Double-Headed Shark Fetus Caught by Fisherman

Published 03/26 2013 10:22AM

Updated 03/26 2013 10:25AM

When a fisherman caught a bull shark recently off the Florida Keys, he came across an unlikely surprise: One of the shark's live fetuses had two heads.

The fisherman kept the odd specimen, and shared it with scientists, who described it in a study published online Monday, March 25, in the Journal of Fish Biology. It's one of the very few examples of a two-headed shark ever recorded -- there about six instances in published reports -- and the first time this has been seen in a bull shark, said Michael Wagner, a study co-author and researcher at Michigan State University.

Technically called "axial bifurcation," the deformity is a result of the embryo beginning to split into two separate organisms, or twins, but doing so incompletely, Wagner told OurAmazingPlanet. It's a very rare mutation that occurs across different animals, including humans.

"Halfway through the process of forming twins, the embryo stops dividing," he said.

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