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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  • Could the last Bald-faced Hornet in my nest be the queen?

    Question

    Question about bald-faced hornets...I took a nest down yesterday (12/30/19). After I removed it, it split in half. There was one hornet that was alive. It was a real surprise because we've had a few hard frosts. Do you suppose this was the queen? Just curious. Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    That sounds like a hardy hornet!

    It’s most common for Bald-faced Hornet queens to leave their nests in the autumn to set up new territory. However, it’s not impossible that a queen would hibernate inside “last summer’s” nest.

    Those nests are terrific insulators! Every time I see wasps constructing their nests, it makes me think of humans insulating their houses with blow-in cellulose insulation, combined with a little of that expanding-foam insulation.

    Your leftover hornet might be a queen, or a worker who managed to tough out this year’s mild winter inside the cozy nest.

    It can be tricky to distinguish queens from workers, since they both look very similar.  Queen Bald-faced Hornets are usually about one and a half times the size of the workers (which isn’t very helpful if you’ve only got one hornet).  If your survivor is more than 3/4″ long, then it might be a queen.

    Thanks for sharing your find with us!

    If you want to read more about Bald-faced Hornets, I recommend the field guide “Common Bees And Wasps Of Ohio” by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.  There’s also this great webpage devoted to Bald-faced Hornets that was produced by Penn State University’s Virtual Nature Trail.

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • What could come from this cocoon?

    Question

    Saw this cocoon in my neighbor’s yard, was wondering if anyone knew what was likely to come out?

    Naturalist's Response

    Wow, nice photo!

    That looks like a cocoon from a Polyphemus Moth, waiting for spring.

    You can read more about them at this excellent website from the University Of Florida’s Donal Hall, or check out the handy field guide “Moths Of Ohio” from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

    (Be sure to put the cocoon someplace where you can watch it for the emergence of the moth!)

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • I found a baby turtle…now what?

    Question

    I found a baby turtle, approx. 1-1/2 inches, orange underside on my driveway 3/19/20. Where should I put it? In the woods or the ditch down by the road?

    Naturalist's Response

    Aww, that sounds adorable!

    Baby turtles of the size that you describe (about two inches wide or less) are usually newly hatched and on their way to water.

    It’s generally best to help them along their way downhill to the nearest body of water.  (They sometimes need a hand avoiding human-made obstacles like curbs.)

    Enjoy the signs of spring!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • Where to see Bald Eagles in early February?

    Question

    Where and when are the best opportunities to see bald eagles in the park system?

    Naturalist's Response

    Bald eagles can been seen at this time of year near bodies of water such as LaDue Reservoir, East Branch Reservoir and smaller lakes around the county. They frequently can be seen walking on the ice.

    These would be your best choices for looking for eagles.

    Good luck!

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • What is ideal local bat habitat?

    Question

    What is an ideal habitat for bats in Northeast Ohio?

    Naturalist's Response

    There are roughly around a dozen species of bats that can be found in Ohio, and different species have different habitat requirements. Bats that live gregariously prefer caves, attics, barns or artificial structures (i.e. bat boxes) that can be provided. Solitary bats may roost in branches, under bark, etc. If you would like information on a specific species, let us know!

    -Naturalist Tami Gingrich

  • What might have bent my bird feeder pole?

    Question

    What is your best guess on what is doing this to black oil feeder? Notice suet does not seem to be touched. Pole is bent at the ground. Have never seen this pole bent this much by a raccoon. It is not a cheap thin pole like some. I live on Aquilla Road in Chardon, not far from Aquilla Lake but not in Aquilla Village.

    Naturalist's Response

    This is most likely not from a bear. Bears would have consumed the tasty suet immediately and would have splintered the bird feeder. This is the work of a raccoon, and possibly more than one, which would account for the bent pole. Raccoons can easily weigh more than 20 pounds and can do significant damage to feeding stations if they are hungry enough, especially right now, when they are starting to feed youngsters!

    -Naturalist Tami Gingrich

  • Where can I view River Otters?

    Question

    Where are the best places to look for a chance to see River Otters? When is the best time of day?

    Naturalist's Response

    River Otters have made a tremendous comeback in the state of Ohio, and I happy to say that they can be found in Geauga County in several of our parks! I have personally seen River Otters, or at least signs of them, in the following Geauga Park District parks: Eldon Russell Park, Bass Lake Preserve, The West Woods, The Rookery, Burton Wetlands Nature Preserve and Headwaters Park.

    River Otters are most active at dawn and dusk. Best viewing locations are Eldon Russell Park, from the boat launch and along the River Trail, and Bass Lake Preserve (best viewed via boat, but if you’re lucky, you may view them from the boat launch area).

    Winter is a great time to view otters, too, especially when there is a bit of ice on the river and lake. Again, dawn and dusk are the best times to view. Be patient, quiet, sit still and keep your eyes wide open for them! Good luck!

    -Chief Naturalist John Kolar

     

  • 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