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Woman kills freak snake; expert says split embryo created 2 heads

By BY JESSICA PRIEST - JPRIEST@VICAD.COM
Aug. 23, 2012 at 3:23 a.m.
Updated Aug. 24, 2012 at 3:24 a.m.

Victoria resident Cindy Sauseda found a two-headed snake last week.

SNAKE SAFETY TIPS:

If it's non-venomous and it's not eating livestock, leave it alone.If it's non-venomous and it's eating livestock, then get the snake into a trashcan with a lid and take it somewhere to release it. If it's venomous, call a professional.To avoid being bitten, wear closed-toed shoes, use a flashlight at night, cut grass and don't leave trash or junk out that snakes and rodents can hide underneath.Keep a safe distance away from a snake. They can strike as far away as three times their body length. Source: Texas Herpetological Society and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Longtime Victoria resident Cindy Sauseda is not squeamish, but nothing could have prepared her for what her dog Juno ferreted out of the shed last week.

The 4-year-old Bichon whined and pawed at its door on Aug. 17 before Sauseda went in to retrieve a box.

Seconds later, she sent it clattering to the floor. She saw one, no, two snakes squirming inside.

Her 9-inch tall "country boy," well-known by neighbors for catching toads, gophers and scorpions, had done it again. She decided to wait for backup before killing the critters.

What came sliding out of the box after the deed was done was something else entirely. It was an abomination, an anomaly - a two-headed snake.

"If I'd known that, I wouldn't have killed it," Sauseda said marveling at its coiled up remains stored inside a Vlasic pickle jar.

Already, she said, someone's offered to buy it.

Corey Roelke, a member of the approximately 30-year-old Texas Herpetological Society with a doctorate in quantitative biology from the University of Texas at Arlington, said a two-headed snake is "unusual, but not unprecedented."

He has seen eight kept as sort of novelty pets. He said they are created whenever an embryo splits.

"It's the same process as twinning in humans," Roelke said.

Such snakes often don't survive in the wild because the two heads fight over food, disagree on which direction to travel and display other neural control problems, he said.

Roelke said he's never seen a venomous two-headed snake, so they're probably no more dangerous than a one-headed snake.

"It's usually rat snakes, king snakes and things like that," he said, noting the snake population is stimulated by rainfall and they're likely out looking for mates. "The important thing to remember is that almost all bites come from people who are trying to catch or kill the snake."

Trent Teinert, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, identified what Sauseda found as a Texas rat snake, which can grow to be from 42 to 72 inches long.

"They're a generalist species, and they will also catch live birds," he said.

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