WATCH: KZN’s two-headed snake dies before turning one

KwaZulu-Natal’s two-headed snake, a southern brown egg-eater, named Jean and Claude. Picture: Nick Evans

KwaZulu-Natal’s two-headed snake, a southern brown egg-eater, named Jean and Claude. Picture: Nick Evans

Published Dec 29, 2023


Durban — The Daily News had hoped to share an update on KwaZulu-Natal’s two-headed snake, a southern brown egg-eater, a year after the snake was discovered in June 2022. However, that was not going to be the case.

In July, when we reached out to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) to get an update on the snake’s size, if they were able to get the snake onto a dentist’s X-ray machine and whether there were any developments regarding the snake, the response was unexpected.

Saambr spokesperson Ann Kunz said the had snake died about four months earlier.

“The southern brown egg-eater with two heads admitted to the Dangerous Creatures Reptile Exhibit around this time (mid-year) last year only lived for seven months,” Kunz said.

She said that during the time the conjoined snakes (as she described it) were under the care of the herpetologists at Dangerous Creatures in uShaka Marine World, “they did not eat on their own”. These snakes feed exclusively on eggs and naturally only eat three or four times a year.

“After our attempts at enticing them with tiny finch eggs failed, we started tube-feeding them every three weeks or so. We named the snakes Jean and Claude and tried by all means to help them survive,” Kunz explained.

“We had not heard of any other conjoined southern brown egg-eaters who had lived more than a short period and although not unexpected, we were sad when we arrived one morning to find they had passed away.”

Kunz added that Jean and Claude were too small to undergo an autopsy and it was impossible to say with certainty why they died.

When the Daily News visited Dangerous Creatures at the beginning of the year, the ‘two-headed snake’ hardly moved inside the Dangerous Creatures display setting. The two heads were usually in a ‘fingers crossed’ position and moved around that way.

At the time, senior herpetologist at uShaka Sea World Lesley Labuschagne said the southern brown egg-eater is naturally distributed in the eastern parts of South Africa and there are three different types of egg-eaters found here.

Labuschagne said that when feeding the snake, they chose the head with the smaller neckline because they felt it was most joined to the rest of the body and on X-ray, they noted it was one body from where the join was.

By January, the snake had put on weight and weighed 5.5 grams.

Labuschagne said the snake was flicking its tongue – it was alert.

“There seems to be one dominant head that takes it in a forward direction and they often curl up with each other as well and we’re not sure what that means,” she said.

“This is such a rare event, there’s not one example recorded of this species in southern Africa, ever.”

A radiograph of Jean-Claude, the southern brown egg-eater born with two heads, was offered a permanent home at the Dangerous Creatures exhibit hall in the Village at uShaka Marine World. Picture: South African Association for Marine Biological Research

Labuschagne said they used an X-ray machine, but it was for bigger animals and they were not getting the full definition they wanted but from the join, behind the head.

“From there we can see that it’s one animal, one intestine, one stomach, one functioning lung which is normal in snakes, and an air sack,” she said. “The kidneys look to be separate. So it’s one animal with two functioning heads. The heads look like they have their own brains because of the movement of the tongue and the eye movement and the attempt to move in two different directions, so it’s definitely one animal with two heads.”

When facing the snake, Labuschagne said they thought the head on the right joined better to the rest of the body than the one on the left.

Labuschagne said they had not checked its sex because it was small. They would have to do an internal exam and were afraid they might hurt it.

She said the natural length for the animals is between 75cm and a metre.

Labuschagne added that Ndwedwe Local Municipality mayor Sam Mfeka had visited Dangerous Creatures to see ‘his snake’ about a month after it arrived.

In June last year, Durban snake rescuer Nick Evans, who brought it in from Ndwedwe, said the two-headed southern brown egg-eater, a harmless species, was not something he expected to pick up on a call.

He said two-headed snakes had hatched in captivity and the wild but it was rare – a deformity.

The caller had found the snake in his yard and because he did not want it harmed, had put it in a bottle and asked Evans to take the snake away.

Evans said that having never seen a two-headed snake,he jumped at the opportunity.

At the time, Evans said: “It was such a strange sight. It’s a juvenile, around 30cm in length. It was interesting to see how it moved. Sometimes, the heads would try to go in opposite directions from one another, other times, it would rest one head on the other. That seemed the most effective way of moving.”

He said the snake was in professional care and there was no point in releasing it. He was aware that they generally did not live long. This one would not last long in the wild as it could barely move, and when it did, it moved incredibly slowly.

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