# Random Samples

Science  08 Mar 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5561, pp. 1827

The discovery of a two-headed snake has stirred up excitement among Spanish researchers, who are trying to figure out how to take advantage of the oddity.

A farmer found the 2-month-old, 20-centimeter-long ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris) last month in a rocky area in the village of Pinoso and handed it over to the Spanish Herpetological Society. Biologist Enrique Font of the University of Valencia plans to conduct neuroimaging studies to study how the heads cooperate in targeting and capturing prey, and what role the two brains play in regulating hunger and other behaviors. He also hopes to observe how a female snake would respond to a two-headed suitor.

Gordon Burghardt, a herpetologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, says the Spanish snake will be particularly interesting if it turns out to have only one digestive system. He says he had a snake subject that had two stomachs as well as two heads, which made it hard to tell whether signals that tell a snake it is full come from the stomach or the throat. Burghardt and Font will be putting their heads together to study the latest curiosity.

2. # Cheering for Neutrinos

For neutrinophiles, Lead (pronounced “Leed”) is where it's at these days. A year ago, scientists chose the small South Dakota town as the best site for a new underground laboratory for studying the powerful particles (Science, 15 February, p. 1213). On 23 February, more than 60 people braved an ice storm to pile into the Stampill Saloon for a celebration of Neutrino Day.

Partygoers competed in neutrino races (blowing a feather down the bar), a neutrino catching contest (soap bubbles), and unanimously reelected Tracy Thacker, a local newspaper employee who came decked out in a red-and-white cape, as the year's Ms. Neutrino.

4. # Darwin's Bottles

The bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth isn't till 2009. But London's Natural History Museum is already getting ready. The museum has announced that next September it will open a new Darwin Centre, where thousands of bottled specimens hitherto inaccessible to the public will be put on display.

The “spirit collection,” as it's called because of the alcohol used as a preservative, comprises 450,000 jars containing some 22 million specimens. In addition to Darwin's collections—some bottled in rum from the ship's larder—they range from sea bass collected in 1768 by Captain Cook in Australia to newly discovered Borneo river sharks.

The museum says the center will “radically change the perception of what a museum is.” It will be a “working space” where visitors can interact with scientists and go behind the scenes. A later phase of the project will add a building for insect and plant collections.