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The life and ViralL fame of Virginia's two-headed snake
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LATE LAST SUMMER in Woodbridge, Virginia, a woman wandered into her yard and found an eastern copperhead slithering through her flower bed. That's not so unusual where she lives, as the region is home to a plethora of ophidians, from harmless corn snakes to venomous rattlers. But this one was different: It had two heads.

It's called dicephaly, a mysterious disorder occurring in just one out of every 100,000 snakes born in the wild and one out of 10,000 born in captivity. Affected snakes possess two brains with distinct personalities, though one head typically dominates the other, which might lack a trachea, esophagus, or even eyes. Scientists suspect it happens when an embryo in the early stages of development divides—possibly induced by sudden temperature changes, environmental pollution, or inbreeding. Whatever the cause, these unlucky creatures don't live long. Nearly half are dead on arrival, and few survive beyond the first few months.

The Woodbridge serpent—er, serpents?—were at most three weeks old, no longer than a Penguin paperback, but it (they?) caused a stir. Naturally, pictures made their way onto Facebook, then inevitably CNN, The New York Daily News, and even Snapchat. Calls began flooding the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries—which removed the critter from the woman's property—from people curious to see it up close and zoos eager to take it off their hands. "After about 48 hours of that madness, I was like, I'm done," says state herpetologist John D. Kleopfer. "I don't know how these celebrities, like the Kardashians, live."

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