Diamondback terrapins are a threatened species

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two headed turtle
Credit: New England Wildlife Centers

A rare turtle that recently hatched in Massachusetts is double the fun!

The hatchling — a diamondback terrapin born from a nest in West Barnstable — has two heads and six legs, making the reptile, whose species is already threatened, that much rarer.

The baby turtle has two independent gastrointestinal systems, and each head works independently to breathe and eat. The turtle also has two spines that fuse together at one point, and each side of the turtle has control of three of the legs.

Now under the care of veterinarians at the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center, the baby turtle is eating well with a diet of blood worms and food pellets, staff told USA Today.

On the wildlife center's Facebook page, staffers explained that bicephaly — having two heads — "is a rare anomaly that can occur from both genetic and environmental factors that influence an embryo during development."

"Similar to conjoined twins in human they share parts of their body but also have some parts that are independent," staff wrote. "In this case 'they' have two heads and six legs. On admission both sides were very alert and active and our veterinary team was eager to learn more about them."

While animals with bicephaly don't always survive, staffers said "these two have given us reason to be optimistic!"

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After two weeks in the wildlife center's care, both heads "continue to be bright and active."

"They are eating, swimming, and gaining weight each day," staff said. "It is impossible to get inside the heads of these two, but it appears that they work together to navigate their environment."

"A supervised deep water swim test showed that they can coordinate swimming so that they can come to the surface to breathe when needed," staff added.

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When the turtle grows a bit more, staffers at the wildlife center plan to administer a CT scan to get more information on the turtle's internal structures.

Diamondback terrapins are a native species to several areas on the East Coast, and live in rivers, brackish marshes, beaches and mud flats, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. The reptiles can live up to 25 years and grow up to 9 inches in length.