Cyclopes exist: cyclopia, humans and animals with one eye

Human beings with one eye in the center of their face: Cyclopes. You’ve probably heard or read about it. This creature is described in Greek mythology and also appears in the Disney fairy tales Aladdin and Hercules. ‘Cycloop’ is a Greek word derived from: ‘kyklos’ meaning ‘circle’ and ‘ops’ meaning ‘eye’. People often think that this phenomenon is made up, but that is not entirely the truth. However, there is a congenital condition in which the child in the womb develops in such a way that it is born with only one eye. This condition is called cyclopia.

(Physical characteristics

Cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly or synophthalmia) is a rare form of a congenital condition that occurs in both humans and animals, in which the frontal lobe of the embryo’s brain does not develop properly into two separate hemispheres . Normally these hemispheres and the face of the embryo develop in the fifth and sixth week in humans, but this goes wrong. This causes defects in brain structures and brain functions. Serious facial deformities also occur during the development of the embryo. A child with cyclopia has only one eye where the bridge of the nose should begin, often a nose is missing or the baby has a nose in the shape of a trunk above the eye or on the back. However, this nose does not function. There is also often the absence of a well-developed optic nerve. The child would therefore not be able to see, despite the presence of an eye. The rest of the outside of the body appears to be intact and well formed in cyclopia. However, there may also be organs that are not properly developed, such as a seriously deformed heart.
The incidence of cyclopa is 1 in 250 embryos, 1 in 16,000 animals born and 1 in 2,500 ends in miscarriage. If this does not happen, they are usually stillborn. Animals and people with cyclopia often do not live long. Those who survive the birth itself die between 30 minutes and a day after birth.


The causes for cyclopia may be genetic errors or intoxication that cause problems in the embryonic development of the frontal lobes of the brain. One sun toxin that can cause cyclopia is cyclopamine (2-deoxyjervine) found in the plant veratrum californicum (also called corn lily or false hellebore). This toxin is sometimes accidentally ingested by pregnant women who mistake it for real hellebore. Hellebore can help against symptoms of pregnancy such as vomiting, abdominal cramps and poor blood circulation. Also a possible cause is a polluted environment that can lead to mutations that cause cyclopia. In addition, it is assumed that a mutation in the SSH gene (Sonic Hedgehog gene) can lead to cyclopia. However, this has not yet been proven. Finally, chromosomal abnormalities can be a cause, such as trisomy 13.

Complications involving babies with cyclopia

As previously mentioned, babies with cyclopia do not live long or are stillborn. If the babies do survive, there are many complications. Babies with this abnormality may suffer from seizures (epilepsy), paralysis and there is usually mental retardation because the brain is not properly developed. Reconstructive surgery can be used for deformities of both appearance and organs. Usually the mouth is also deformed making feeding the baby with cyclopia difficult. As a result, the babies do not grow properly.
Cyclopia cannot be cured and much research still needs to be done about this defect in embryonic development. However, the risk can be reduced by taking preventive measures, such as not coming into contact with toxic substances.

Familiar things

  • The first known description of cyclopia comes from England in 1665. It describes a colt (a young male horse) that had no nose, only a rudiment in the shape of a bag on the center of the forehead. Below this, the colt had a ‘double eye’, which consisted of two eyes that formed one.
  • On December 28, 2005, a kitten with cyclopia was born in the United States, named ‘Cy’. Cy died one day after birth from this condition.
  • In India in 2006, a girl was born with cyclopia. She had one eye in the middle of her ‘face’ and no nose at all. She also died after one day.
  • In October 2012 a kitten was born, it died immediately after birth and was named Cleyed the Cyclops.
  • Also in 2013 there was a case of cyclopia. A shark fetus was discovered in Mexico with one enormous eye and a deformed nose. This shark also died immediately after birth and was then used for research.

Although cyclopia is very rare, there are museums that have preserved cyclopian babies for display. An example of such a museum is the Vrolik Museum in Amsterdam.

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