We, the two-headed snake, dies in U.S. museum at age 8

Friday, June 22, 2007

A two-headed snake from the San Diego Zoo.
Image: Zach Tirrell.

We, a two-headed albino hermaphrodite rat snake that was featured on national television in the United States and attracted a sponsorship deal from a pharmaceutical company, died of natural causes on Tuesday at City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. It was eight years old.

A major attraction at the City Museum's World Aquarium, We will be preserved by a taxidermist and put back on display, according to an article yesterday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Museum officials said We was incredibly long-lived for a two-headed snake. Often in two-headed animals, one mouth is not connected to the stomach, and because of complications, the animals will die within a month of being born. But We was fortunate, in that both its mouths were connected to its stomach.

"A snake like that in the wild would not survive," curator Chris Hancock was quoted as saying by the Post-Dispatch. "But the fact that it lived that long and we were able to afford it and educate people about it is awesome."

Aquarium president Leonard Sonnenschein bought We in 1999 for US$15,000 from a snake breeder in Indiana.

"It's terrible news," Sonnenschein was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "People come in every day and say: 'I'm here to see the two-headed snake'."

About the size of a pencil when it was acquired, We was about five feet (1.5 meters) long and had a girth of around 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) when it died. At times, it appeared that We was straining to slither in two directions at once.

In addition to having two heads, We was also a hermaphrodite. Last year, the museum tried unsuccessfully to breed the two-sexed snake with a two-headed rat snake from Wisconsin.

A popular attraction at the museum, an estimated one million people came to see We while it was displayed. We once appeared on "Live with Regis and Kelly", a nationally syndicated television talk show.

In 2004, We was stolen from the museum, but was recovered within hours by police after a call by a tipster, who had seen some teens with a two-headed snake.

We even attracted corporate sponsorship, from a Florida-based biopharmaceutical company, Nutra Pharma, which develops treatments using modified cobra venom and cobratoxin. The Florida-based company signed a $15,000 deal in November 2006 to make We its brand icon.

The museum had earlier in 2006 tried to auction We off in a fund-raising effort, hoping to attract bids of up to $100,000, but kept We when the highest bid was half that much.


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