Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Friday, 14 January 2011

FRANK AND LOUIE, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, AND THE JANUS CATS

Frank and Louie, an adult Janus cat (Marty S)

Just in case you were wondering from its title, you can rest assured that in this latest ShukerNature post I shall not be blogging about video games or cartoon television series! Instead, I’m continuing a theme that I began a few weeks ago when I blogged about dicephalic (two-headed) snakes, but this time the category of teratological duplication under consideration here is even more unusual, and is known as diprosopia or craniofacial duplication.

This is a very rare congenital disorder in which part or all of an individual’s face is duplicated on its head. An individual exhibiting this condition is called a diprosopus, and examples have been recorded from many different species, including our own, Homo sapiens.

Very rarely, diprosopia can result with a pair of conjoined twins in which not only the body and limbs but also the majority of the head of one twin has been absorbed into the respective regions of the other twin. Only the persistence of the absorbed twin’s face, positioned alongside that of the other twin, exists as evidence that this individual was indeed a pair of twins at some earlier point in its development.

But what has any of this to do with Sonic the Hedgehog? I’m glad you asked! The much more common mechanism by which diprosopia occurs is one that results from the action of a protein known (honestly!) as sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH), whose name was indeed inspired by the eponymous video game character. SHH controls the width of facial features, so if produced in excess it causes the abnormal widening of these features and also the duplication of facial structures. Moreover, the greater the widening, the more of these structures are duplicated, often yielding mirror images of one another. Very occasionally, the two faces of a diprosopic individual are positioned back to back, but usually they are situated virtually side by side.

For some reason as yet unclear, diprosopia occurs with surprising frequency in domestic cats. And indeed, I first learned of this extraordinary condition when I read about a two-faced kitten aptly dubbed Gemini in a report published by the National Enquirer on 11 October 1983. Gemini was one of four kittens born to the pet cat of Dan Lizza, from Latrobe in Pennsylvania, USA. The other three kittens were normal.

I confess that when I first saw the published photo of Gemini, I had doubts as to its authenticity, but once I began researching the condition I discovered a number of other feline cases, some of which had been documented in great detail. Bizarre though such cats may look, diprosopia was indeed a genuine teratological phenomenon.

Surprisingly, however, they had never been given a suitable colloquial name. ‘Two-faced cats’ was open to confusion with the expression ‘two-faced’, which of course refers to someone who is duplicitous in behaviour, rather than morphologically! And the relevant scientific term, ‘diprosopus’, hardly runs off the tongue with ease.

Happily, my lifelong interest in classical myths and legends came to the rescue. One of Roman mythology’s most famous deities is Janus, god of doorways, who has two faces. Consequently, when, several years ago, I began preparing in my spare time what is now the forthcoming book from which this post is excerpted – The Anomalarium of Doctor Shuker – I duly coined the much more precise and readily enunciated term ‘Janus cats’ (and, by extension, ‘Janus kittens’) for these remarkable felids of the double visage.

One of the best documented Janus cats was a grey kitten that very closely resembled Gemini, but hailed from West Hartford, Connecticut. One of four kittens born to the pet cat of John Jansen on 22 April 1931 (the other three were normal), she possessed two complete faces, each equipped with its own nose, mouth, and pair of eyes, but the two faces shared a single pair of ears. Moreover, the right eye of the left-hand face and the left eye of the right-hand face were contained within a single eye socket (orbit), though the eyes and eyelids themselves were separate. Sadly, this little Janus kitten only lived for five days, although during that time she seemed to be thriving very well, suckling successfully with her left mouth. Ironically, as suggested by Thomas Hume Bissonnette, the researcher from Trinity College in Hartford who documented her case in the Journal of Heredity, her death may well have been related far less to her diprosopic condition than to the enormous amount of handling that she received from her many curious visitors, and the inevitable lack of sleep that she suffered as a result of this.

A rather more extreme case of diprosopia was exhibited by the Janus kitten documented in the Anatomical Record for 1950 by biologists T.U.H. Ellinger, R.M. Wotton, and L.J. Hall from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh. In this specimen, which lived for just one day, the right eye of the left-hand face and the left eye of the right-hand face were totally replaced by a single medially-located eye, just like that of the legendary one-eyed cyclops giants, but with the remaining eye in each face being totally normal, thereby yielding a three-eyed kitten.

Diprosopia often occurs in conjunction with various other congenital disorders, such as anencephaly, neural tube defects, and cardiac malformations. And even when the brain is present, it may exhibit a range of abnormalities, ranging from partial to complete duplication of brain structures, and/or underdevelopment of brain tissues. Consequently, many Janus cats (and other diprosopic animals) are still-born, and few of those that do survive birth go on to live for any length of time afterwards, let alone into adulthood.

Frank and Louie at just a few days old (Marty S)

However, one very notable, vibrant exception to this tragic rule was a male individual owned by a lady called Marty S (I have her full name on file but am concealing her surname at her request), living in Millbury, Massachusetts. Named Frank and Louie, this exceptionally fit but very gentle, friendly, and contented Janus cat, belonging to the Ragdoll breed - with thick fluffy white fur and grey limbs and tail - had reached his sixth birthday by July 2006 and was still in fine health. What may well have assisted his survival was that although each of his two pale-grey faces had its own mouth, only one of them, Frank’s (on the right), was connected to an oesophagus, so only Frank could feed (in addition, Louie's mouth lacked a lower jaw). This thereby eliminated any risk of the cat choking from two quantities of food passing down into his single stomach at the same time. Like the Janus kitten documented by Ellinger et al., Frank and Louie only possessed three eyes – one functional outer eye (blue in colour) in each face and a shared medial one that was non-functional.

According to a report by Nancy Sheehan in the Telegram & Gazette newspaper for 21 July 2006, and accessible online at:

http://www.telegram.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060721/NEWS/607210688/1116

Marty was working as a nurse in the operating theatre of a local vet’s when someone brought in Frankie and Louie, then just a tiny one-day-old Janus kitten, to be euthanised. Happily, however, Marty persuaded the vet to spare this frail hamster-sized creature. She then took him home and began an intensive regime in which she fed him every two hours with special kitten formula, and carried him with her wherever she went:

"He grew up in a shoebox. He went to work with me every day for the first three months of his life. I put a tube down into his stomach and injected the formula with a syringe. That’s another reason I think he lived, because the anatomy is usually so messed up in these cases, and this way he didn’t choke or anything. They [the vets] told me ‘Don’t get too attached. You can try, but they die in a few days’. [But] he was gaining weight, and I started to get excited. I thought, maybe he’s going to live."

And live he did, becoming so strong that he was eventually able to frolic with Marty’s other cats and even with her hefty 65-lb dog, who became his special friend. Marty even took him out for walks on a leash, where he was always guaranteed to attract plenty of attention.

I haven’t been able to discover as yet whether Frank and Louie is still alive, but by his sixth birthday he had already become the longest-surviving Janus cat on record. Which just goes to show that a cat with two faces can also have nine lives (or should that be eighteen?) if given enough love and care by a devoted owner.

Click on the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=two+faced+cat&aq=2

in order to view several videos of Janus kittens on YouTube, including an ‘Animal Planet’ video of Frank and Louie posted on 7 September 2008 (in which his name is transcribed as Frankenlouie to create a pun on Frankenstein). This video shows him to be a very sizeable, robust, and happily-purring adult cat – far removed indeed from the minuscule one-day-old scrap of fur destined to be put down, but saved and given by Marty a new shot at life, which he clearly grasped firmly and tenaciously with both paws!


UPDATE

On 10 August 2011, I received an email from Marty, the owner of Frank and Louie, and I was delighted to learn that he is still alive, and will be celebrating his 12th birthday on 8 September! Truly, a remarkable record-breaker - so, wishing you a Very Happy Forthcoming 12th Birthday, Frank and Louie, from ShukerNature! Marty has also sent me a fascinating selection of photos of Frank and Louie, snapped at various stages in his life, including those reproduced here with her kind permission.

Today - 15 September 2011 - the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records (formerly entitled The Guinness Book of Records) was published, and contains an entry confirming that Frank and Louie is the world's longest surviving Janus cat; as the Life Sciences Consultant for GWR, I had nominated Frank & Louie for inclusion, so naturally I was thoroughly delighted when my recommendation was formally accepted. Click here to view this entry.

The above account is an excerpt from one of my forthcoming books, The Anomalarium of Doctor Shuker.

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