Thursday, October 25, 2007


We share our property with a good number of rat snakes.
Exactly what is a good number? Enough that we no longer make finding one a reason for finding someone else to share it with.
We’ve grown accustomed to finding eggs in the compost pile, hatchlings covering the lawn around the belly of our old hollow sycamore, and an occasional adult crossing the yard.
They’re welcome neighbors in this rural area. Outbuildings and bags of grain mean a steady supply of mice. We’d be up to our ears in the little whiskered critters, were it not for the snakes’ help.

Last week, this hatchling suddenly appeared by the back door in the time it took me to walk down and back from the mailbox.

We introduced ourselves, neighbors—apparently he’s just moved in (from the compost pile--to the garage). We exchanged greetings--I relocated him to the rock garden. The stone wall will be a nice place to nestle into for cool fall days.

In a few years he’ll look just like Fred—long, dark, and handsome.

When we first moved here fifteen years ago, from a cooler, northern climate, finding a huge black rat snake on the front lawn was a big deal. And, I, nature-loving, hands-on, perpetual parent that I was, loved making every encounter with wildlife an opportunity for a science lesson.
That was my intention, one evening, years ago, when I met Fred. He was magnificent—a sleek, black beauty about 6 feet long.
Rat snakes make great pets because they tame easily (in a few minutes) and handle well—those strong, wave-like constrictions climb your arms as if they were branches—lace your fingers like a shoe.
But, that evening the girls weren’t home—maybe at a scout meeting or softball practice until dusk. And I needed a way to contain Fred until they could see him later—such a specimen he was. I grabbed a cast off terrarium from the garage shelf, complete with a wire mesh lid—from a time they’d had hamsters, years before—and tucked Fred inside.
He’d be safe on the kitchen table while I relaxed in the family room. The girls would be home soon.

Fred became more than a neighbor that evening. When I returned to the kitchen to greet the girls as they returned home, the top was off the terrarium, and Fred was nowhere in sight.
Did he slip inside a cabinet and into the wall behind, or through the gap separating the old and new portions of our house? However he managed it, he’s moved in. He's family.
In cool weather, we hear him cruising behind the upstairs bathroom wall, and on warm, sunny afternoons he hangs out from the eaves, right beside the west-facing gutter.

Yep. We’ve got our mouse problem under control. But I say a prayer every time dinner guests linger there, looking out our west-facing window.

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Julie Zickefoose said...

I lived with a huge black rat snake in a cottage in CT. He'd sleep over the water heater in the drop ceiling and knocking on it would produce this frantic thrashing and slithering that then would go across the living room ceiling and into a back bedroom. Quite the parlor trick for squeamish guests!

The trouble with using snakes for mouse control is it only works in summer, when the mice are outside...I had to resort to snap traps in fall and winter, when he was sleepin' on the job! But overall, the mouse populations weren't so bad while he was on patrol.

I love this post. So many folks would have called that juvenile rat snake a milk snake!

nina at Nature Remains. said...

You know, I've waited to share this story until a time when (I hope) I've established myself as sane.
So many people would think we're nuts to have such a slithering houseguest.
I'm thrilled to find I'm not alone.

(but did yours have a name??)

barefoot gardener said...

I am so jealous! I think it's awesome that you have a "house-snake".

Ruth said...

I think I would be a rather nervous guest at your place! I am trying to overcome my snake phobia and looking at that little snake wasn't too bad. Great post!

Q said...

Hi Nina,
My husband has also brought in snakes before as house guests. I like snakes and they are a gardeners friend for sure.
Your little ones are very charming.

MojoMan said...

What a wonderful story! It made me think about how so many people would want to kill any snake they see the way they step on any bug.

When Fred gets really big, can I borrow him? I have a family of squirrels chewing my house from the inside-out.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

It's amazing how the cute and cuddly factor seems to absolve them (mice,...) from their destructive nature.
We've had mice chew the insulation off all the wires in our washing machine, all the fringe off our rugs,.....
But a snake, never. He's on quiet patrol, never heard or seen (inside.)
And, clean, too!

Cathy said...

Nina, I'm just feeling so danged wussy. Lordy. Now this is a story I'll repeat at coffee Wednesday with the gals.

Mary said...

Nina! I loved this story about Fred. I don't know if I would feel comfortable with a house guest as such, but I'm open to the opportunity :o) You ROCK!

Kathi said...


I used to have a huge black snake that lived in my gardening shed. He looked like an old black hose, coiled up in the rafters, and I loved to trick people into looking up. Not too sure I would have wanted him in the house with me, tho.

Your little hatchling snake is pretty cute, I must say.


Anonymous said...

Hey Nina, I just found your blog and I'm loving it! I live in north central Texas and we have rat snakes too. We'd be overcome by rodents if we didn't. We too, have a big old rat snake that lives in our attic and slithers thru the walls... We call her Alice. Several times we've found her shedded skin IN the house! Once between the baseboard and the wall in the sunroom, and coming out of a crack in the laundry room, and coming out of a crack in the closet where the furnace is. My mom is nervous about visiting... she hates snakes! She's a born and bred KY. girl and raised on a farm outside of West Liberty...but she sure is scared of snakes. :)
Anyway, great blog and nice to know that there are more nature freaks like myself and my husband.
My husband won't kill ANYTHING, not even a copperhead. Mother thinks he might just be a bit 'touched' in the head. :)
Happy Halloween!

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Welcome, Vonne. Glad you appreciate Fred and stories about him. We've found a long shed skin (a while ago) too! Glad I was asleep when he cruised past the bedroom!

I have collected my favorites and call them "My Wild Life"--on my sidebar, if you're looking for another taste of life here.

Come back soon.

Paul said...

Most of the snakes I encounter in my yard -- by a ratio of about six to one -- are rattlesnakes. The good thing is I don't have a mouse problem. The bad thing is I'm careless. One night, fortunately not at home, I stepped on a rattlesnake in the dark and he caught me with one fang. A few hours in the emergency room and $75 taught me to carry a light. I still enjoy their company.

kate smudges said...

I once rode in a car with a bull snake - it was a little bit strange having this snake appear from under the seats. I was with a park naturalist and he was thrilled to find the snake ... thankfully, I like snakes. We seem to have garter snakes here and that's it...

Greg said...

What a cool story and an enlightened living arrangement. The place I'm living in just now begs for a rat snake in the walls. Please let Fred know he's welcome if he wants to take a vacation to Cape Cod!