Two years ago, a man was hunting mushrooms just outside of Freeburg, a tiny Minnesota town about 25 minutes south of La Crescent. While combing the forest floor, he discovered something extraordinary: a freshly deceased two-headed baby deer.
It's the first known case of conjoined white-tailed deer twins delivered fully to term, according to a new study co-authored by University of Georgia researcher Gino D'Angelo. Conjoined twins are "extremely rare" among wildlife, D'Angelo told UGA Today, with only 19 scientifically confirmed cases dating back to 1671; two involve white-tailed deer, but those animals were found in utero, while the Houston County fawns were stillborn.
D'Angelo became aware of the specimen while working at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The mushroom hunter alerted the DNR to its existence, prompting D'Angelo and a team of researchers to perform a CT scan on the corpse at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
Their findings? The female fawns each had their own necks and heads, although many of their organs were shared; their lungs never breathed air. "Almost perfect" spots ran along their back, D'Angelo told UGA Today, and there were (heartbreaking!) signs the mother had groomed them upon delivery.
Despite many examples in humans and livestock, the cause of conjoined twins forming in the womb remains something of a mystery, D'Angelo says.
"Honestly, I find every morsel of this case interesting," D'Angelo tells City Pages. "I'm in awe of something that has never been seen by human eyes before in white-tailed deer. It is an extremely rare case that we as scientists cannot fully explain."
Wanna see this scientific anomaly? The conjoined fawns will soon be on display at DNR headquarters in St. Paul; the U of M's Veterinary Anatomy Museum will host a skeletal display.
Recently published in scientific journal the American Midland Naturalist, D'Angelo's study was co-authored by the DNR's Louis Cornicelli and the U of M's Christina Clarkson and Arno Wuenschmann. Click here to read the whole thing.