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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  • Where’s the pawpaw?

    Question

    I've tried to find the pawpaw trees out at Big Creek Park. I parked near the primitive camping, walked back to the tent camping sites and proceeded down the trail that heads out to the right toward Robinson Road. I saw the small bridge and then proceeded to the next small creek. I was told the trees are somewhere along one of those two creeks, but not sure if they are north or south or which creek (the first or the second). Can you point me in the right direction?

    Naturalist's Response

    Oops, you just missed the pawpaw grove. Just as you did: park in the campground lot, head into the tent camping area, turn right at the fire circle, walk past the grey water disposal and down the PawPaw Trail into the ravine.  Standing on that first bridge, turn to your left and there they are.  They are small trees, sapling size. You can discern them by their distinct buds.  See photo.

    The leaf bud is at the end of the twig, the dark round bud is the flower bud.

    -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Why is this possum awake?

    Question

    I was surprised to see an opossum during the day because I know that they are nocturnal. Why might this animal be awake at this time? -William, age 11

    Naturalist's Response

    Hi, William:

    Wow, those are some great opossum photos! Thanks for sharing them!

    You’re absolutely right that opossums are usually nocturnal. However, in the winter, it can become so difficult for them to find enough food that they change their habits and stay active during the daytime.

    (Here are The West Woods Nature Center, we frequently see an opossum coming to our bird feeder on winter days. There’s no better cold-weather snack than bird-scattered sunflower seeds!)

    If you’re lucky enough to see your opossum again this spring, try using binoculars to take a closer look at its ears and tail. These bits of exposed skin can easily be injured by frostbite, and can serve as a good clue about how rough the winter has been for your opossum. (March and April are also the most common months for spotting opossum babies, so keep an eye out!)

    If you’d like to read more about my favorite fifty-toothed forest-floor friend, you could try the book There’s An Opossum In My Backyard by Gary Bogue, or any of the many other great books about nocturnal animals.

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • What kind of spider?

    Question

    Found this lil guy in our bathroom, and he looks so happy to be there! This pic is zoomed in; he could fit on a pencil eraser.

    Naturalist's Response

    I’ve had a chance to look at the picture you sent and have identified your spider! Although the image was a little blurry due to the small size of the spider, the distinct markings on the legs and abdomen (lower body part), have me thinking it is a Spitting Spider, genus Scytodes. These are pretty cool critters named for their hunting method of spitting on their prey with a gluey silk that immobilizes the prey.

    Although they do have venom (as do most species of spiders), they do not have enough to consider them medically significant to harm humans. As you noticed, it is choosing to spend the cold days in a warm building, which would be the only way it could survive the winter, so you are being a gracious host by letting it “hang” around!

    Thank you so much for your inquiry. Many people don’t bother knowing what spiders are in and around their home and aren’t aware of the benefits of keeping them there. If you are curious about the spiders in our area and around Ohio, I would highly recommend looking into the Common Spiders of Ohio field guide that is published by the Ohio Division of Wildlife as a hard copy or PDF. You can find out more at this link. -Naturalist Nora Sindelar

  • Where I can collect mushrooms?

    Question

    Hello. I'm new to the area and live in Auburn Twp. I'm interested in learning more about the morel mushroom season in this area. What is the best month to hunt, what parks/areas might be best to hunt, should I go further south, etc. Any information will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Naturalist's Response

    You might like to visit the Ohio Mushroom Society website. Collecting is not permitted in Geauga Park District, but is permitted in some Ohio state parks. Also see this ODNR page for more information. -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Missing the nuthatches

    Question

    I have been feeding the birds for years. This is the first year I haven't seen a single nuthatch. Any ideas why?

    Naturalist's Response

    White-breasted Nuthatches are common and widespread in Geauga County. Bird numbers per species can have short-term fluctuations from year to year due to availability of other foods (abundance of winter insect foods in the form of eggs and pupae among branches and bark crevices) as well as competing feeders in your neighborhood. Some winters see more Red-breasted Nuthatches in the region than others. -Naturalist Dan Best

    This is not the first public inquiry as to what has happened to all the White-breasted Nuthatches this winter! I, too, have noticed the decline of this species, along with lower numbers of Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, while conducting my Project Feederwatch surveys at Swine Creek Reservation and The West Woods. According to Naturalist Dan Best, ‘White-breasted Nuthatches are common and widespread in Geauga County. Bird numbers per species can have short-term fluctuations from year to year due to availability of other foods (abundance of winter insect foods in the form of eggs and pupae among branches and bark crevices) as well as competing feeders in your neighborhood.’ However, since reports of low numbers are coming in from multiple locations throughout the county, this is definitely something we will have to keep an eye on as the year progresses! -Field Naturalist Tami Gingrich

  • What caused our “creature kill”?

    Question

    We have a very small pond with a water feature. For several years, the fish and frogs "rested" at the bottom until winter was over, even when the pond was frozen at the top. This year, when it turned 65 degrees after our big cold spell, I was horrified to see that all the wildlife in my pond was dead. We didn't do anything different than any other year. What could have killed them?

    Naturalist's Response

    A big warm-up such as we recently experienced can bring amphibians and invertebrates out of dormancy only to be killed by a drastic drop in temperature as winter reasserts itself with a vengeance. Winter fish kills are often associated with oxygen depletion that can be exacerbated by drastic temperature changes. Click here for more information on this unfortunate phenomenon. -Naturalist Dan Best