Ask a Naturalist

Understand the world around you We've got answers

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

Step 1 of 2 - Sighting Details

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  • Name this spider

    Question

    Is this one of the nursery web spiders? Very large! Found in Munson Twp.

    Naturalist's Response

    Looking at the image, I can tell this is a fishing spider, most likely Dolomedes Tenebrosus. They may be intimidating to look at because of their impressive size (female 15-26mm, male 7-13mm body length, not including leg measurement), but thankfully these are not considered dangerous to humans.  They can often be seen on man-made structures and tree trunks. As a member of the Pisauridae family, these spiders are pretty interesting, as they display extended care of their young. The females carry the egg sac, holding it with their jaws, then build a type of nursery with a leaf or other cover and stay to guard the spiderlings until they molt and disperse.

    Thank you for sharing that excellent picture! -Naturalist Nora Sindelar

  • Worried about so many snappers

    Question

    I live on Cedar Road, east of The Rookery. I have a snapping turtle on my premises which I believe is a female because she appears to be laying eggs in a pile of landscaping stones. I have no problem with a turtle or two on the property, but I really don't want 2 dozen. Would you be willing to take a look and move the eggs to The Rookery after she leaves?

    Naturalist's Response

    Indeed, this past couple of weeks have been egg-laying time for painted and snapping turtles. Hen turtles have been conducting “eggs-peditions,” sometimes venturing far from their aquatic homes to find a suitable sunny spot to dig their egg pit and deposit their clutches. I appreciate your concern in inquiring about relocating the clutch, but I don’t think this would be a very successful venture. Odds are, raccoons or skunks will dig up and eat the eggs before long. Even if left undisturbed to hatch, I don’t thing all the hatchlings would stay on your property, all piling into your pond. They would disperse to find a pond or wetland to call home, not all in the same area. They would also have to run a gauntlet of predators on their march to the marsh or ponds, even yours, where a host of predators will further thin their numbers.  Best to let Nature take its course. -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Why does this cardinal look this way?

    Question

    I am attaching a picture of a cardinal (??) which has been coming to my bird feeder (I live in Novelty). One zoologist I asked thought it was an ordinary cardinal with a mite problem, causing loss of head feathers. What is your take on it?

    Naturalist's Response

    Most likely, this cardinal is simply going through a molt into new feathers. For some reason, cardinals often molt all of their head feathers at the same time, appearing bald. We have seen dozens of cases like this over the years. -Naturalist Tami Gingrich

  • Which feathered friend camped with us?

    Question

    My friend and I were camping at Chickagami Park in a lean-to this weekend, where a birds nest was in the corner. I’ve attached rather blurry photos of the bird, as well as one of the nestling and nest, hoping you’d be able to tell us the species. If it helps any, they beat their wings awfully fast when they’d come in for feedings! Any help is much appreciated!

    Naturalist's Response

    This bird is the Eastern Phoebe. When it sings, it says its name very emphatically and can be seen bobbing its tail up and down.

    It is a member of the flycatcher family and, as the name implies, it eats insects. They will sit on a branch and dart out to catch an insect and then return to the branch and wait for more insects to fly by.

    They migrate between the United States and Mexico, not quite to the Yucatan peninsula. And they are one of the first birds to return in the spring; all of the naturalists here wait eagerly to hear them. We all try to be the first to hear it.

    Click here for a link to a very good website, All About Birds from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It has a wealth of information. Thanks for sharing your question and pictures.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • What to plant?

    Question

    What are some native plants that I can use to do landscaping and gardening?

    Naturalist's Response

    Here is a horticulture link for your question about native plants. This website also has links to OSU and CMNH that might help inform your decision.

    You may also find information or contacts on the Ohio State University Extension Master Volunteers website here.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • What to plant?

    Question

    I have a creek on my property that is heavily shaded and at the bottom of a hill. What plants would grow best in the shade and help slow erosion and stabilize the creek bed walls? Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    Here is a horticulture link for your question about native plants. This website also has links to OSU and CMNH that might help inform your decision.

    You may also find information or contacts on the Ohio State University Extension Master Volunteers website here.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Can we explore the islands at Headwaters Park?

    Question

    Can you canoe to the islands in Headwaters Park and then walk on them to explore?

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks very much for asking. The fact is that the City of Akron, which owns the property, does not allow exploration of the islands by foot.

    -Chief Naturalist John Kolar

  • What’s that springtime sound?

    Question

    What are night sounds near Auburn Marsh? It began a week or two ago and it starts at dusk and goes on until the morning. Are these birds, crickets, or something else?

    Naturalist's Response

    I’m pretty sure the sounds you are hearing in the marsh are the voices of the Spring Peepers. These diminutive amphibians make piercing peep-calls – so much so that the resulting sound from lots of them can make your ears hurt! This is the rite of spring for frogs and salamanders, and the males are singing (or dancing, if you’re a salamander) to attract the ladies. Click here for a link to the Spring Peeper song, and I hope you enjoy the spring amphibian concert!

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

    P.S. Here are a couple pictures of a Spring Peeper.

  • What is this fuzzy plant?

    Question

    When walking the Maple Highlands Trail Wednesday, there’s a lot of these fuzzy leafed plants growing among the fence. My friends and I are wondering what they are. Photo taken between Taylor Wells & Claridon Troy roads.

    Naturalist's Response

    This is common mullein, found along roadsides and disturbed places. Click here for an the Ohio State University listing of this plant.

    Some consider it a weed, but it is very pretty with its fuzzy leaves and yellow flowers on tall spikes.

    It’s a biennial, so it will not flower the first year that the plant seed germinates. In your photo I see what looks like remnants of old leaves, so this plant might bloom this year.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Praying mantis species and hummingbirds?

    Question

    Good morning! I have recently learned about the three species of praying mantis in Ohio. I am hoping to find out the differences between their egg cases. Is it true that the European and Chinese egg cases should be destroyed as those mantids are too destructive to the ecosystem and hummingbirds, in particular?

    Naturalist's Response

    I’ve compiled a picture of the egg cases of the mantis species in our area. The Carolina Mantis is our native species, and that’s the one that should be encouraged. The other two are the non-natives (the European and Chinese). I consulted an entomologist friend at OSU, and she is not opposed to destroying the Chinese or European mantis cases. She didn’t find much definitive research regarding whether or not the non-native species are out-competing our native one. While all three species are predators of plant pests, they are generalists as well and probably do prey on some beneficial insects and maybe the occasional hummingbird. The Chinese Mantis egg case is very recognizable due to its distinct shape. It might be difficult to differentiate between the other two however.

    Click here for an excellent article on hummers and mantises.

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert