Ask a Naturalist

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Ever wondered who left that footprint? What kind of berries are those? Or why is that White-tailed Deer white all over? Look no further than your local naturalists, the people at your Geauga Park District whose job it is to help you understand the natural world around you.



Use the form below to submit your question – ideally with a photo (if available), description of sighting (including size) and location of sighting (somewhere in Northeast Ohio) – and you’ll receive an email when a naturalist responds.

Please note that while this form does collect your name and contact information, those items will not be posted with your question, only used in case we need to contact you for additional details.

What have other people been asking lately? Scroll below the form and enjoy some other naturalist Q&As on us!

Ask a Naturalist

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    • Insects on swamp milkweed?


      Any idea what these insects are??
      All over the swamp weeds seed pods!!
      Are they invasive??

      Naturalist's Response

      What a great patch of swamp milkweed! The insects on your plants are large milkweed bugs at various stages of development. Since they are true bugs, they use their piercing, sucking mouthparts to feed on the seeds of your milkweed.

      Despite the large number on your plants, the insects are native and not considered invasive. The large milkweed bugs are not a threat to Monarchs or other insects, either. Still, if you’re concerned about the numbers and impact on your patch of milkweed, the bugs can be manually removed and dropped into soapy water. Here’s a link with more information and pictures of some of the other insects found on milkweed plants:

      Insects Commonly Found on Milkweed 101 – Save Our Monarchs

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to learn more about milkweed insects!

      -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

    • What education is required to become a naturalist?


      We attended the Moths and Meteors event on 08/12, and were so impressed with Chris. What kind of education and/or training is required to become a naturalist?

      Naturalist's Response

      Thanks for your question!

      Naturalists come from a staggering variety of educational and training backgrounds. Some have pursued an education in science and teaching fields, but many come to the field from other careers in many cases, their work in sharing Nature knowledge with the public begins on a volunteer-and-hobbyist basis.

      Take the example of Wayne Kriynovich, one of our now-retired naturalists:

      Wayne Kriynovich at the Oberle Observatory

      [Naturalist Wayne Kriynovich performs daytime maintenance on the Oberle Observatory.]

      Before becoming a naturalist, Wayne had been a police officer, a lawyer and a private pilot.  More importantly, he was a lifelong astronomy enthusiast! Wayne’s dedication to sharing astronomy with the public led him to become an astronomy-focused naturalist after retiring from (as he called it) his “Earthbound career.”

      Once a person begins working or volunteering in the Nature-education field, they typically receive additional training from the National Association for Interpretation, or NAI.  It’s sort of the professional organization for workers in parks and historic sites. Despite the word “interpretation” in the name, no, it doesn’t primarily deal with translating between different languages!

      The NAI offers a widely sought program called Certified Interpretive Guide training, which is a terrific way to learn how to share information with the “curious, but not expert” public. (If you’ve ever had a lackluster tour from a less-than-fascinating guide, you know what pitfalls there are to be avoided!)

      Another great resource in the field of astronomy education is the Great Lakes Planetarium Association, which, as the name suggests, helps share training among planetarium users across the region. Similarly to naturalists, planetarium operators may have specifically studied planetarium-based astronomy (Youngstown State University offers one such program nearby), but many also come by their experience through on-the-job training.

      Best of luck with your studies!

      -Naturalist Chris Mentrek



    • Snake ID?


      What kind of snake is this?

      Naturalist's Response

      The snake you have pictured is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). This is one of the most common species of snakes we find in Geauga County and is an important part of our local ecosystem. They feed on fish, frogs and salamanders, but in turn provide food for herons, mink, hawks and other predators.

      The good news is they are not venomous and are inclined to flee from humans. However, if they are grabbed, they do not hesitate to bite, though the wound is pretty superficial.

      -Naturalist Andy Avram

    • Snake ID at Beartown Lakes Reservation?


      Do you know what kind of snake lives in the stairs of the sledding hill at Beartown? It’s large and dark grey.

      Naturalist's Response

      There are a number of snakes that can be described as large and gray in our area. At Beartown Lakes, the most likely species would be a Northern Water Snake, but the Black (Gray) Rat Snake is also a strong possibility.  Lastly, some Eastern Garter Snakes can have reduced pattern and would fit that description.  All three of those species are very common in our area and likely to live in the base of stairs.

      -Naturalist Andy Avram

    • Source for wild rice stalks?


      Do you know of a resource for getting wild rice stalks? My 5th grade class is reading The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich in which a native family gathers wild rice in Michigan. I'd like to be able to show the students the wild rice, use it to study parts of a plant, learn about adaptations of plants living in water and maybe even explore how to separate the grains from the plant. Any advice is appreciated! Thank you so much.

      Naturalist's Response

      I’m not familiar with a source for the plant, but I did a Google search and found this site which might be what you’re looking for:

      200PCS Rice Plant Non-GMO Heirloom High Disease Resistancehigh Yield Crop. plant | eBay

      There appear to be a lot of options to purchase seeds, though. You may also try the Museum of Natural History, as this state-listed species has been found at Mentor Marsh.

      Finally, if you are looking for an alternative plant to help your kids practice winnowing the grain, I would recommend wheat (straw) plants, which are plentiful this time of year.

      Good luck!

      -Naturalist Renell Roebuck

    • Yellow jacket venom removal?


      We have recently had a person stung by a yellow jacket living in a nest in the ground near our home and have been told that there is a second nest nearby. I have heard that these nests can be vacuumed out by people who collect the venom instead of applying poison. Is this true? Do you know of such a service locally?

      Naturalist's Response

      Yellow jackets seem to be more of a problem this year. I recalled seeing something about the removal of these insects in the Geauga County Wildlife Facebook group, so after sorting through old posts, I was able to come up with this:

      Hope it helps. Good luck.

      -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

    • Fungus ID?


      I saw this fungus on a tree along The West Woods' Bridle Trail loop. Can you tell us what it is? Clockwise from the Nature Center, this tree was about 1/3 the way around and on the righthand side (the inside of the loop). Thanks for looking at this.

      Naturalist's Response

      You have found one of my favorite types of fungus, and believe it or not, I know the exact tree that you are referring to because it seems to grow there every year!

      It’s called Lion’s Mane, but is also know by other common names such as Bear’s Head Tooth Fungus, Icicle Mushroom and Goat’s Beard, just to name a few.

      This fungus grows as a parasite on dying and dead deciduous trees, and is relatively common in our beach maple forests of Northeast Ohio.

      We are fortunate to have a tremendous variety of fungus in the forested areas of our parks! A great field guide to mushrooms that I would highly recommend is Mushrooms of the Northeast by Teresa Marrone and Walt Sturgeon. I believe that we should have a few copies in our nature store at The West Woods if you are interested in purchasing one!

      Enjoy your fall, and I hope you find many more cool fungus out there in the parks!

      -Chief Naturalist John Kolar

    • Odd critter ID


      My son found the unusual critter in this photo and video ( on his driveway in Chesterland. What is it?

      Naturalist's Response

      Your photo was identified by iNaturalist as an immature mouse bot fly. Bot fly larvae of various species, also known as warbles, grow in wild mammals but can also parasitize domestic animals and occasionally humans. A full-size larva, like the one in the photo, burrows into the soil and pupates, emerging in one to 11 months as an adult fly.

      Adults do not feed, but the fly lays eggs, often in animal burrows, that hatch into tiny larvae that are picked up by mammal fur, then enter a host through the nose, mouth or anus. Once inside the host, the larva migrates through the body to a place below the skin, appearing as a small lump with a breathing hole for the larva. The larva continues to feed and grow until it leaves the host, like the one photographed, to find its way underground until conditions, like temperature, are right for it to emerge as an adult fly.

      These links will provide more information:
      Rodent Bot Fly Larvae | Mountain Lake Biological Station, U.Va. (
      Mouse bot fly (Cuterebra fontinella) – Seashore to Forest Floor

      -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

    • Where can I purchase milkweed plants?


      Where can I purchase native milkweed plants?

      Naturalist's Response

      Here is a partial list of places to purchase native plants:

      Perennials Preferred in Chesterland

      Avalon Gardens in Chardon

      Gilson Gardens in Perry

      Bluestone Perennials in Madison

      Ohio Prairie Nursery in Hiram

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe



    • Flower ID?


      What is the name of this flower? Found in Cuyahoga Valley 7/29.

      Naturalist's Response

      This plant is an American bellflower. Growing along stream and forest edges, their flower stalks can reach six feet in height with numerous blue flowers. They are in the same family of plants as cardinal flower and great blue lobelia and often grow side by side with those species.

      -Naturalist Andy Avram