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Two-headed rat snake makes public debut at Cameron Park Zoo
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Two-headed rat snake makes public debut at Cameron Park Zoo

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After 18 months of growth in quarantined chambers, Cameron Park Zoo’s two-headed rat snake made his public debut this week.

“Right now it is about 18 inches and he is growing and will continue to grow,” said Brian Henley, the zoo’s amphibian and reptile care supervisor. “He should grow to be about 3.5 feet, or about 40 to 42 inches when he gets to be fully mature.”

A McLennan County woman found the two-headed snake in September 2016 after her dog started chasing him under her front porch. He was about 8 inches long at the time, and the resident decided to give the snake to the zoo.

Henley said the snake was recently hatched when he arrived, so zoo staff placed him in quarantine to give him the best chance at growing and staying healthy.

“He wasn’t very big when we first got him and with any type of animal we want to be really careful with newborns,” Henley said. “They don’t have a good immune system yet, and especially with this snake with two heads, we wanted to make sure everything was going to be fine with him.”

In the last 18 months, staff has determined the snake is a male. He does not have an official name, but caretakers have nicknamed him “Pancho and Lefty,” after the Townes Van Zandt song that was performed by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Texas rat snakes, which are medium to large constrictors, primarily feed on rodents and birds and can grow to more than five feet long and live about 25 years. Henley said staff monitors Pancho and Lefty’s feeding routine with pygmy mice to make sure he gets proper nutrition.

“Now, we are able to just put the food in and both heads will eat,” Henley said. “The left head is still the more dominant head, so the left head usually eats, but the right head, we’ve occasionally witnessed it taking food at the same time.”

Henley previously compared the snake to conjoined twins, where the snake has the same body, stomach, liver and other vital organs. Because rat snakes rarely eat or attack other snakes, zoo officials do not have much concern about the heads attacking each other.

While this is the first two-headed snake housed at Cameron Park Zoo, Henley said Pancho and Lefty appears to be adapting well to his new exhibit-home in the Freshwater Aquarium.

“Guests will just need to look for him, because the exhibit is set up to where the animal will still feel secure,” Henley said.

He said he may slither at times to an area in the exhibit not easily visible to the public.

“Rat snakes are also known to climb, and there are some vertical branches in there, so (guests) may have to look up to see him,” Henley said.

For more information about the Cameron Park Zoo, visit cameronparkzoo.com.

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