Jake, left and Elwood both have fully formed and completely functional heads and facial features and are able to eat, see, hear, and move their heads on their own.
© EMMA R. SIEGEL
Jake, left and Elwood both have fully formed and completely functional heads and facial features and are able to eat, see, hear, and move their heads on their own.
A Milford couple has been protecting a colony of painted turtles on their property for years, but this was the first year the hatchlings included two-headed turtles.

Mike and Tanya Pfaeffle, who moved into their Milford home in 2008, quickly discovered a few northeastern painted turtles living on their property. Since then, they have watched over the turtles, whose numbers increase each spring.

"There were a few when we moved here. We don't really do anything except for putting cages over egg clutches to keep predators out each spring. This just gives them a chance," Mike explained. "This year there were five turtles, 35 eggs. Thirty-four of the eggs hatched, and the turtles are doing well. This includes the two-headed turtles that we found and were advised to bring inside to help them survive."

Two-headed turtles are extremely rare, but this year's hatchlings included two of them. One survived, and the Pfaeffles are caring for it (or them). They named the turtle Jake and Elwood.

The second turtle did not hatch properly and was found deceased. It had only two eyes, a malformed jaw, and no separation between the heads.

Jake and Elwood have fully functional heads and complete facial features. They are each able to eat, see, hear, and do anything a single-headed turtle does. However, the Pfaeffles were advised that survival in the wild would be difficult for Jake and Elwood, so the couple brought them inside.

"We've learned a lot about turtles and the way they live," Mike said. "When they lay their eggs each spring, they use their back legs to dig a shallow hole. They then lay a group of eggs immediately after this, usually within a half hour. This is typically between five to nine eggs, called a clutch, in each hole. They then cover the hole back, burying the eggs so good. They even put the grass back over it."

The Pfaeffles plan to continue to research the extremely rare condition of bicephaly - having two heads. They hope to learn more about Jake and Elwood, including whether they have two hearts or doubles of anything else.

Jake and Elwood were among the creatures blessed by Rev. Matthew Newcomb during last week's Blessing of the Animals at St. Mary's Church in Port Jervis.

"Some of the turtles that live near our pond have made their way to a nearby swamp and other turtle populations, and others have stayed. We've never lost any of our turtles due to normal death, only due to predators," Mike said. "We hope the blessings for Jake and Elwood help them continue to do well, also."