Outdoors reporter catches up with two-headed western rat snake, Tiger-Lily, at MDC conservation center

Sara Karnes
Springfield News-Leader

You never want to throw a birthday bash and have no one show up. Thankfully, that wasn't the case for Tiger-Lily as they celebrated a fourth solar return.

Found in Hurley, the two-headed western rat snake is now a resident at Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center in Branson. I met them when they arrived back in 2017 while a reporter at the Branson Tri-Lakes News. You can read about that encounter here.

I couldn't let my first year as the News-Leader's outdoors reporter go by without attending Tiger-Lily's birthday, which featured snake tic-tac-toe, scavenger hunts, cupcakes and more.

Tiger-Lily's pattern and coloring has changed quite a bit since I first held it. They went from alternating browns and tans to a solid black with a checkered underbelly. They've also grown about a foot each year.

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Found in Hurley by children, the two-headed western rat snake is now a resident at Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center in Branson.

Interpretive Center Manager Alison Bleich sported a party hat as she spoke with visitors about Tiger-Lily. The conjoined twins were X-rayed four years ago, which showed their insides were functioning properly. Although Tiger tends to be more dominant, there are days where Lily drags them along the terrarium.

"Basically, identical twins start from the same egg," Bleich explained. "When they went to split, it didn't happen. The shell formed around and when they hatched, they were stuck together."

Bleich theorized that Tiger's body was the original snake. Tiger also has the straighter neck out of the pair. They shed on a regular basis, which indicates they are growing in a healthy manner. 

"She's in her fresh, new birthday scales for today," Bleich said.

Despite sharing one throat, Tiger-Lily are eating well.

"When they were little, it was harder to feed them," Bleich said. "You had to take little, tiny pinky mice and tap their noses until they get mad and latch onto it."

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Using a small paper cup, a paper cone goes over one of the heads while the other feeds in an effort to prevent biting.

The feedings were simpler when Tiger-Lily was smaller. Using tweezers, staff members could easily keep the heads separated while they ate.

"If we aren't fast enough and say Lily has a mouse in her mouth and we don't separate Tiger, Tiger sometimes bites Lily," Bleich said. "I think they can still smell the mouse and they've gone after each other, so we have to be very mindful."

Staff at MDC's Conservation Center have created a "cone of shame" in order to stop the biting. Using a small paper cup, the cone goes over one of the heads while the other feeds.

Bleich said staff are always on the lookout for when "something's not right." An incident this past winter showed Tiger-Lily not interested in eating, odd dragging and rubbing between their necks.

"They were rubbing on stuff, so I know there must be pain," Bleich said.

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Tiger-Lily measures at about four feet long as of Oct. 2, 2021.

It turned out to be a bacterial infection in Tiger-Lily's mouth. With treatment, they went back to normal.

"They're gonna have a little bit more battles than a normal snake," Bleich added.

It's unknown just how old or long Tiger-Lily will get, but a two-headed western rat snake that was found in 2005  is alive and currently on display at Missouri Department of Conservation Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center in in southeast Missouri.

Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Got a story to tell? Email her at skarnes@springfi.gannett.com.