The topic of ectrodactyly has been discussed in the past on this very site. The story of Grady Stiles Jr. detailed the condition at length but, to summarize, ectrodactyly is a rare congenital deformity of the hand where the middle digit is missing and the hand is cleft where the metacarpal of the finger should be. It is perhaps best known as ‘lobster claw syndrome’. It is an inherited condition and often occurs in both the hands and the feet. It generally affects about 1 in 90,000 babies, with males and females equally likely to be affected.

However, with the so called Ostrich People of Zimbabwe, ectrodactyly occurs in roughly 1 in 4 infants. The Vadoma are a tribe living in near seclusion along the Zambezi River Valley in western Zimbabwe. They were considered something of a legend, a myth, until their mainstream discovery by one Charles Sutton in the 1950’s. The Vadoma are a popular example of the genetic effects of small population size on genetic defects and mutation. Due to the Vadoma tribe’s isolation, their population has maintained a constant appearance of ectrodactyly, and due to the comparatively small gene pool, the condition is much more frequent than elsewhere.Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Vadoma condition is the total acceptance and adaptation of the population. The deformity is not regarded as a handicap; rather it is simply viewed as a fact of life.

A brief video of the Ostrich People can be found here.

Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.


  • Reply June 19, 2009


    I suppose that that’s what “Lobster Larry” had. It seems to make sense because I think that at least his son had it to. Very informative, thank you so much! =]

  • Reply June 19, 2009


    I suppose that that’s what Grady “Lobster Larry” Stiles had. It seems to make sense because I think that at least his son had it too. Very informative, thank you so much! =]

  • Reply June 22, 2009

    Sam E.

    The ostrich people are incredibly fascinating. I added the Vadoma to the Atlas Obscura.

  • Reply June 19, 2011

    Paul kerssenberg

    The ostrich people are incredibly fascinating, but find it also sad that nobody was able to solve this humam marvel, and update the world to find a charity and help this silent sufferers.

  • Reply December 18, 2011


    Paul Kerssenberg – upon reading this article, one may find that the “ostrich people” seem to be perfectly fine with having this mutation. It is a part of their life and I doubt they are “suffering” because of it. Charity efforts could be put out if they are in need of food or clean water, but as far as this affliction goes it is something that they are born with and thus it does not seem as though it bothers them; it’s best to leave it alone.

  • Reply March 2, 2012


    That’s really something to think about– it sounds like it’s not considered a deformity at all, but just a variation, like having detached earlobes or a hitchhiker’s thumb or something. I love your site– it’s eaten my whole evening. : )

  • Reply December 19, 2012

    Ignorance is rife

    Deary me, I have the condition and so did my father. It is not as rare as you think and has nothing to do with inbreeding. The tribe has it because one person was born with it to start with, for no reason other than a genetic mutation and because they don’t marry outside the tribe’ it was continued. It is not something that is actually caused from inbreeding, it has to be there to start with.

    And yes people like me with it lead normal lives, I am educated, have two degrees on my own home, and business.. We should not be called freaks, it’s simply a birth defect, and birth defects are not rare.

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