While foraging through the undergrowth in search of delicious fungi not far from the Mississippi River, a mushroom picker in Minnesota came across something unusual: a two-headed fawn.
Other conjoined fawns have been seen before, but only in utero. This is believed to be the first known conjoined twin fawns that have reached full term and were delivered by the mother. While they are thought to have been stillborn, the mushroom picker reported he found them in near-perfect condition, indicating they were only recently deceased.
“Their anatomy indicates the fawns would never have been viable,” explains Gino D’Angelo, who co-authored a paper on the fawns in the journal The American Midland Naturalist, in a statement. “Yet, they were found groomed and in a natural position, suggesting that the doe tried to care for them after delivery. The maternal instinct is very strong.”
The impeccable condition of the fawns meant that a full necropsy could be carried out on them, allowing scientists to get a unique opportunity to study a rare natural event. The researchers performed a CT scan on the baby deer, in addition to a dissection.
They were able to show that the twins were both female, with two separate heads and necks that converged about halfway down the rib cage. Their fur, heads, and legs were perfectly normal, with both twins even showing an “almost perfect” spot pattern running down their neck.
Internally, tests proved that their lungs had never breathed air, confirming they were stillborn. They shared one liver but had extra spleens and gastrointestinal tracts. While they only had one pericardial sac, it was found to contain two hearts.
Out of all the official reports of conjoined twins found in nature between 1671 and 2006, only a total of 19 have ever been confirmed. Recently, we’ve seen a conjoined bat in Brazil and even the first ever conjoined harbour porpoise in the Netherlands. There have only ever been five official cases in deer, with two of these in white-tailed deer, but both of these were fetuses that were not delivered.
“It’s amazing and extremely rare,” D’Angelo said. “We can’t even estimate the rarity of this. Of the tens of millions of fawns born annually in the U.S., there are probably abnormalities happening in the wild we don’t even know about.”