Sternberg receives interesting live exhibit

The Sternberg Museum of Natural History has recently received a young two-headed plains garter snake in addition to the 22 northern water snakes and 15 prairie rattlesnakes that were born into the Sternberg’s herpetology collection about a week ago.

Curtis Schmidt, zoological collections manager at the Sternberg Museum, received the two-headed snake from a biology professor from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The snake was originally found by a woman living in Kearney who found it in her yard. The snake is 6-8 inches in length.

“It is just a baby. It was found just days after it had been born,” Schmidt said. “It’s just good fortune that we ended up with it.”

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Twins are not common in snakes, but two-headed variations seem to happen more often in turtles and snakes than any other species.

“It’s just like twins that didn’t separate fully,” Schmidt said. “Basically, it’s two snakes that are joined into one. What’s going on here is that the snake’s got two brains working for the same body, which is a struggle. It’s just like conjoined twins, which can happen in humans. This can happen in just about anything.”

In the wild, this snake would have not lived long. Schmidt hopes the snake will live, since it has been reported to perform biological functions regularly, such as eating and relieving itself. “It should last a while,” Schmidt said. “A lot of times, when these things are joined together, their insides are messed up, so they can’t perform normal bodily functions.”

Thea Haugen, Discovery Room manager, takes care of the two-headed snake. Haugen feeds the snake small worms but hopes to feed it baby mice once it gets bigger. It is unknown to both Haugen and Schmidt if both heads eat at the same time.

An exhibit for the two-headed plains garter snake has not been yet confirmed, because it is not big enough to be displayed. The two-headed snake will live at the Sternberg for the rest of its life.

Nearly a week ago in the Sternberg museum, a northern water snake gave birth to 22 babies and a prairie rattlesnake gave birth to 15 babies.

“It’s babies galore at the Sternberg,” Schmidt said. “This is the time of year when baby snakes are all over the place.”

Both the water snake and prairie rattlesnake give live birth. Baby snakes spend a short amount of time with their mother. Once they shed their skin, they are off on their own. One can tell when a baby snake has just shed its skin in comparison to those who haven’t because snakes who have recently shed are more brightly colored.

The baby rattlesnakes and their mother are on display in an exhibit titled “Rattlerssss: From Fear to Fascination.” This exhibit features numerous species of rattlesnakes. When the babies come off display, they will be used for further scientific study.

The Sternberg Museum of Natural History is located at 3000 Sternberg Drive. For more information about the Sternberg Museum exhibits, please visit their website or call (785) 628-4286.

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