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Heracles and the Lernaean Hydra by Gustave Moreau: The Hydra is perhaps the best known mythological multi-headed animal, also popularised in many fantasy settings.

Polycephaly is the condition of having more than one head. The term is derived from the Greek stems poly (Greek: "πολύ") meaning "many" and kephalē (Greek: "κεφάλη") meaning "head". A polycephalic organism may be thought of as one being with a supernumerary body part, or as two or more beings with a shared body.

Two-headed animals (called bicephalic or dicephalic) and three-headed (tricephalic) animals are the only type of multi-headed creatures seen in the real world, and form by the same process as conjoined twins from monozygotic twin embryos.

In humans, there are two different forms of twinning that can lead to two heads being supported by a single torso. In dicephalus parapagus dipus, the two heads are side by side. In craniopagus parasiticus, the two heads are joined directly to each other, but only one head has a functional torso. Survival to adulthood is rare, but does occur in some forms of dicephalus parapagus dipus.

There are many occurrences of multi-headed animals in mythology. In heraldry and vexillology, the double-headed eagle is a common symbol, though no such animal is known to have ever existed.

Contents

OccurrencesEdit

 
The Tocci brothers as young boys in 1881.

Two-headed people and animals, though rare, have long been known to exist and documented.

Occurrence in humansEdit

In humans, as in other animals, partial twinning can result in formation of two heads supported by a single torso. Two different ways this can happen are dicephalus parapagus, where there are two heads side by side, and craniopagus parasiticus, where the heads are joined directly.

Dicephalus parapagus dipusEdit

In dicephalus parapagus dipus, the two heads are side by side, on a torso with two legs, with varying levels of twinning of organs and structures within the torso. The shared body may have four arms altogether, or three arms, or two arms only. There are Greek-based medical terms for the variations, e.g. dibrachius means two-armed, tribrachius means three-armed. Both heads may contain a fully formed brain, or one may be anencephalic.[1] If carried to term, dicephalus parapagus twins are usually stillborn, or die soon after birth. Survival to adulthood does however occasionally occur in cases where the twins are born with three to four arms.[2] Chances of survival are improved if two complete hearts are present.[3] Separation surgery is contraindicated, except in cases where one of the twins is clearly dying.[4]

Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci (born between 1875 and 1877), were dicephalus parapagus dipus twins who survived to adulthood. Each had his own pair of arms. They learned to speak several languages, but never learned to walk. Abigail and Brittany Hensel, born in 1990, are another instance of dicephalus parapagus dipus twins who grew up. They were born with two functional arms, plus a vestigial third arm, which was surgically removed. Each twin has her own complete head, heart and spine, and controls one arm and one leg. They developed good motor skills, and completed courses at school and university.[5]

Craniopagus parasiticusEdit

 
Drawing of the eighteenth century Boy of Bengal, affected by craniopagus parasiticus.

Craniopagus parasiticus is an extremely rare condition in which the two heads are joined directly together, and one twin (known as the autosite) has a functioning torso, while the other (known as the parasite) has only a vestigial torso. The parasite is supported by blood supplied from the autosite head. This threatens the life of the autosite by placing an additional burden on the autosite's vital organs. Operations to separate the two heads have been performed in the hope of saving the autosite.

 
Skeletal structure in a case of dicephalus parapagus dipus. From: Hirst & Piersol, 1893.

Occurrence in animalsEdit

Polycephalic animals often make local news headlines when found. The most commonly observed two-headed animals are turtles and snakes.[6] Other species with known two-headed occurrences include cattle, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs, and fish. In 1894, a two-headed partridge was reported in Boston, Massachusetts.[7] It was notable as a dicephalic animal for surviving into adulthood with two perfect heads. Scientists have published in modern journals about dissecting such animals since at least the 1930s.[6] A 1929 paper studied the anatomy of a two-headed kitten.[6]

Polycephalic animals, due to their rarity, are a subject of novelty. "We", a two-headed albino rat snake born in captivity in 2000 with both female and male genitalia, was scheduled to be auctioned on eBay with an expected price tag of $150,000 (£87,000), though their policy of not trading in live animals prevented the sale.[8][9] On October 31, 2006, the World Aquarium[10] announced that "We" was adopted by Nutra Pharma Corporation, a biotechnology company developing treatments using modified cobra venom and cobratoxin.[11] "We" died of natural causes at age eight in June 2007, not long after being acquired by Nutra Pharma.[9]

Two-headed farm animals sometimes travel with animal side shows to county fairs. Most notably, The Venice Beach Freakshow supposedly houses the largest collection of two-headed specimens in the world, including over 20 two-headed animals that are alive. Many museums of natural history contain preserved two-headed animals. The Museum of Lausanne[12] in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, have collections of preserved two-headed animals. A very well preserved 2-headed lamb is on display in Llanidloes museum in Wales. A live two-headed turtle named Janus can be seen at the Natural History Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.[13][14]

Anatomy and fitnessEdit

In cases where multiple heads are fully developed and non-parasitic, they share control of the organs and limbs, though the specific structure of the connections varies. Animals often move in a disoriented and dizzy fashion, with the brains "arguing" with each other; some animals simply zig-zag without getting anywhere.[15] Snake heads may attack and even attempt to swallow each other. Thus, polycephalic animals survive poorly in the wild compared to normal monocephalic animals.

Most two-headed snakes only live for a few months, though some have been reported to live a full life and even reproduced, with the offspring born normal. A two-headed black rat snake with separate throats and stomachs survived for 20 years. A two-headed albino rat snake named "We" survived in captivity for 8 years.[16] There is some speculation that the inbreeding of snakes in captivity increases the chances of a two-headed birth.[17]

One or two beings?Edit

It is difficult to draw the line between what is considered "one animal with two heads" or "two animals that share a body".

Abigail and Brittany Hensel were given two distinct names at birth. They identify as two persons, and are recognised as two persons legally and socially.[18] On the other hand, Syafitri, born 2006 in Indonesia, were given one name by their parents because they only had one heart.[19] In early Germany, conjoined twins that could not be separated were legally considered a single entity.[20]

With other animals, polycephaly is usually described as "one animal with two heads".[8][21] One of the heads, especially in three-headed animals, may be poorly developed and malformed, and not "participate" much.[15]

Two faces on one headEdit

Where twinning of the head itself is only partial, it can result in the condition known as diprosopus — one head with two faces.

Earliest known occurrenceEdit

The February 22, 2007, issue of the journal Biology Letters detailed the discovery of a 120 million-year-old fossil of a two-headed Hyphalosaurus lingyuanensis, marking the earliest known occurrence of axial bifurcation.[22]

List of recent occurrencesEdit

HumansEdit

Dicephalic conjoined twins (dicephalus parapagus dipus)Edit

  • In 1990 Abigail and Brittany Hensel were born in Minnesota, USA.[5]
  • In 2000 Ayse and Sema Tanrikulu were born in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey[23]
  • In June 2000 Carmen and Lupita Andrade were born in Veracruz, Mexico. They later moved to the United States for healthcare with their parents.,[24][25]
  • In 2003 Sohna and Mohna were born in India[26]
  • On June 13, 2003, twin girls named Huda and Manal Abdel Nasser Mohammed Mahmoud, were born in Asyut, Egypt[27]
  • In 2006 Syafitri was born in Indonesia[19]
  • In 2007 Mary Grace and Mary Divine Asis were born in the Philippines with only one heart.[28] They died on the 30th of April.[29]
  • On August 25, 2008, a baby boy named Kiron was born with two heads in south-western Bangladesh.[30] The baby was described by the gynaecologist present at the birth as having "one stomach and he is eating normally with his two mouths. He has one genital organ and a full set of limbs". He died three days later on August 28.[31]
  • In July 2009 a pair of dicephalic twins were born in Indonesia with two hearts and sharing all other internal organs.[32]
  • In 2011 Sueli Ferreira gave birth to a child with two heads in Campina in Paraiba state, Brazil, but the baby died a few hours later because of lack of oxygen to one of the heads.[33]
  • On December 19, 2011, a pair of male twins, Emanoel and Jesus Nazare, were born in Marajó Island, Brazil. The children had two heads, two legs and two arms, sharing all the body below the neck. Each child had a separate spine, but shared a heart, liver, lungs and pelvis, and both brains functioned. The boys appeared on the Channel 4 programme "Bodyshock" on December 19, 2012, where it was reported they had died at 6 months.[34][33]
  • In March 2014 dicephalic twin girls were delivered via caesarian section at Cygnus JK Hindu Hospital in Sonipat, Haryana, in northern India. The babies reportedly have two heads, two necks and two spinal columns but share all major organs.

Craniopagus parasiticusEdit

Craniopagus parasiticus is a condition in which a parasitic twin head with an undeveloped or underdeveloped body is attached to the head of a developed twin. Recorded cases include:

  • In 1783 the "Two-Headed Boy of Bengal" was born in India; the second head was joined roughly upside down on top of the developed twin's head. The boy survived until 1787 and was killed by a snakebite.
  • In 2003 Rebeca Martinez was born in the Dominican Republic with an extra head but died 7 hours after surgery at the age of 8 weeks.[35]
  • In 2004 Egyptian Naglaa Mohamed gave birth to Manar Maged who had the head and undeveloped torso of another child attached. In 2005 the second head was removed and later that year Naglaa appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with her surviving child.[36] Manar died from a brain infection in 2006.[37]

Unconfirmed reportsEdit

Non-human mammalsEdit

CatsEdit

 
Two-faced kitten, Lausanne

There have been numerous reports of two-faced cats; most die soon after birth. Reports of two-headed kittens are common, relative to other animals, because of their status as household pets. Recent two-headed kittens include:

  • On June 11, 2013, a two-faced kitten named Deucy was born in Amity, Oregon. She died two days later.
  • In November 2008, a two-faced kitten was born in Perth, Australia.[40]
  • In 2006, Tiger, a two-faced kitten, was born in Grove City, Ohio.[41]
  • In March 2006, Deuce, a two-faced kitten, was born in Lake City, Florida, and was euthanized shortly thereafter, having come down with pneumonia.[42]
  • In June 2006, Image, a two-faced kitten, was born on and died later that year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[43][44]
  • In June 2005, Gemini, a two-faced kitten, was born in Glide, Oregon.[45]

Polycephalic cats in museums include:

CattleEdit

 
Two-headed calf, Lausanne

A full body taxidermy of a two-headed calf is on display at the Garth and Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History on the Southern Utah University campus in Cedar City, Utah. "The Dancing Calves" were born by natural delivery with considerable assistance from S. T. Nelson of Cedar City, Utah on Mother's Day, May 8, 1949, to a crossbred cow owned by Willard Lund of Paragonah, Utah. The "Father Bull" is unknown but must have been an outstanding Hereford. The double calf was alive and healthy but died during birth. This calf, or calves, joined together from the beginning of the neck as far as the belly, with two complete, almost perfect body frames, had but one system of vital organs. Each of the two normal heads had a food channel to one stomach and a breathing channel, or windpipe, to the one set of lungs. The two briskets, or breasts, shared on each side by these calves, contained the one set of lungs on one side and the one heart on the other side. Branching off from the one stomach and digestive system were two channels of elimination. This calf weighed approximately 85 pounds at birth. The over-all measurements as it stands mounted are: 42.5 inches high, 20 inches from tail to tail, and 18 inches from side to side including the front legs. The "Mother Cow" lived and was sold as a "fat cow" in July 1949. This calf was stuffed by Mr. C. J. Sanders, taxidermist, 2631 South State Street, Salt Lake City 5, Utah, who stated that it is the most unusual monstrosity he has ever worked with. Dr. A. C. Johnson, of Cedar City, Utah, stated that this is the best specimen of monstrosity in animal life that he has ever seen or heard of in his 47 years of practice as a veterinarian. "The Dancing Calves" were owned by West and Gail Seegmiller who displayed them for many years at their Desert Pearl Cafe (no longer in existence), in Cedar City, Utah. Dr. A. C. Johnson, Dr. T. Donald Bell, William H. Lund, Dr. R. G. Williams, Dr. J. S. Prestwich, Dr. A. L. Graff, S. T. Nelson, and James Hoyle, Jr. all signed as witnesses that they saw the calf in the flesh soon after birth and knew it to be authentic. The calves and original document were donated to the Garth and Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History on the Southern Utah University campus in Cedar City, Utah, where they are now on display.

  • The Deformed Animals Museum of Llubí, Spain, preserves various two-headed specimens.
  • A head mount of a two-headed calf is on display in the Museum at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Georgia.[citation needed]
  • A two-faced calf is preserved at the Douglas County Museum in Waterville, Washington. The calf lived for ten days after birth.
  • The Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has full body taxidermy of a two-headed calf.
  • The Dalton Gang Museum, located in Meade, Kansas, also displays a full body taxidermy of a two-headed calf.
  • A two-headed calf mount can be found at the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut
  • A two-headed calf was born in Frankston, Texas, on February 13, 2009. Reportedly, the owner/rancher, J. R. Newman immediately took the calf to his local veterinarian for examination/treatment. The veterinarian, Dr. James Brown, was quoted by a local reporter as saying, "I've seen slight variations [of this condition] but nothing like this before. This is by no means normal."[46]
  • A full taxidermy of a two headed calf can be found in Melton Mowbray museum, Leicestershire, UK.
  • A full taxidermy of a two headed calf can be found in the Museum of Marxell (in the Northern Black Forest in Germany). The calf was born by a local cow and died shortly after birth by natural causes.
  • A full taxidermy of a two-headed calf is on display at the Ohio Historical Society.
  • A taxidermy of a two-headed calf was previously on display at Hereford Museum and Art Gallery.
  • A full body taxidermy of a two headed calf can be seen at the Grant County Historical Museum in Canyon City, Oregon. A card next to the specimen states the heifer was born on the Bob Sprout ranch near Mt. Vernon, and that the calf had 2 hearts, lungs, and 2 spinal columns. Also at the museum are the mounted heads of two diprosopus (two-faced) calves.
  • A full taxidermy of a two-headed calf is on display at the Haifa Zoo, in Haifa, Israel.
  • A Taxidermy specimen of a two headed calf can be seen at the Michigan State University museum in their Cabinet of Curiosities exhibit (not always available). the two-headed calf was born in Fowler, Michigan, in 1943 and is often paired with a dwarf calf that was born on a farm in Owendale, Michigan, in 1909.
  • A full taxidermy of a two-headed calf can be seen advertising ice cream for College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri, where it was delivered by the students.
  • Two full body taxidermies of two-headed calves can be seen at the Huron County Museum in Goderich, Ontario.
  • A full taxidermy of a two-headed calf is on display at the Miami County Museum in Peru, Indiana

PigsEdit

 
Two-headed piglet; Old State House, Hartford, Connecticut

Goats and sheepEdit

 
Two-faced lamb, Lausanne

ReptilesEdit

SnakesEdit

Most polycephalic snakes do not live long, but some captive individuals do.[47]

TurtlesEdit

 
The Greek tortoise "Janus", is born in 1997 in the Museum of Natural History of Geneva, pictured here in 2008.

Two-headed turtles and tortoises are rare but not unknown. Recent discoveries include:

CrocodilesEdit

ChoristoderesEdit

In 2006, the UK Royal Society announced that it had discovered a two-headed fossil of Hyphalosaurus, the first recorded time that such a reptile has been found fossilized.

Mythological occurrencesEdit

 
The 16th-century German zoologist Conrad Gesner has been influenced by the Beast of Revelation in his depiction of the Hydra in volume four of Historiae Animalium.

Mesopotamian mythologyEdit

  • Mušmaḫḫu, a seven headed serpent related to mythology of Ninurta,[62] and Ningishzida.[63][64] Sometimes related to Mušḫuššu.
  • Humbaba, the guardian of the Cedar Forest, where the gods lived. A description from Georg Burckhardt translation of Gilgamesh says, "he had the paws of a lion and a body covered in thorny scales; his feet had the claws of a vulture, and on his head were the horns of a wild bull; his tail and phallus each ended in a snake's head."

Greek mythologyEdit

Greek mythology contains a number of multi-headed creatures. Typhon, a vast grisly monster with many snake heads, is often described as having several offspring with Echidna, a creature with the body of a serpent but the face of a beautiful woman. Their offspring, by one source or another, account for many of the major monsters of Greek mythos, including:

Other multi-headed creatures in Greek mythology include:

  • The Hecatonchires – giants with fifty heads and one hundred arms. The word "Hecatonchire" means "hundred arms". They were the sons of Gaia, and Uranus.
  • Hecate – Greek goddess of witches, nightmares, crossroads, and one of the Moon deities; sometimes represented with three heads.

HinduismEdit

 
Vishnu reclines on the multi-hooded serpent Shesha, while the four-headed Brahma sits on a lotus, rising from Vishnu's navel.

Hindu deities are often depicted with multiple arms or heads.

Though usually depicted with one head, some deities like Ganesha (in Heramba form) and Shiva (Sadashiva) have aspects where they are depicted with multiple heads; five in this case. The Vishvarupa form of Vishnu is described as having infinite heads.

Besides deities, demons (asura and rakshasa) may be depicted with multiple heads. The demon-king Ravana is depicted with ten heads; while his son Trishira with three heads.

Animal races in Hindu mythology like Nāgas (serpents) may have multiple heads. The Naga Shesha is depicted with five or seven hoods, but said to have infinite hoods. Uchchaihshravas is a celestial seven-headed horse. The divine white elephant Airavata is depicted with multiple heads, trunks and tusks.

TaoismEdit

  • Nezha, a god sometimes shown in "three heads and six arms" form

OccultismEdit

Ancient Mediterranean civilizationsEdit

 
The two-headed Janus.

European cultureEdit

Eastern EuropeEdit

Northern EuropeEdit

JapanEdit

JudaismEdit

The Talmud (Brachot 61a) says that originally Adam was created as a single body with two faces (which were then separated into two bodies - male (Adam) & female (Eve)). [66][67]

The Zohar, (introduction 1:9B / p.9B) speaks of descendants of Cain with 2 heads.[68][69]

The Talmud (Menachot 37a) records an incident in which Phlimo asked Judah the Prince, which head a two headed person should put on Tefillin. Judah was initially dismissive, but then another man came in saying that his wife had just given birth to a two headed baby, and asked a (different) halachic question.[70][71]

HeraldryEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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  66. ^ "Talmud Bavli Tractate Berakhot". sefaria.org (in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic). Retrieved 4 October 2017. דאמר ר' ירמיה בן אלעזר דו פרצופין ברא הקב"ה באדם הראשון... רב ושמואל חד אמר פרצוף וחד אמר זנב 
  67. ^ SIMON, MAURICE. "The Soncino Babylonian Talmud Tractate BERAKOTH" (PDF). halakhah.com. Soncino. Retrieved 4 October 2017. R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: God created two countenances in the first man,8 as it says, Behind and before hast Thou formed me.9 And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man made he a woman.10 Rab and Samuel explained this differently. One said that [this 'rib'] was a face, the other that it was a tail.11 ... 8. And out of one of them Eve was made. 9. Ps. CXXXIX, 5. E.V. 'Thou host hemmed me in'. 10. Gen. II, 22. 11. I.e., projected like a tail.  
  68. ^ Bleich, J. David (1998). Bioethical Dilemmas: A Jewish Perspective, Volume 1. KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1998. pp. 311–312. ISBN 9780881254730. Retrieved 4 October 2017. 25. Seder ha-Dorot, Tanna ve-Amoralm, s.v. . Pelemo, cites a state-ment of the Zohar indicating that Cain was exiled to a place known as "Arks," a locale in which everyone was born with two heads. Seder ha-Dorot explains R. Judah's retort as indicat-ing that Pelemo should go into exile to the same place to which Cain was exiled and that in that place he might appropriately pose his question but that elsewhere the question is frivolous and the intelocutor is deserving of excommunication. See also Zohar, Parashat Va-Ye,rei, p. 157a, and Zohar, introduction, p. 9b. The latter source speaks of descendants of Cain possessing two heads. Cf., R. Chaim Eleazar Shapiro, Ot klayyim ve-Sha-tom 27:9, note 13. See also Zohar, Hashmattot, Berrishit, pp. 2536-254a. 
  69. ^ Matt, Daniel Chanan (2004). The Zohar, volume 1. Stanford University Press, 2004. p. 63. ISBN 9780804747479. Retrieved 4 October 2017. "וארקא (Ve-arqa), And earth—the verse should read וארעא (ve-ar'a), [469] but ארקא (arqa) is one of those seven earths below, [470] site of descendants of Cain. After he was banished from the face of the earth, [471] he descended there, generating offspring. [472] He blundered there, knowing nothing. It is a dual earth, dualized by darkness and light. [473] Two officials rule there, one ruling darkness, the other light, inciting one another. When Cain descended there, they joined together—were completed as one—entirely befitting the offspring of Cain. So they have two heads [474] like two snake, but the one of light rules—prevailing, defeating the other. So those of darkness merged in those of light, and they became one. Those two officials are Mrira and Kastimon, [475] who resemble six-winged holy angels. One resembles an ox, the other an eagle, but when they join they are transformed into the image of a human being. [476] ... footnote 474. two heads On the two-headed descendants of Cain, see Beit ha-Midrash, 4:151-52; Judah ben Barzillai, Peirush Sefer Yetsirah, 173; Tosafot, Menahot 37a, s.v. o qum gelei; Zohar 1:157a; 2:80a; ZH 9b; Ginzberg, Legends, 5:143 n. 34; Ta-Shma, HaNigleh she-ba-Nistar, 125, n.84. 
  70. ^ "The Soncino Babylonian Talmud Tractate Menachot" (PDF). halakhah.com. Retrieved 4 October 2017. Pelemo enquired of Rabbi, If a man has two heads on which one must he put the tefillin?’ ‘You must either leave’,10 he replied, ‘or regard yourself under the ban’. In the meantime there came a man [to the school] saying, ‘I have begotten a first-born child with two heads, how much must I give the priest?’11 An old man came forward and ruled that he must give [the priest] ten sela's... [footnotes] (10) Sc. the school. Rabbi thought that this question was put merely from a desire to scoff at him. (11) For his redemption. The fixed sum for redemption was five shekels (sela's in the Rabbinic tongue), cf. Num. XVIII, 16. 
  71. ^ "Talmude Bavli Tractate Menachot". Sefaria.org (in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic). Retrieved 4 October 2017. בעא מיניה פלימו מרבי מי שיש לו שני ראשים באיזה מהן מניח תפילין א"ל או קום גלי או קבל עלך שמתא אדהכי אתא ההוא גברא א"ל איתיליד לי ינוקא דאית ליה תרי רישי כמה בעינן למיתב לכהן אתא ההוא סבא תנא ליה חייב ליתן לו י' סלעים 

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