, as news stories this week revealed that an adult rat snake with two functioning heads is on display at a zoo in Texas while a herpetology student in Connecticut released photos and a video of one of the strangest creatures ever seen … a toad hopping around with no head – just an opening on its shoulders. How did it survive? Would the two-headed snake shake both of them and leave it alone? Could the timing of their births be related?
Two-headed snakes are rare but one that survives to adulthood with both heads still attached and fully functioning has the odds of a lottery ticket. Nevertheless, that’s what local media reports is now on display (another picture here) at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas. Brian Henley, the zoo’s amphibian and reptile animal care manager, says it’s a rat snake – a common constrictor species in the Northern Hemisphere. This Texas version can reach five feet (1.5 meters) in length and live up to 25 years … with one head. Are two heads better than one when it comes to snake longevity? Henley doesn’t know, but he and zoo visitors have been waiting patiently to find out.
The two-headed snake was brought to the zoo with much fanfare in September 2016 by a woman whose dog found it. Henley placed it in a minimum 90-day quarantine (mandatory practice at the zoo) and estimated that the foot-long two-headed snake was a baby – only six to eight weeks old. For some undisclosed reason it was kept in quarantine until now, but the photo on the zoo’s Facebook page shows the snake with both heads looking healthy and alert and the report says it eats with both heads. Which one is in charge of what comes out the other end? And which brain would decide whether it’s safe to eat a headless toad?
“Still puzzled by this find from 2016! An apparently “faceless” toad. Kept hopping into things.”
In a recent tweet, herpetologist and University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student Jill Fleming revealed a video and photos of a creature straight out of a horror movie … except it was really straight out of a Connecticut state forest. Fleming remembers spotting the unusual American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) in April 2016 while looking for Eastern red-spotted newts. She reported in Live Science that the toad kept bumping into her feet and, when she finally took a closer look, discovered it had no head, eyes, nose, jaws or anything else normally sitting on toad shoulders – just a hole in the middle of smooth skin.
What could have caused this to happen? Did the toad kiss an evil princess? More likely, it was attacked by something during brumation – the reptile form of winter hibernation -- says Fleming. She thinks the toad’s otherwise healthy, hopping body indicates something happened recently (this was early spring when she saw it). While the toads are food for rodents, herpetologist Lydia Franklinos suggested in the tweet that it could have been attacked by parasitic toad flies which lay their eggs on the toad so that the larvae have something to eat when they hatch. How this toad would have managed to survive and health from either of this types of attacks – or something else – is still a mystery.
So is the fact that these two aberrations of nature occurred in 2016. Did something traumatic happen in 2016 that could have caused this? Strange weather? Solar flares? Climate change? Something else?
Whatever the case, look for plenty of bands to soon be named The Faceless Toads.