Hundreds of people gathered at the Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center in Branson on Oct. 5 for a birthday celebration hosted in honor of Tiger Lily, a two-headed western rat snake.
While a western rat snake, Tiger Lily is more commonly known simply as a black snake, which is a common species in Missouri.
Currently Tiger Lily is just over two feet long, measuring in at 26 inches. In time she has the potential to grow between four to six feet long. Tiger Lily was found as baby by a family in Hurley, Missouri in the fall of 2017. While originally mistaken for a copperhead due to color variation as a baby, the family quickly discovered she was non-venomous.
Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center Interpretive Center Manager Alison Bleich explained that, while a two-headed snake is rare, it’s even rarer to find one alive.
“Everything wants to eat you when you’re a baby. So all you can really do is get away really fast,” said Bleich. “Well, if you’re both trying to figure out how do we maneuver this body when I want to go this way and you want to go that way.
“We don’t have a clue what’s going on. If a great blue herring comes by to pick you off, you’re probably not going to get away fast enough.”
Bleich added that by bringing her to the conservation center and keeping her in captivity, Tiger Lily, now age 2, has a better chance of living out her life span.
“In the wild, roughly a normal rat snakes (life span) would be 10 years. In captivity, they can hit 20ish, so hopefully we’ll have her for a while,” Bleich said. “She has been shedding on a regular basis, which means she’s growing.”
When Tiger Lily was first brought to the conservation center, Bleich said that they had her X-rayed to make sure everything lined up on the inside. Luckily, everything looked to be in line.
“That’s the problem with a lot of conjoined twin issues is things aren’t lined up properly, so survival doesn’t last very long,” said Bleich. “Lucky it seems in reptiles like snakes and turtles, things just tend to line up better.”
Bleich, who started working at the Branson conservation center in January of this year, used to work at a sea turtle rescue.
Bleich said she was inspired to host a birthday party for Tiger Lily by the birthday parties they would have for one of the turtles that was kept at the rescue facility.
“I thought, ‘She’s very important.’ Everyone who comes here wants to see the fish, but they also go, ‘We heard about this two-headed snake.’ It is very rare. So I thought, let’s do something to celebrate,” she said. “We know she’s 2 around this time of year, so let’s just boost Tiger Lily a little bit.”
Party activities included some snake crafts where attendees could make their own beaded pipe cleaner snake or color a Tiger Lily coloring sheet. Attendees were also treated to cupcakes with gummy snakes on top and the chance to meet Tiger Lily.
“We just wanted to give everybody the chance to see her. They could also touch any of our live snakes. We had them all out and our interpreters were letting people see them and learn about them. I had some trivia going on to test your snake knowledge.”
Bleich said she sees a variety of reactions from people meeting Tiger Lily for the first time, and those attending the party were no different.
“I had someone earlier say, ‘I wanna touch them, but I hate them, but I want to touch them. I’m like, ‘I don’t think you really hate them.’ It’s just a lack of understanding. Once you understand it, you don’t fear it. Once you don’t fear, you’re less likely to hate. So some people were a little skittish, but others are all for it,” said Bleich. “Especially the kids they were really excited to make a craft, eat a cupcake and get pictures with Tiger Lily.”
Bleich said she would like to encourage anyone that has never stopped by the center or had the chance to see Tiger Lily to come by for a visit.
The Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center is currently open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the summer months of June, July and August, the center is open seven days a week. The center is located at 483 Hatchery Road in Branson.