Carl and Sandra Greenwood returned from Oakland Hills, Conn., to their Rotonda West home to find an unwelcome guest lolling about their bathroom.
A snake. Fortunately, a non-poisonous snake, but a fright-giving serpent nonetheless.
"My husband and I had been out of town for two weeks, and when we returned, Carl found this snake alive behind the toilet in our master bathroom," Sandra Greenwood said.
The head of a black rat snake baby. The young have a blotched coloration, apparently for camouflage.
She reached out to Gasparilla Gazette Nature Walk columnist William Dunson for help identifying the serpent.
Dunson told the Greenwoods they had encountered a baby rat snake - either a yellow rat/chicken snake or a corn snake.
"I would guess that it is more likely to be a corn snake due to the redness showing although the photo is less than perfect for an identification," he told the couple. "All baby rat snakes basically look the same."
The snakes are harmless and even beneficial, Dunson said. They feed on mice and rats on the ground and in the trees, and eat lizards and birds to some degree.
"They could be considered beneficial due to their consumption of rodents and it is not uncommon for farmers to keep one of this general group of snakes around their barns as a reptilian "cat" mouse and rat catcher," he said.
One of their unusual characteristics is that they can climb the trunk of a tree by inserting their belly scales into cracks in the bark.
Many people are afraid of non-poisonous snakes although cars, bees, wasps and dogs are far more lethal to humans.
"One theory is that our early simian ancestors had more reason to fear snakes and we have inherited this fear," Dunson said. "This seems unlikely since young children have to be taught to fear snakes.
"On the other hand we may have inherited a tendency to quickly acquire the fear of such strange creatures. Another strange theory has to do with the unusual shape of snakes and how this has been viewed as a phallic symbol and feared by primitive cultures."
Rat snakes can safely be left on homeowner property, Dunson said.
"We share this planet with many wonderful creatures, including snakes, and they deserve a place to live as do we all," he said. "Life is richer and more satisfying if we can learn to co-exist even with those things some of us do not especially like spiders, snakes and other creepy critters."