This Magnificent Two-Headed Tortoise Turns 25

Happy birthday, Janus! The Natural History Museum in Geneva, Switzerland threw a birthday party for the two-headed tortoise they’ve raised since birth. He was named after the Roman God Janus, who is often depicted as having two heads or faces. Though Greek tortoises can live 50 years or longer, Janus is thought to be the oldest two-headed tortoise. He can’t retract either head into the shell so likely wouldn’t have survived this long in the wild. Thankfully, the caretakers at the museum take great care of Janus, with a special diet or organic fruits and vegetables. And even daily baths. A true Roman god treatment. 

We learned about this remarkable reptile on Boing Boing. Janus has two heads but also two hearts and two sets of lungs. But he does share intestines and a few other organs. Each head controls the front and rear legs on its side of the body. This leads to confusion when they want to go in different directions. According to Janus’ keepers, each head has a distinct personality as well. The right side is more curious and outgoing, while the left side is more greedy. Each also prefers certain foods.  

Another story about a tortoise in need that we saw recently involves a custom wheelchair for one who was having trouble walking. While reaching the age of 25 is no small feat for Janus, there are other tortoises that can live even longer. One giant tortoise is at least 190 years old, making it the record holder for oldest land animal.

Two-headed tortoise Janus on a white background
Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Geneva

Hopefully with the continued pampering, Janus will leave at least another 25 years.  

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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