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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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  • Skunk cabbage so soon?

    Question

    At The Rookery December 27 I saw several green skunk cabbage shoots. At least 3 were along the trail just past the boardwalk and one was farther along near the vernal pool where I first hear frogs in the spring. Is this usual or uncommonly early? Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    Skunk cabbage is a very hardy plant and can tolerate very cold temperatures. It may have started pushing through the wet soil this early because of the very warm temperatures we’ve had this December. I imagine it will slow down once the temperatures get really cold. It will be covered with snow and, in very late winter to early spring (late February-March), it will begin to flower and you will see the brownish flowers protruding from the snow. This plant can actually generate its own heat, which melts the snow and attracts the very few insects that are active in this early season. There’s just such a lot of interesting things about this plant that I could go on and on! Click here for a nice website where you can read more about this fascinating plant.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Whether to feed deer corn

    Question

    A lot of people out here feed corn to the deer. Is that safe for the deer?

    Naturalist's Response

    While baiting deer in Ohio is typically legal during state hunting seasons (check Ohio Department of Natural Resources regulations for restrictions), generally feeding deer throughout the year is not recommended. You should also check local ordinances, as cities in Lake and Cuyahoga counties have banned deer feeding in efforts to combat high urban deer populations.

    Depending on the amount of feed put out, it may provide a false sense of food supply in that particular population. This can then have a larger effect on the surrounding habitat with increased deer-related impacts, such as greater browse and increased chance of transmitting disease.

    Deer are efficient browsers. They will eat a large variety of plant species depending on the time of year, from herbaceous to woody vegetation. Corn is not natural part of a deer’s diet. I would recommend providing habitat with vegetation that deer will naturally feed on such as: pokeweed, greenbriers, dogwoods, wild plum, wild grape, sumac, fleabane, partridge pea, wild lettuce, asters, blackberry and black raspberry.

    -Land Stewart Joel Firem

    Though I am not an expert on deer biology, I would like to add that I have read many articles stating that feeding deer corn in the winter is not a good idea. These articles state that the deer’s digestive system is not able to properly process the high starch content and can lead to problems for the deer.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    Also, I know that Pennsylvania was considering banning deer feeding.  Here is an excerpt from PA’s Game Commission on the issue:

    “While feeding deer may enhance wildlife viewing, decades of research has clearly shown that supplemental feeding leads to increased disease risk, long-term habitat destruction, increased vehicle collisions, habituation to humans and alteration of other deer behavioral patterns and, ultimately, the demise of the value of deer and deer-related recreation.”

    For more detailed information, click here for their nice flyer all about the downfalls feeding deer. Thank you for your question!

    -Park Biologist Paul Pira

  • Is hand-feeding wild birds bad for them?

    Question

    Doesn’t the practice of hand-feeding birds, hosted locally at The West Woods, endanger birds by removing their protective instincts?

    Naturalist's Response

    The bird that is most likely to take seed from a person’s hand is a chickadee. They appear to be cute, delicate, defenseless, tiny, fluff balls when they land in an outstretched seed-filled hand. But don’t be fooled – should the chickadee feel threatened, his wild instincts will take over and he will protect himself! Click here for a great link I think you will enjoy.

    Hope you have tried your hand feeding the birds!

    Thanks for your great question! -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • What tree has pink leaves right now?

    Question

    Walked the trails at Sunnybrook Preserve on Saturday, November 2. What tree is this that has pink leaves at this time of year?

    Naturalist's Response

    It could be several trees such as dogwood, which is a smaller tree, tupelo, or a red maple that has faded. It’s really hard to tell without pictures, but those are the possibilities. -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • What would Seek by iNaturalist say?

    Question

    Attn: John Kolar, what would Seek say about this?

    Naturalist's Response

    Hi Tom,

    You’re too funny! Thanks for coming on the hike! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Thanks,

    John

  • Advice on my project about technology vs. Nature?

    Question

    I'm doing this project for my spectra class and I would like to know the effect of technology on nature. I don't mean technology like tablets and computers even though that is one of the reasons. I mean things that humans do that affect nature. If you have any ideas can you please include things like, how we can help this problem, what the problem is, and how its affecting nature. Would you be able to answer a few questions for my project?

    Naturalist's Response

    This is an extremely complicated question! I guess I would just say that you may want to narrow the question down a little bit, as it is currently quite broad.

    You could take the route that experiences with technology (people using phones, computers, virtual reality, etc.) have replaced experiences with things in nature like getting outside (maybe check out stats for decrease in outdoor sports like fishing, hiking, etc.). This would result in people disconnecting from Nature, therefore not feeling as concerned about conservation and environmental issues.

    Or maybe you’ll want to look into this: now that people have access to GPS and camera phones, they are obsessed with “up close and personal” wildlife shots and selfies, could this lead to special habitats and vulnerable species being harmed by people’s efforts to get these shots?

    Like I said, there is a lot to what you are asking, and I don’t have the answers you’ll need.  I’d just encourage you to pick a specific topic and research possibilities. As with any environmental issue, there’s usually not just one “correct” solution. Hope this helps somewhat! Good luck!

    -Naturalist Nora Sindelar

  • Frogs in my rock fountain feature – help!

    Question

    Strange question: We have a rock fountain feature in my garden with a 100 gal water basin that has become home to many green frogs. It doesn't have any mud or sand at the bottom and we are worried about them freezing in the winter. The water in the basin will most likely freeze completely. Should we heat the basin for them in the winter so it doesn't completely freeze? Our other idea was to put a bin with sand at the bottom. They kept my garden slug free this year so I want to encourage them being there. Thanks!

    Naturalist's Response

    Your frog question is not strange at all, and I’m glad that you are concerned about the welfare of the frogs that were attracted to your water feature. Here are some things to consider:

    I don’t know how deep your 100 gallon basin is, but if it is at least 20 inches deep, the water will likely not freeze all the way to the bottom if the basin is set into the ground (as opposed to an above-ground water feature). You could keep a re-circulating pump in the basin to discharge water at the surface and keep a hole open in the ice during the winter. (I actually do this in my own water feature.)

    Also, if there is not sufficient substrate in the basin (muck, leaves, etc.) the frogs may not consider it a suitable place to overwinter and may go elsewhere.

    In any case, don’t worry about them too much; these critters are much hardier than we think. Frogs have an amazing ability to find these little habitats, and new frogs will likely re-populate your water feature next year. That old saying “if you build it, they will come” is true!

    I hope this has helped. If you have more questions, just email me: lgilbert@geaugaparkdistrict.org.

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

  • Early fall fireflies…or are they?

    Question

    The last few nights on my walk after dark I have seen what looks like many fireflies sitting still in the grass with their lights slowly glowing (not blinking as you would normally expect from fireflies in the summer). Are these fireflies? or is it some other insect that uses bioluminescence?

    Naturalist's Response

    Lucky you!!! What you are seeing are glow worms – the larval form of fireflies! Glow worms are active in your soil and vegetation catching and consuming prey throughout late summer and fall. They will overwinter beneath the soil, become active again in the spring, then form pupae and become adult fireflies in June.

    -Naturalist Tami Gingrich

  • Could these be Carolina Leaf-Rollers?

    Question

    Hello, we've had some weird crickets on our deck and in our kitchen in Newbury all summer, and I just found out what they are: Carolina leaf rollers! I can't find much info online besides ID sites, but it seems that Ohio is really far north for them. Do you know if they're common here? Thanks!

    Naturalist's Response

    I looked into whether or not Carolina Leaf-Roller Crickets are common in Ohio. One of Ohio’s top naturalists, Jim McCormac, mentioned in his blog that they are not rare in our state, but are secretive and normally active at night. They spend the day within the safety of a rolled-up leaf, hence the name.

    I’ve included two maps from iNaturalist.org that show the distribution of the species in Geauga County as well as Ohio. Notice we don’t have many records in Geauga, which is most likely due to the reasons above. They are really neat critters!

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

  • Why so low at East Branch Reservoir?

    Question

    Why does the water sometimes get so low at Headwaters Park's East Branch Reservoir during the summer months? The boat launch couldn't even be used in early September this year.

    Naturalist's Response

    Although this happens every year, it is still poorly understood among many folks. According to the City of Akron, which uses this body of water for its water supply, it seems to be all about keeping the water moving to prevent stagnation and nutrient loading that leads to algal blooms. Read on for a more detailed explanation circa 2013.

    -Dan Best, Naturalist

    East Branch is shallow, and nutrient-rich because of the neighboring communities around it. But that makes the regular draining of the reservoir really noticeable at certain times of year. Because it’s so shallow and the shoreline is such a shallow grade, losing an inch of water looks like a foot of water.

    We drain East Branch relatively low because we need to keep the water flowing; if we let the lake stay stagnant, the water blooms green. We also need to keep the river flowing, and even just a little bit of release does that.

    We do algal testing at least once a month, and in the summer two to three times a month or weekly, depending on the numbers. We grab samples and count them, then send them to a lab to have toxins detected. Those results definitely affect how much water we decide needs to come out of the reservoir. The lower the algal counts, the less water; the higher the algal counts, the more water to keep the water moving.

    We also do what we can to keep the water from being too old, and do water quality monitoring. We almost always have something coming out of East Branch because we don’t want to impair the river downstream.

    So ultimately we release between 5 and 20 million gallons a day, and I’d say normally 15 million gallons a day. On average we release about 10 million gallons in the fall, and when it’s dryer, just because we don’t want to empty the lake but we’ve got to keep the water moving. So there’s always a seasonal dip in the fall.

    When we get that first melt, the first really big snow melt surge, or during crazy rain events, we have it open more to try to move that water before it’s flooding. The dam is old, so we don’t want to have a ton of water behind the dam.

    We don’t really use it so much for water supply, but more for storage and supplemental water. Water takes two days to get to Akron.

    -Jessica Glowczewski, City of Akron Watershed Superintendent