Two-headed turtle featured at Bell Museum oddities show

by Tom Ford

Looking both ways before crossing the street is easy for at least one animal that visited the Bell Museum on Saturday and Sunday.

Being a two-headed snapping turtle has its benefits but can be a hassle when it needs to move around, or come dinner time.

The turtle, named Thelma and Louise, was one of the featured specimens at the Bell Museum’s second annual “Oddities and Curiosities of Nature.”

Other highlighted displays included the skeleton of a pig with one head and three bodies, as well as the body of an evening grosbeak bird, whose right side was male and left side was female.

Jennifer Menken, a museum naturalist at the Bell, said these specimens primarily were the result of incomplete twin development. In these cases, eggs that normally would have split during development, forming twins, instead remained together, creating anomalies such as multiple heads or bodies, she said.

“Usually animals with deformities don’t survive birth,” Menken said.

For the specimens to have survived any length of time makes them unusual.

Brought over from a natural history museum in Lanesboro, N.D., Thelma and Louise is almost 1 year old and was the only living specimen.

Caitlin Moriarty, whose father is a friend of the Lanesboro museum’s owner, said Thelma and Louise often fight over food, even though it goes to the same body, and their two heads don’t always agree which direction to move. But besides those problems, she said, the turtle is healthy.

Nearly 100 specimens were exhibited, and all except the turtle came either from the Bell’s collections or University departments.

Several hundred visitors, including parents, kids and University students, took in all the sights and activities.

In addition to the specimens, the event included a Big Nature Sideshow, which demonstrated – through actual or replica specimens – Minnesota’s and the world’s largest species.

For example, the moose, standing approximately seven feet tall and weighing approximately 1,500 pounds, is Minnesota’s largest mammal – the biggest mammal in the world is the blue whale, which can grow to 109 feet long and weigh 300,000 pounds.

There was also a table where visitors could eat cooked and seasoned bugs.

“I never ate worms until today,” said University freshman Alison Phillips, a frequent Bell visitor.

Interpreters dressed in outlandish costumes, giving the event a sideshow, circus-like atmosphere that harkens back to the earliest natural history museums, said Jennifer Amie, a coordinator at the Bell.

She said museums in the early 20th century typically featured, and attracted visitors, with collections of odd and mysterious phenomena.


Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]