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Telepathic Twins and Other Freaky Twin Stuff

I’m in a Twinsie mood, which means today I’m getting my research hat on, and delivering to you some weird and wonderful tales of freaky twin stuff.

freaky twin stuff

Twin Telepathy

Some time ago, I posted a video of my boys laughing at each other on Facebook. A friend asked me “is that one of those freaky twin things? What are they laughing at?” Obviously I have to share the cuteness…

Likely, they are just wetting themselves over nothing in particular. But maybe they are one of the 20% of twins that claim to experience a telepathic bond. Maybe they were telepathically sharing a good joke… it was obviously a good one. This sixth sense has been documented many times including the story of Gemma Houghton who saved her twin sister, Leanne, when she “just got this feeling to check on her,”. Gemma found Leanne in a bathtub, unconscious after a seizure, nearly drowning.

How about the guy that learned to play the guitar, only to find his twin brother can mysteriously play without learning himself. How handy would this be for exams? You take Math, I’ll take history… sorted.

Twins have even been tested using a polygraph machine, to show they experience emotional changes while the other is exposed to something scary or a change in temperature in another room. Weird.

For more on that… read this.

Twins with Wacky Birthdays

Of course one baby has to come out first. George will forever be taunting Arthur about how he is the big brother, until they reach thirty and then it’s Arthur’s turn to have some fun. But things get really fun when twin deliveries start messing with the clock. If those Twinkies are born across midnight, they can have different birthdays or even birth years.

Freaky twin stuff definitely happened earlier this month when Emily and Seth Peterson delivered their twins across daylight savings in Massachusetts. Samuel was born at 1:39am and his brother Ronan was born 31 minutes later, making him 29 minutes older. Yes, the first born is younger than his brother according to the clock. Too much for a Monday?

Twins that Look Totally Different

Although identical twins share the same DNA, fraternal twins are essentially normal siblings, with totally unique genetic coding. As you may have noticed in your family, some siblings look very similar and others make you take a second look at the milkman. Imagine the surprise Vince and Donna Aylmer got when their fraternal twins came out looking as different as different can be. Their father is fair and their mother is half Jamaican – the results are quite astounding… love it!

Lucy and Maria Aylmer (source: boredpanda.com)

Find more photos of Lucy, Maria, and their family… here.

When Twins Marry Twins

There are around 250 documented cases of identical twins marrying identical twins. Maybe it’s because they are genetically programmed to find the same person attractive? Maybe it’s the novelty? Could it  just be freaky twin stuff? But what really blows my mind is when they start having kids… Genetically those kids are siblings, not cousins, right? Again, it’s Monday so I’ll stop and share this amazing photo instead… a match made in heaven:

Bring back the shell-suit… (source: oddee.com)

Find more photos of twins marrying twins… here.

Identical Twins Leading Identical Lives

There are a few tales of twins separated at birth that end up leading very similar lives. Maybe this one is a combination of telepathy and tendency to have the same taste? Who knows…

Jim Lewis and Jim Springer met for the first time at the age of thirty nine, after being separated at birth and adopted. Their first wives were both called Linda, their second wives both called Betty. They were both Sheriff’s deputies and drove the same brand of car. They named their childhood pets the same, smoked the same brand of cigarettes, drank the same beer…  And let’s not ignore that despite being adopted and named by two different families, they both ended up being called Jim! 

The ‘Jim Twins’ (source: firsttoknow.com)

More on the ‘Jim Twins’ story… here.

That’s it for today’s freaky twin stuff… maybe I’ll dig up some more another day. And because you know you want more baby twin cuteness… here’s the first time I caught the boys laughing at each other. Adorable.



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Identical Twins: Why does the fertilized egg split?

Today I’m putting on my science hat and attacking the question which burns my curiosity as well as many others. Why does a fertilized egg divide to create identical twins? It is well established that this is not a hereditary tendency and yet around 0.3% of babies are born a natural clone. So why does one become two?
The quick answer is… no-one knows. But like all other outstanding questions, there are plenty of scientists trying to find out. So before we consider the theories, here’s a summary of what we do know:

How identical twins form

Unlike fraternal twins (which come from the fertilization of two eggs), identical twins are formed when a single zygote (fertilized egg) splits into two. This natural cloning process will happen at some point in the first ten days of gestation, usually around day 4-5. After a human egg is fertilized, the zygote ‘collapses’ and expands a number of times as the cells multiply/ It’s during one of these ‘collapses’ that the magic moment happens. During a collapse, the cells contained in the embryo divide into two groups, allowing two separate embryos to ‘hatch’ from the protective outer layer of what is now called the blastocyst. These two matching balls of cells keep dividing and multiplying to create two separate, yet identical, babies.

Identical_twins why does the fertilized egg split diagram
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Identical Twin Trivia that may help explain why the fertilized egg splits…

‘Twin Towns’

Allahabad in North-East India is just one of a number of ‘twin towns’. For the past 40years Allahabad has experienced an unusually high number of identical twin births. Locals are sure there is something in the water or soil causing this, as they claim animals such as buffalo are also affected by the phenomenon. However, scientists are yet to find any environmental or social oddities and DNA from Allahabad twins has not given much insight either. Most researchers have written off the theory of twin towns as no more than a statistical fluke. Another twin town, Linha São Pedro in Brazil, reported in the 1990’s that 5% of births were identical twins… that’s quite the fluke.

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split india

The Nine Banded Armadillo

Nine-banded armadillos almost always give birth to four identical quadruplets. These quadruplets are created from one single fertilized egg that splits, and then split again. This is thought to be an evolutionary result of the physical constraints imposed by the shape of the armadillo’s uterus. However, while it may be seen as an evolutionary advantage for the Armadillo, twinning of embryos in humans is considered more of a pregnancy fail by scientists, because it holds higher risks of congenital anomalies and premature birth. Still, for armadillos it’s not a random event so something is causing it to happen…

identical twins how does the fertilized egg split armadillo

Identical twins and IVF

When receiving IVF treatment, the chances of having identical twins rises from 0.3% to 2%. So even if only one embryo is implanted there is a 2% chance it will divide and create two babies. No-one knows why the chances of embryo division is higher, although it is suggested that subtle chemical differences between the lab and the human body are to blame. Maybe it’s just all that prodding and poking?

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split ivf

SCIENTIFIC THEORIES AS TO Why does the fertilized egg splitS…

We’ve looked at when it happens, but what scientific theories are out there for why identical twins develop from one fertilised egg?

Genetic mutation:

Dr Bruno Reversade has been busy investigating variations in the genomes of families from ’twin towns’ in the hope of finding a twinning gene. He has a candidate region, on chromosome four, and he thinks mutations in a gene here might have been present in the founders of twin towns, and then spread through the population. He speculates that the mutated gene might prevent cells sticking together tightly within the blastocyst, resulting in a split.

Dr Dianna Payne thinks the imperfect environment of the IVF lab is causing some cells to die or weaken at the cell junctions. This leads to the idea that a similar process could be caused in naturally conceived embryos, if they were triggered by faulty genes. It is also possible that subtle differences in the cells could force cells to repel one another, pushing two separated groups of cells to opposite sides of the blastocyst.

Daddy did it:

There is a popular theory (although I have struggled to find any scientific sources) that an enzyme in sperm causes the embryo to split. Many families with twins claim they have an abnormal number of identical twins in their family tree, even though at present science still claims it’s a random event.

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split daddy

It’s all about timing:

Dr Judith Hall suggests twinning depends on the timing of fertilization, explaining why humans twin more than other animals (except the armadillo of course!). Most mammals choose to mate when conditions are perfect, when eggs have been freshly ovulated. Humans on the other hand just do it any old time and an old egg may be more likely to split.

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split timing

So…there you have it.

I think if you combine Payne and Hall’s ideas to suggest an old egg is ‘faulty’, leading to abnormalities which create a repulsion between the cells, you have a fairly sound theory. After all, most identical twins don’t make it – it has been suggested that 12% of natural conceptions produce identical twins – but the vast majority of embryos are lost. Occasionally this can even result in a ‘vanishing twin’ where one embryo continues to full term while the other is lost and absorbed by the body.

Essentially something has gone wrong with the usual fertilization process to create two babies from one, although as an identical twin mom myself I think it’s just magic. Take your pick, what do you think causes identical twins?


Related Posts:


Cyranoski, D. (2009, April). Developmental biology: Two by two. Retrieved from: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090415/full/458826a.html

Study: Identical Twins Caused by ‘Embryo Collapse’ (2007, July). Retrieved from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/07/05/study-identical-twins-caused-by-embryo-collapse.html

The extraordinary moment one baby becomes two (2007, July). Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-465788/The-extraordinary-moment-baby-two.html

8 things you may not know about identical twins…

We all know they’re super cute, but there may be some things you don’t know about identical twins…

identical twins
My boys at 3 months!

1. Identical twins are not hereditary. 

Fraternal (non-identical) twins are caused by the release of multiple eggs from the mother’s ovaries and therefore she conceives multiple times at once. The tendency to hyper-ovulate is passed on from generation to generation, although there are other factors such as age that play a part here. On the flip side, identical twins are essentially fertilization gone wrong (sorry twinkies)… No one knows what causes that tiny fertilized egg to split, essentially cloning the conceived child (although there are theories). It is one of the those freak-of-nature events that can happen to anyone. Yes anyone… no one is safe here people, it could be you.

sciency source: verywell.com

2. The chances of having them is 0.3%.

The chances of conceiving twins has risen considerably in the last 30 years. In fact the rate has risen from 2% to 3.3% of babies being born a twin. This is likely due to moms wanting babies later in life, where the chances of releasing multiple eggs is higher (your body’s natural way of trying to increase the chance of conception while getting closer to menopause). However, the rates for conceiving identical twins have not changed… It has stayed steady at 0.3%. What lucky freak moms we are!

sciency source: theatlantic.com

3. People are obsessed with them. 

Prepare yourself to become an instant celebrity as soon as you leave the hospital. Plan an extra 20mins on your grocery store run and prepare to answer the same questions again and again. On an average trip to the shops I am stopped around six times… Not only are people super excited just to see two babies that look the same, but they will all have a set of twins somewhere in their family they will insist on telling you about. And occasionally you come across an adult twin… They go nuts for it! People are literally obsessed with the science and the cuteness and everything in between. And of course their’s all the freaky horror movies…

4. They don’t have identical fingerprints.

I’m pretty sure there are a number of crime dramas that use this nugget of knowledge in their screenplay… A basic DNA test will not identify ‘who done it’, but if the criminal was careless enough to leave a print at the crime scene it’s all over. This is because the formation of fingerprints is semi-random (I know… What does that even mean?!) and are influenced by chance fluctuations in hormones which would be different for each child. This also goes for the position of freckles – these are random mutations and are therefore different for each child.

sciency source: sciencefocus.com

5. They are often born very different sizes. 

A pregnancy with babies sharing a placenta is considered ‘high-risk’ because there is the chance of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. The size of your babies will depend partly on how much oxygen and nutrients they are receiving from the placenta, and occasionally one gets greedy and takes more than their equal share, leaving the other a little behind in growth. It is very normal to have a slight size difference, and unless the discordance goes beyond 20%, it doesn’t tend to cause a problem. Growth of twins is frequently monitored, and don’t panic, we live in the 21st Century and there are things doctors can do to remedy severe cases such as placenta laser surgery (I know… sounds terrifying) and delivering a little early.

sciency source: tttsfoundation.org

6. They don’t always share a placenta. 

Whether or not identical twins share a placenta and an amniotic sac is dependent of when exactly the fertilized egg splits. If it happens during day 1 after fertilization they will form separate placentas and amniotic sacs. However, it is more likely the split with occur around day 4-5 they will have time to form separate sacs but will end up sharing a placenta. 1% of the time the split happens at day 9-10 meaning the babies end up sharing a sac which can cause complications with the little ones getting wrapped up in each others umbilical cords. And lastly, if your embryo decides it wants a clone buddy around day 13-15 they are unable to separate fully, causing the babies to be born conjoined.

sciency source: usatoday.com

7. They won’t necessarily like the same food. 

This is where the nurture/nature thoughts start to explode your mind, and as a mother of twins I can say it baffles me everyday. Genetic clones, these babies should have identical taste buds and therefore enjoy the same flavors… right? But alas, the first food I offered my boys was banana – one liked it, the other didn’t. Butternut squash – a hit with one, the other is not impressed. Outside influences are supposed to make the difference here (the nurture) and once the kiddos get older they may start to oppose each other on purpose to enhance their individuality – french psychologist Rene Zazzo called this twin phenomenon ‘The Couple Effect’. Personally, when 4 month-old babies treated the same show different tastes I’m not really buying either. I like to think its a difference in the soul… OK I’m getting all fluffy now.

sciency source: christinabaglivitinglof.com

8. They might be mirror twins.

Mirror image twins are a subset of identical twins, occurring when the fertilized egg splits between day 7-12, and is characterized by asymmetries of the body being on opposite sides. For example, one may be right handed while the other prefers the left. One may have a birth mark on their left cheek while the other has a matching one on their right. Partings in their hair, or asymmetries of their teeth, it can all be mirrored, and in extreme cases can be seem in organ positions and skeletal features – we’ve all seen Orphan Black, right?

sciency source: twin-pregnancy-and-beyond.com


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