Emily the two-headed snapping turtle

Object of the Month: 07/2001

What is it?:

Emily the two-headed snapping turtle


110mm L x 69mm W x 53mm H


470 grams

Emily the two-headed snapping turtle

Plaster cast of Emily (top and bottom right) and X-ray of Emily (bottom left)

Hatched September 15, 1973; brought to the Science Museum of Minnesota October 1, 1973; died July 7 and 8, 1977.

This two-headed turtle's condition arose because of a misfunction or chemical accident during the early development of the embryo. Although not common, this type of embryological accident does occur fairly frequently in reptiles. Two-headed reptiles such as this one, however, would normally not survive in nature. The indecision arising from the two heads makes effective action, such as catching food or fleeing an enemy, impossible. Fortunately Emily, as this turtle came to be known, survived - through luck and the good fortune of being brought to the Science Museum where she received daily attention from then Biology Curator Dale Chelberg.

Two Heads Not Better Than One!This particular snapping turtle (the cast of which is seen above) hatched on September 15, 1973, the last in a series of twenty-five eggs collected and observed by Roy Hauge of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota. Mr. Hauge took the small turtle to the Wilderness Museum, a private operation run by Emil and Martha Berg in Emily, Minnesota. On October 1, 1973, Emily arrived at the Science Museum via friends of the Bergs. Emily (though it was never actually determined if the turtle was male or female) soon became a popular attraction at the museum as part of a small display called "Nature's Accident."

Turtle X-ray with minnows June 10, 1975, Emily was taken to the University of Minnesota's Department of Veterinary Radiology for X-rays. It was discovered that she had not just two heads, but two separate biological systems. There were two spinal columns that merged into one in the lower abdomen. It was inferred from this that the left head controlled the left front leg and the right head controlled the right front leg but that control of the hind legs was shared. Additionally, two separate stomachs were seen. Before being X-rayed, Emily was fed a barium-injected minnow, which can be seen on her left and right sides. Each digestive system then probably joined together as one in the small intestine. An autopsy after the turtle's death also revealed that Emily had two hearts.

Two Headed Turtle Died Thursday - and Friday On Thursday July 7, 1977, Emily's left side died when her neck became jammed in the shell. The next day, Friday the 8th, the right side died from toxins owing to lack of blood circulation. As one of the star attractions of the Science Museum, Emily's passing was big news, garnering newspaper articles and even condolence letters.

Today, Emily's preserved body is still popular with visitors. Stop by the museum's Collections Gallery and pay her a visit!