Two-headed turtle hatchlings surprise researchers

Sometimes nature hatches weird and wonderful surprises.

So it proved for volunteers with the Cayman turtle monitoring project who discovered a pair of two-headed newborn sea turtles this week.

Researchers were astonished to find two tiny hatchlings, from separate nests in separate parts of Grand Cayman, each born with a rare deformity that means they have two heads, two sets of eyes, but one body.

Lucy Collyer, lead intern on the research and conservation project said the hatchlings, found on Seven Mile Beach and South Sound, were successfully returned to the water.

She said, “This is a rare condition that these hatchlings have. I have been working on turtle projects for 10 seasons now and my fellow interns have worked on multiple seasons also, and this is the first time that we have collectively witnessed a live two-headed hatchling, let alone two in one week.”

She said they had encountered dead hatchlings with the same mutation.

The hatchlings’ chances of survival are slim, but not necessarily any slimmer than their more traditional-looking siblings.

Only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood.

Janice Blumenthal, a research officer with the Department of Environment, said the two-headed hatchlings suffered from a rare condition known as polycephaly, which occurs naturally. She said the DoE checks nests for dead embryos and hatchlings that were unable to emerge from the nest as part of its monitoring of the health of Cayman’s turtle population.

She added, “This allows us to look for any changes in the types or frequencies of abnormalities over time. To date, we have not seen cause for concern, but this monitoring will continue each turtle nesting season.”

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