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Specimen Spotlight — Two-faced Cat


two-faced kitten
MVZ 179786. Photo courtesy of Monica Albe

This month, in light of the upcoming Weird & Wonderful Event, I'm highlighting one of the weirdest specimens I am aware of in our collection.

I find this specimen fascinating to look at. I will leave the discussion of its scientific value up to the experts in developmental biology, but I value it highly for its uniqueness and the surprise and interest it always generates during museum tours.

The origins of this specimen are a little tragic although no suffering was involved. If you are sensitive to kitten stories or a great lover of cats, you may not want to read on (and warning — don't look below).

The specimen was donated to the museum back in 1990 from a UC Berkeley student who was taking the Natural History of the Vertebrates Class (this class is now called IB 104). The specimen was a still-born individual from a litter of kittens. This is simply a domestic cat — but it's labeled Felis silvestris in our collection, as the MVZ does not recognize domesticated animals as separate species.

A quick Google search on two-faced cats reveals that although rare, they do exist elsewhere. Most known examples are from still-borns, but there is at least one example of a living two-faced cat that is full grown. (I'm not kidding, his name is Frankenlouie.)

I suspect this specimen's two-faced "mutation" is caused by the same developmental issues that lead to two-headed animals. Two-headed individuals are actually conjoined twins. If that's true, then this animal, if it had developed normally, would have been two twin cats! This would not be the only conjoined twin specimen in the MVZ's collection . . . but that's a story for another day.

When I show this specimen to MVZ guests during tours, they often think it's an optical illusion created by the glass and fluid in the jar. But upon closer inspection, one can see that there are clearly two mouths and two noses.

--by Monica Jane Albe

Close-Up of Specimen
two-faced kitten
Photo courtesy of Monica Albe


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