A reptile breeder in China was in for a surprise recently when he checked on his newly hatched snakes: a cobra with two heads!

Experts at a zoo in the Nanning, Guangxi province are now caring for the two-headed Chinese cobra (Naja atra). They say that the snake, measuring just 20 centimetres (7.8 inches) and weighing just 50 grams (1.7 oz), is pretty small compared to a normal two-week-old, possibly because neither head appears interested in eating or drinking.

Shanghai Daily reports that while zookeepers are currently trying to keep the critter alive by hand-feeding, it’s not a sustainable solution. It seems unlikely that the strange snake will survive unless it begins to feed on its own.

While rare, two-headed snakes are not unheard of, “[they] do pop up from time to time but they’re usually conjoined closer to the head and they tend to die early,” says Auburn University herpetologist Dave Steen. In most cases, developing snakes with that sort of mutation don’t go on to hatch, but sometimes one gets lucky.

The most surprising thing about this story is not that such a snake exists, but that the keepers appear to be handling the cobra with bare hands. The Chinese cobra is among the most venomous animals in the world. Like other cobras, it delivers a potent cocktail of neurotoxins, designed to attack the nervous system, along with cardiotoxins, which attack the heart and circulatory system. But don’t believe everything you read: some outlets are reporting that the two heads seem to be attacking each other. The truth is far simpler: each head has a mind of its own and sometimes they get in each other’s way.

Despite all that, this mutant cobras actually seems kind of cute.

Top header image: Thomas Brown/Flickr