A two-headed snake must be up there with the Madagascar hissing cockroach, axolotl, and five-legged lamb on the list of world's most unusual pets. Now, meet Gumbo and Filo: two heads on one western rat snake's body. The twins belong to Tanee Janusz from Louisiana, who sits on the board for the local Master Naturalist Program.
Janusz was offered the pair by a friend, also on the board, who found them slithering around his backyard. She accepted straight away and named them Gumbo and Filo as a tribute to their hometown, New Orleans.
According to the WSLS, the twins may share a tail but they have distinct personality traits and often struggle to control the direction of their shared body. Both are feisty but Gumbo is the more dominant of the twins.
Even though there is just one digestive and reproductive tract between the two heads, Janusz says caring for them is not all that much different to caring for a regular snake.
“The only difference is making sure that their water bowl is not too deep as the dominant head will drag the non-dominant head down into the water,” she told Newsweek.
She believes they were only a day or so old when she was given them, saying the egg tooth was still intact on one head. The egg tooth is a spikey tool on a snake's nose used to crack open and break out of its egg but it is shed shortly after birth.
While rare, the two-headed deformity is not completely unheard of – it's a condition called polycephaly, which is estimated to affect one in every 10,000 snake births. As in the case of conjoined twins, it occurs when a fertilized egg does not fully split. And while it is more common in snakes than most other animals, it can affect any vertebrate.
Janusz believes that despite the condition, Gumbo and Filo can expect to live relatively normal lives and survive the lifespan of most western rat snakes, which is 10 years in the wild and 20-25 years in captivity.
The unusual duo are now settling into their local community. Janusz takes them into schools and libraries to encourage people to become more understanding of the importance of wild animals. Gumbo and Filo are surprisingly popular, she says.
“In my community, it’s often said that the only good snake is a dead snake,” Janusz told WSLS.
“The best thing is just letting people look at them,” she added. “Their exceptionality makes people lower their guard down a little bit and makes them more open to talking about them.”
And yes, the idea of someone with a name remarkably similar to Janus keeping a two-headed pet tickled us too.