What is it about a freak of nature that either entertains, scares, or simultaneously manages to do both? In a world where nobody seems to want to be perceived as normal or average, when you present something way outside the norm, reactions are strong, and this is especially true with animals.
Whether it’s a cute baby kitten or a scaly snake, mutant animals are hard not to look at. Mother Nature created complex living systems, and sometimes, not everything goes the way it was intended. A mutated gene here meets a warped strand of DNA there, and you’ve got a creature suitable for the happiest child’s nightmares.
Back in the day, circus sideshows would end up with many of these oddities, but when it stopped being politically correct to gawk at their human freak counterparts, it became harder to see genuine mutant animals. Aside from the odd Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in a tourist town or a farmer who just happens to be lucky enough to get that random six-legged calf, the days of taking the kids to see genetic mistakes have passed us by.
Thankfully, we have the Internet. Sure, you have wade through a world of fake stuff, but the gems are still out there. So gather round your little brothers and sisters, get your sons and daughters off their Playstations, and enjoy a familial pastime that is, unfortunately, going to soon be extinct. It’s time to enjoy 15 Disturbing Photos of Real-Life Mutant Animals That Would Make Little Kids Cry.
15. Anybody remember the old Atari game, Q*bert?
We mention elsewhere on this list that you can see the piglet with two butts at a museum in Glasgow, Scotland, but if you’re a fan of the other end and are spending a lot of time in the United Kingdom, “head” on over to the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, England, where you can see a two-headed piglet that has been preserved. If you’re stuck in the United States, but just must see that two-headed baby oinker, the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut, is home to the Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities that Joseph Stewart assembled in the late 18th Century. There are plenty of other citations of two-headed pigs born on Earth in the last couple hundred years, so if it’s your life’s wish to see a living two-headed pig, there may be an opportunity. Of course, if this is your life’s wish, there’s probably a whole other set of issues and goals you need to address with a professional.
14. SeaWorld seems like a pretty cushy gig now, doesn’t it?
It would be sad enough to stumble upon a beached dolphin while on vacation. We all know they shouldn’t be made to do tricks, but we have nice associations with these ultra-smart creatures. Still, it would probably ruin your day to find one dead. Imagine finding this beast, a two-headed dolphin calf, washed ashore in front of your cabana. This one, measuring only 3.2 feet in length, was found on a beach in Dikili, Turkey, by a gym teacher on vacation in 2014. Marine biologists who examined the carcass said they thought Flipper’s mutant cousin was likely around one year old. One of the heads did very little as its eyes were not fully open, and its blowhole was non-operational. Researchers took the animal back to Akdeniz University to study it further, but they must not have found anything too amazing since there was never a followup report.
13. I don’t like the way this cat is looking at me
This cat, or cats, depending on how you see things, was the longest-living feline with two faces according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Frank and Louie, born in September 1999, was not expected to live more than a few days, and its breeder brought the freak kitty to Tufts University’s veterinary school so it could be studied and examined after it died. One of the nurses who worked at the school took the mutant cat home and kept it alive for three months by feeding it with a tube. Frank and Louie learned to eat on its own and basically grew to be a fairly normal cat, aside from the weird stuff going on inside its skull. The cat returned to Tufts in November 2014 where it was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of seeing it suffer, its owner decided to have Frank and Louie euthanized.
12. More sushi for everyone!
In 2016, National Geographic actually published a story on its website about the fact that more two-headed sharks of all different varieties were being caught around the world than ever before, including this one, which is actually a blue shark fetus, which was discovered inside of its mother in 2008. There are some scientists who feel that it’s just a changing world, and there a bunch of different reasons like pollution, metabolic disorders, viral infection, and even a dwindling gene pool, likely contributing to more inbreeding. There’s another group of scientists who point to something that could be the obvious answer; they point out there are simply more scientific journals covering abnormalities like two-headed sharks, and it’s just a case of increased publicity making it seem like there are more cases when nothing has actually changed.
11. Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo, moo
In late 2016, born in Kentucky, a calf dubbed “Lucky” had two heads. Unfortunately, 2017 wasn’t lucky for the cow, and it died on January 2. Lucky was hardly the first two-headed calf in the news even in this decade. Back in 2010, an Egyptian farmer named Sobhy el-Ganzoury witnessed one of his cows having an especially strenuous time giving birth, taking much longer than usual. When he went to it to survey the situation to perhaps help the distressed animal, he saw that a two-headed calf had been born. In a culture where some still revere the cow as a special animal, the farmer said it was a reminder that God was capable of doing anything. A veterinarian said that the calf had weak legs but was in good health. Lucky ended up living 102 days, but it’s unknown how long this calf lived. Maybe her name was Luckier.
10. Bambi is making a break for it
If there was a racehorse born with extra working legs, would it help it go faster, slow it down, or not affect its speed at all? NASA is probably working on space station issues, but we’d like this question answered. Most of the time, when an animal is born with an extra leg or two, they’re just gimpy, hanging off to the side, sometimes not even fully formed. What about a cheetah with two extra hind legs or a monkey with four arms? Faster? Better climber? There must be some kind of scientific formula that can answer that question without us having to wait around for this genetic marvel to be born. We’ve searched and can’t find proof of the type of freak we’re looking for. It’s not like NASA is going to have us enjoy space travel in our lifetime. At least they could solve this problem.
9. It’s time for Name That Mutant!
OK, you get five seconds to tell us what the heck this is. 5…4…3…2…1. Time’s up! Still no idea? We didn’t have a clue either, except we thought it was an extra in a few of the Lord of the Rings movies and seems vaguely familiar from our nightmares as a child. This is actually a piglet born in China in 2008 that has what most people describe as a monkey face. That’s quite an insult to monkeys. Its anatomy isn’t of a normal piglet, either. It was born with front legs much shorter than its back, causing it to hop forward instead of walk. Eight years later, in 2016, another similar piglet was born, also in China, although this one’s legs weren’t as bad as the first. In both cases, the owners of the pigs were able to turn them into minor tourist attractions and make a few dollars. We guess that’s why they call it “bringing home the bacon.”
8. Do we refer to this creature in the singular or plural?
So here’s an interesting question from the world of human genetic abnormalities that can also be applied to animals. It’s even more interesting if your answer is different with different species. There’s a set of siamese twins, Abby and Brittany Lee Hensel, who essentially share one body, but have two heads. They had a reality show for a little while. Despite having one body, because they have two brains and two separate personalities, they viewed themselves as two different people. Medically, they were considered siamese twins. So, when you see these pictures of two-headed animals, ask yourself, “Am I looking at one animal, or two?” If those girls are actually two people, why is that snake or goat or cow with two heads considered a two-headed cow, not two cows sharing one body? Makes you kind of think, doesn’t it?
7. Whose fleece was as white as snow…even the extra leg
So the question you have to ask yourself beyond if you’re a dog or a cat person is if you could love a dog or a cat that had spare parts, and would it matter what those spare parts were? If your cat had an extra leg that wasn’t bothering it, would you have it amputated just because it was weird to look at, or would it make that cat extra cool specifically because it had an extra leg? What if the dog had a secondary head that started to grow out of the top of the first one, but wasn’t quite complete. What if it had just another nose and a couple of extra ears and was really not attractive to look at? Is that something that you could get past, or would you have to get yourself a regular pet to love? And if you could only love a regular pet, does that make you any worse a person?
6. Some of this craziness is our fault
The sad truth is this isn’t all Mother Nature’s doing. When it comes to certain instances, humans have to claim a lot of the responsibility for mutations that happen in animals, especially in places where great catastrophes have happened. Take for instance, in Chernobyl, Russia, where a nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986 forced the evacuation of a perimeter of 30 kilometers that is still deemed not safe to live in today. We can keep people out, but animals have stayed, and we’ve seen the results of nuclear fallout on species of insects and birds that aren’t pretty. Above, you can see what happens when a water source is contaminated and animals are forced to live, eat, and reproduce in it. Unfortunately, unless we change our ways with pollution, there are going to be more rather than fewer frogs with dystopian-like limbs in the future.
5. Leaving this one behind at the shelter
Frank and Louie is kind of a sweet story, but having the condition of diprosopus usually means a very short life. Cats with the condition are known as Janus cats, after the Roman god. Diprosopus is actually different from being a Siamese twin because it has nothing to do with embryos partially splitting. The “two-faced” appearance comes because of abnormal behavior of a protein known as SHH. This protein has been credited with playing an important role in signaling to the developing embryo just how the cranium and facial features should form. Scientists have done studies in labs where they have successfully bred chickens born with multiple beaks by injecting embryos with SHH pellets. We have no idea how this is going to benefit mankind in the long run. It’s not like chicken beaks are even edible. This kitty, by the way, only lived a few days.
4. Why don’t you visit the Bagpipe Museum?
If you’re going to be in Glasgow, Scotland, anytime soon and want to see some great examples of freak-of-nature animals, you’ve got to stop by the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow. The permanent exhibition displays the collection of Dr. William Hunter, a teacher, obstetrician, and collector of really weird stuff. One of the jewels of the collection is the piglet with two hind quarters that was saved from the 18th century. That’s right; you get to see two butts for the price of one! On the same shelf, Hunter collected a few other mutant baby animals that remain preserved hundreds of years later in jars, including a cyclops sheep and one born with multiple limbs. Since he was a royal physician and teacher of anatomy, he could say this was all scientific, but we have a feeling Hunter probably also thought it was just pretty cool stuff to own.
3. Don’t hurt the animal’s confidence by looking at the fifth leg
Since these are animals, we can be a little more direct and honest than if we were talking about people. In media reports about this steer from Australia in 2008, almost every media report says something like, “Aside from the fifth leg growing out of its left shoulder, the animal is normal in all other respects.” When you’ve got another limb growing out of your shoulder, man or beast, you don’t get to use the phrase “normal in all other respects.” It also isn’t correct. The fifth leg that looks like a giant earring isn’t normal in that it has three claws on the foot. It’s OK to say that these animals aren’t normal. It’s OK to point out the fact that sometimes Mother Nature does strange things for no apparent reason, and it’s OK to point out the fact that this is not just another day at the farm. If this animal really is completely normal, let’s get a group of kindergarten students to visit the farm in Australia, not tell them what they’re about to see, and record how they react.
2. For the peeps who want real answers
So, if you’re ever on Jeopardy! you’re going to need more than “What is super freak-of-nature two-headed disease, Alex?” The condition of having more than one head, whether it’s in a human or in an animal, is known as polycephaly, from the Greek, basically meaning “many heads.” More specifically, two-headed animals are labeled as either bicephalic or dicephalic while rare three-headed animals are known as tricephalic. The most famous modern-day version of a tricephalic animal to survive was a three-headed frog found in 2004. There has never been a four-headed animal that is known to have survived a live birth, although there have been stillbirths from animals of just about any mutation you can think of. The oldest bicephalic creature is a 120-million-year-old fossil of a long-extinct aquatic reptile that was something of a hybrid between a fish and a lizard.
1. Two-headed snakes get no respect
Sometimes, this world makes no sense. Why do some good people have such difficult lives while there are villainous cretins who get to take the easy road? Why do couples who have so much love to give have trouble conceiving, yet completely unprepared teenagers can get pregnant so easily? And why is there no Hall of Fame for polycephalic snakes? There should be a place where the two-headed black rat snake with separate throats and stomachs that survived in a college lab can be celebrated. There was an albino rat snake with two heads that lived eight years in captivity and a two-headed king snake that lived 17 years at Arizona State University. Who is going to carry on the legacy of these creatures? If you want a collection of polycephalic snakes, the best you can do is visit the museum at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta to see the preserved ones or hope to stumble upon one in nature before it dies.