The short answer: According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA)… There could be. A few weeks back, the Gober family’s trail cam captured some startling footage of what looks to be a python consuming a live raccoon. The “live” part is far from strange, as this is how all constrictors consume their prey. Alive. The whole “python eating Tennessee wildlife” thing, however, is not normal.
As such, it’s become a hot topic for the locals – myself included. Should we be hunting pythons in the Nashville sticks like the infamous “Python Bounty Hunters” of Florida now (yes, that’s a very real, very serious thing)? After 2020, why not? Anything goes.
Then, Nick Beres, an enterprise reporter with Nashville’s News Channel 5, brought the footage nationwide attention (see below). Posting to his near-200k followers on Facebook, Beres let the world know that the TWRA feels a python may be loose in Music City this summer.
“WARNING: THIS MIGHT BE A BIT UPSETTING TO SOME. You just never know what you might catch on your trail/deer cam,” Beres began his post. A+ for social journalism ledes, right there.
“These photos were sent to me by Courtney Gober whose family lives off Lickton Pike in Goodlettsville. It shows a raccoon attacked by what could be either a boa or python,” he states within. For our non-local Outsiders, Goodlettsville is a quaint little town covered in forest on the northern edge of Davidson County, making it part of Nashville proper (as all of Davidson Co. is). It also happens to be where this Outsider and wildlife tech resides.
‘This Big Snake Is Still Out There’: But Is it a Python?
“The photos are not great,” Beres continues, but “TWRA was called to investigate. The family says the agency officer believes the snake may have been someone’s pet that got too big… And this big snake is still out there.”
With a rousing “KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR SMALL PETS,” Nick Beres ends his local report.
But what is actually going on here? Has someone’s pet python escaped to wreak havoc on Tennessee wildlife? It wouldn’t be the first time if it has. I found a six-foot boa constrictor on my mother’s back porch in suburban Knoxville, Tennessee (see: very quiet, python-less little city) two hours east of here not six, maybe seven years ago.
But in the years since, I’ve become both a trained Tennessee wildlife technician, alongside a behavioral husbandry zookeeper with the Nashville Zoo. Both required extensive herpetology training, with snakes a large part of this. Working with Charlotte, a massive 10-foot python at the Zoo was a wonderful, humbling experience, too. So is this latest sighting one of Charlotte’s kin?
The size says possibly. But the markings and behavior do not.
Huge python species don’t exist this far north of the equator because their cold-blooded bodies can’t handle our winters. Plenty of other large snakes, however, do so very well. Pythons are expert escape artists, and like the one I found in Knoxville, they will and do break free, and will make a home for themselves as best they can in the warmer months. But pythons are constrictors, and they wrap themselves around their prey to suffocate and crush them for the kill. And whatever large snake we’re seeing here in Goodlettsville is not exhibiting this behavior. At least, not on the Gober’s trail cam footage.
This means – if we’re seeing a large snake here – it could be 1.) a big timber rattlesnake, or 2.) a grey rat snake, having a go at a raccoon. Or the other way around. Raccoons can be feisty little brats, and will attack snakes themselves on occasion; even eating them.
There is also, however, a third option. It’s worth mentioning that some of the folks in the Facebook comments think it isn’t even a snake at all. A handful suspect the silhouette belongs to 3.) An Owl. And now that they say it, I absolutely can see it, too.
In the end, the good news is: it is not likely there’s a python on the loose in Nashville this summer. If there’s bad news, it’d be reminding our local Outsiders who aren’t overly fond of large snakes that Tennessee does, in fact, host plenty of large native serpents. And some big ol’ owls.