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Old 08-31-2019, 08:27 PM   #1
Two headed timber rattlesnake found in NJ


Two-Headed Timber Rattlesnake Discovered in Nearby Pine Barrens
By JON COEN | Aug 29, 2019

Chatsworth — Greek mythology tells of a two-headed serpent named Amphisbaena. It was spawned from the blood of Medusa in a gruesome story of Perseus flying with her bleeding body after slaying her. There are also mosaic sculptures that the Aztecs are believed to have bestowed upon the conquistadors in the 1500s of a two-headed serpent that show the important role that snakes played in ancient Aztec mythology. The Iroquois Confederacy has a complex story of a Native American boy who found and kept a two-headed snake that grew to eat the village and destroy all the land and the skies with an appetite so insatiable that one head eventually ate the other.

Well, two-headed serpents are not simply beasts from ancient stories. One was discovered this week in the Pine Barrens of Chatsworth, a 10-minute drive west of Stafford Township. Dave Burkett, who works for the consulting group Herpetological Associates Inc., found the juvenile timber rattlesnake while surveying an area of the Pines with his colleague, fellow herpetologist and Herpetological Associates Regional Manager Dave Schneider.

“We were out surveying a certain area where we know that rattlesnakes give birth. It’s an area where female snakes hang out, get sun and let the embryos incubate. They have live young in late August. The young usually stay by the mother,” said Burkett.

Burkett has observed rattlesnakes for years. His firm’s job is to research endangered plants and animals and help planners consider wildlife conservation in ecologically sensitive areas. Burkett started taking some photos of the “neonates” and when they started to retreat for cover, he noticed an abnormality.

“I just called to Dave Schneider and said, ‘Holy cow. This thing has two heads.’ We couldn’t see the snake at that point, so I checked the shots on my camera and there it was, two heads,” he stated.

Burkett called in for permission to extract the snake. As a certified herpetologist, he has what is called a scientific collection permit.

“Under the endangered species laws, it’s illegal to handle or harass any endangered reptiles or amphibians without that,” he explained.

The pair found the snake, which undoubtedly had two heads. The right head seems to be dominant, but both heads’ tongues are flicking normally. It's very difficult to determine the sex of newborn rattlers, so the gender is yet to be determined. They collected it and brought it, unharmed, to the firm’s Pine Barrens office in Pemberton for observation.

The timber rattler is a species of venomous pit vipers found from southern New England to Florida. It lives in regions in both North and South Jersey, although the more stable population is in North Jersey. It’s a venomous snake that helps keep rodent populations in check. It can certainly kill a human with lethal venom.

“It’s generally a docile species, though,” said Burkett. “It would really have to be antagonized to become aggressive. In the handful of bite incidents I’ve seen, it was a person harassing the animal and the animal defending itself. That animal just wants to be left alone. It’s unfortunate that they are misrepresented. There’s that inherent fear, but that’s why it has that rattle, to let you know it’s there. You really have to pester that animal for it to protect itself. When they’re confronted, the first thing they will do in an encounter is leave, then they will warn you. The last thing they do is attack. They don’t want to waste their energy or venom on something that’s not their prey.”

He adds when hikers pass rattlers, the snakes normally stay hidden and hikers wouldn’t even know it was there.

Robert Zappalorti is the executive director of Herpetological Associates. He was associate curator of herpetology and education at the Staten Island Zoological Society and then founded his own firm in 1977. The two-headed snake is now under his care and they will see if they can get it to eat.

“It’s quite rare. To my knowledge, this is the first time a two-headed timber rattler has been found in the Northeast. Several years ago, an adult two-headed timber rattler was found in Alabama. That snake managed to survive in the wild,” Zappalorti explained.

In 2018, the Wildlife Center of Virginia took in a two-headed eastern copperhead found in Woodbine, Va.

According to Zappalorti, it’s hard to say if this snake will survive. It will have to shed its skin soon, but the scientists may be able to help it along. The snake will be observed for science.

There will not likely be any battles of the gods, end of days or local villages eaten.