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Gray Rat Snake: Prime specimen at Radnor Lake

June 4th, 2008 · 21 Comments · Radnor Lake, Reptiles, snakes

Events from the momentous hike on Tuesday, June 3, 2008

 large gray rat snake at Radnor Lake in Nashville Tennessee, just waiting to be caught by Stephen Frasier(NOTE: For more numerous and larger photographs of a very large gray rat snake at Radnor Lake, please see related post, Another Large Gray Rat Snake at Radnor Lake.)

An excellent Gray Rat Snake photo gallery: Hiking Nature at Radnor Lake

After proceeding up the steep climb at Ganier Ridge (“hill 4”), I turned around and began to retrace my steps to the car. Although I’d intended to hike the full 4.5-mile loop this morning, the bountiful environs encompassing Radnor Lake had already yielded so many photo ops — 101 to be exact — as to take up half the morning. I had to turn around when I reached the top of Ganier in order to be on time for a noon meeting. The resulting sightings and photos seem more reminiscent of a trip to a major National Park than to a small suburban pocket of wilderness in Nashville, and for that I’ll long be grateful.

 Stephen about to catch a large gray rat snake at Radnor Lake in Nashville TennesseeI have seen very few different snake species — fewer than five, I believe — at Radnor Lake this year (2008), but I’m sure I’ll see a much greater variety of serpentry in the coming months and years. I have not seen any venomous snakes at Radnor Lake yet, which is rather surprising since copperheads and timber rattlers dwell in the area. The snakes I have seen so far at Radnor Lake during 2008 — all non-venomous and harmless — include:

  • Garter Snake
  • Northern Water Snake
  • Ringneck Snake
  • Gray Rat Snake

 Stephen holds up a large gray rat snake at Radnor Lake in Nashville TennesseeAs I proceeded on the Ganier Ridge Trail and neared the Lake Trail, I noticed a large snake on the left side of the wide mulched pathway; it had just crossed over the trail and was mostly in the leaves. Because it was moving slowly – not fast enough to rustle the leaves or make any other noise, really – and due to its camouflaging pattern and coloration, I believe I was rather fortunate to see it.

An excellent Gray Rat Snake photo gallery: Hiking Nature at Radnor Lake

The snake was easy to identify; I see more gray rat snakes (Pantherophis spiloides than any other constrictor at Radnor Lake. However, this one was special: it was the biggest gray rat snake I have ever seen, anywhere, captive or wild! It was fantastic to come across this Pantherophis specimen, since all the other snakes I’ve found at Radnor Lake this year were unremarkably sized; for example, the Gray Rat Snake found by Kelly, Tracy, and me three weeks ago on the South Cove Loop trail was a typical three feet or so in length.

 Stephen Frasier holding a six-foot gray rat snake at Radnor Lake in Nashville Tennessee

I was so excited! I was quite pleased that this rat snake did not take off as I invaded its space; it had a calm, even enlightened demeanor and the snake alternated between slow, steady movement and stillness.

Before bothering it, I photographed it as best I could; but its impressive length and stretched-out position made the rat snake difficult to capture fully in a photo; it was not curled up or anything. It rested partially in a patch of sunlight which helped quite a bit with the photos.

Luckily, a nature-loving pair — a girl and her mother, of McGuirk lineage (I hope you don’t mind this mention) — had been walking close behind me and now approached, so able hands were available to photograph this reptile capture.

 large gray rat snake at Radnor Lake in Nashville Tennessee

I asked the girl if she’d mind snapping some pics, and she kindly agreed and took a few pictures as I captured the snake (without hurting it or putting it in any discomfort, of course).

The biggest surprise of all was the docile nature of this huge rat snake. I have caught many a wild rat snake on hikes throughout Tennessee and Georgia, they usually bite (or try to bite). They do not want to be picked up; they are absolutely terrified of humans.

But they have more than mere biting in their arsenal! Many snakes emit a very foul and nasty-smelling musky liquid onto your hands right when you pick them up.

The safest, most conservative way to capture a large non-venomous snake using one’s bare hands is to grab a nearby stick or something else with which to pin down the snake’s head, gently but firmly, to allow the snake to be grasped just behind the head, reducing the risk of being bitten to near zero. But I did not want to do it that way. Boring!

I am pretty used to being bitten by harmless snakes when I catch them; it’s not a big deal at all. Most large harmless snakes can easily break the skin with a bite; they have a mouth full of generally tiny teeth. In small snakes, the teeth can feel like Velcro and not even break the skin. If this snake bit me – and I accepted that strong possibility before I picked it up – it would hurt a little and maybe bleed a bit but would be no big deal.

(NOTE: When the bite of a harmless snake breaks the skin, infection is a possibility, just as it is with any other animal; after all, an amazing variety of bacterial life dwelleth in the mouth of a snake or a mouse or a human or virtually any other living creature capable of a bite.)

I grabbed the snake about 8-12 inches from the tail and lifted it. Larger snakes are naturally heavier, too, making it much harder for the snake to lift its body and head up for a rapid bite. These physics worked in my favor and I did not receive a bite. Astonishingly, it did not even attempt to bite, and it did not seem to get very upset, either, especially after 30 seconds or so when it probably realized it was not in danger from me.

This is when I realized how big this rat snake was. I had to lift my arm almost all the way up to get the snake fully off the ground.

The huge gray rat snake was shiny, clean, healthy, and dry. It was a pleasure to handle, and after a minute or less, the snake seemed to be completely comfortable with being held; it even seemed to behave more like a pet snake than a wild one. I was instantly taken back to my youth when snake handling – as a hobby, not a religious practice – was routine! (On second thought, this sort of proximity to nature is as much of a religious experience as any other for me these days; it’s wonderful.)

All three of us admired the snake for a few minutes, up close and personal. It was outstanding. Both mother and daughter touched the snake; they did not behave in that annoying, fearful manner so many others might.

Despite the bond I felt with this reptile, which for some unfortunate reason is the representation of Satan in fundamentalist Christianity, I knew I could not keep this beautiful creature. Actually, I did not even consider such a thing as making the snake my property, and the absence of that desire is a notable and interesting fact for me: I almost certainly would have desired this reptile for myself in years past.

 large gray rat snake at Radnor Lake in Nashville TennesseeAs strange, cheesy, prissy, or bleeding-heart as this may sound, the love and compassion I felt toward this creature was warm and beautiful. I knew that I was – I am — one with it. Yes, I am one with the gray rat snake (as are you, in this way of thinking) and indeed this is so with everything, not just the snake. I also now realize and actually understand that whatever I do to this snake, I do to myself. Since we are all connected, these insights are important in my humble opinion.

It is amazing — but far more unfortunate – that entire swaths of land are being picked clean of all snakes, lizards, turtles, and frogs by reptile and amphibian collectors. These wild, innocent and once free creatures are yanked from their environment, caged, and traded on the Internet and anywhere else an animal can be sold. There was a time in my life when I might have engaged in such a vocation or economic opportunity with verve and vigor, but those days are long gone.

An excellent Gray Rat Snake photo gallery: Hiking Nature at Radnor Lake

If you like snakes – or if you care to see other posts and photographs concerning Nashville snake sightings – check out these related posts:

Related Posts


Gray Rat Snake

Garter Snake

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21 Comments so far ↓

  • Brett

    Nice snake pics! Maybe it was so tame because it had been someone’s pet and they released it recently back into the wild.

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  • Steve

    What a great find. Seldom do I see snakes that long or docile. I haven’t made it to Radnor Lake yet but it is on my to hike list in the near future. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos.

  • Rob

    That’s a HUGE ratsnake!!! I’ve yet to see any here in nashville but back home in east tennessee the largest I’ve see was about three feet. Thanks for posting these stories and pictures. I hope you keep it up!

  • lori

    I have a similar picture of a snake that has a different colored head but has same body markings and would like to know if it is the same kind. I have yet to match it to any other snakes listed for Tn. It was found in Bellbuckle under a horse water trough. Thanks for your great photos.

  • Tess

    I hated to have to do it, but I just killed a 7 foot Rat Snake (photo for proof) that had been eating all my chicken eggs!

  • Dave

    Hi i just read your post I am from north alabama in Decatur and i am pretty sure i found a monster rat snake that I believe to be a gray rat snake just wondering if you would take a look at the pic i snapped on my phone. I work as an EMT at a water park here and this big guy was headed for the wave pool lol. He was trying to just get away from the people chasing him but was fairly docile and easy to maneuver towards the river but it sure would be nice to know for sure what type of snakes are meandering nearby. Is there anyway i can put a pic up on here? anyways my email is D.Andrew.Steinberg@gmail.com so get at me thanks!

  • rob hunter

    Hey I was at Radnor Lake today for the second time ever! I saw a lot, including two barred owls, two gray rat snakes, and a beaver that meandered across the road only 5 feet in front of me! I was a little troubled by the rat snakes though… thy were both about 3 feet long, and I picked each one up as it crossed the trail in front of me. (both were on the lake trail.) They seemed very healthy, both struck at me a lot and moved very quickly and agilely through the branches and leaf litter. However, both snakes had bulbous deformities on their heads. One looked like he had a swollen lip, the other looked like he had a big knot on his head and another on his snout. Have you seen any others like this or heard anything? I asked a ranger but he said he didn’t know anything about it…

  • rob hunter

    Hey again. Speaking of rat snakes, I returned to radnor lake yesterday and saw…3!
    I was walking along the lake trail, when I heard several wrens making a commotion a little uphill of the trail. (they were doing that raspy hissing alarm call they make when there’s a predator around). I looked for the source of the dismay, and at the base of a stump I could see the writhing coils of a snake!
    When I went to get a closer look, it turned out to be two ratsnakes! I’m assuming they were in some kind of courtship activity. And another one (a late-arriving male, I’m guessing) was approaching them from a few feet away!
    I also saw a decent-sized Black Kingsnake on the causeway and watched a Barred Owl capture and dismember a sizeable bullfrog.
    That place really is awesome. Still can’t believe its so close to the City!!

  • april

    I saw a Rat snake , i thinkthat’s what it was, in my front yard a couple of days ago, it was probably about 9 ft. long and i thought it was someone’s pet, so i just left it alone, also because i don’t care to try and pick up a snake either! My husband told me what it was so i googled it and came uopon this, it sort of looks like it, but still not sure yet. Thanks. Like the story, never been there before.

  • Lourn

    I caught one like that at work today, it was in the middle of the road. The coloring was gray/dark gray but the pattern looked the same as the top pic. It was very long at about 4 ft with a long skinny tail. I released it in my backyard, I figured it was a rat snake or possibly a pine snake.

  • amber

    these snakes are cool

  • amber

    its really cool

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  • Doc ellis

    I have seen several silver colored snakes around my back yard and in the craw space under the house. Are these rat snakes, garter, or other wise???????

  • Sheree Domine


    As I hiked along Ganier Ridge yesterday, there was a beautiful 5 ft snake crossing the path.

    It markings were oblong black patches with faint yellow in between. It moved rather slowly. Can someone indentify it for me?

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