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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  • Are there mountain lions in Ohio?

    Question

    Are there any sightings of large cats (puma) in Geauga County? We think we saw one a few days ago.

    Naturalist's Response

    Our knowledge of mountain lions in Geauga County is that they were extirpated from the State of Ohio in the 19th century, and there have been no confirmed sightings of them since. If you think you have an unusual sighting to report, please contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife; a sighting may be confirmed with a quality photo or a verified sighting by a wildlife officer.

    – Chief Naturalist John Kolar

  • Can I fish for brook trout?

    Question

    In the Westwood’s, are you allowed to fish for Brook Trout within the little creeks. Also if allowed, what locations on the trails are you allowed to fish at. Only to catch and release of course.

    Naturalist's Response

    Native Ohio Brook Trout are a protected fish in Ohio and are listed as a “Threatened Species.”  This means that possession of brook trout in the Chagrin River (and its tributaries, some of which are in The West Woods, etc.) and the Rocky River (and its tributaries) is strictly prohibited.  If you would like to fish for a different trout, Rainbow Trout, Geauga Park District offers anglers a chance to catch this species at Beartown Lakes Reservation; we stock them in the late fall.

    Thank you for your interest in the parks!

    – Park Biologist Paul Pira

  • How can I create habitat for pollinators?

    Question

    I very much want to plant trees and plants that sole purpose it to support wildlife, especially pollinators. Can you point me in a good direction for a list of plants that are good for this area?

    Naturalist's Response

    Excellent question!

    Check out these websites, which I’m sure will lead you to many more for great information on wildlife conservation:

    Ohio Division of Wildlife on attracting wildlife

    Native Landscaping for Birds, Bees & Wildlife (from the OSU extension office)

    Pollinator Plants for the Great Lakes (from the Xerces Society which promotes pollinator conservation)

    The National Wildlife Federation on creating habitat

    Thanks so much for your interest in helping wildlife!

    – Naturalist Denise Wolfe

     

  • Could we have seen a River Otter?

    Question

    Hello, we hiked Swine Creek Reservation yesterday. We were sitting very quietly along the creek bank when we saw something move... when it moved away from the rocks, it ran up the hill (other side of the creek) . It really looked like a river otter since we have seen them in zoos before. However, I'm wondering if they are present in Swine Creek or if there is another animal that looks like a river otter? It was twice the size of a squirrel. We saw it alone. Also, wondering if otters would be by a creek. Thank you!

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for sharing your sighting!

    There are river otters here in Geauga County; they’ve been spotted on waterways in each of the county’s three main watersheds (the Chagrin River, the Cuyahoga River, and the Grand River). It’s possible your mystery animal was a river otter.

    The other main suspect would be a mink; they’re about the size that you describe (roughly twice the size of the typical squirrel), and also love our waterways.

    Keep an eye out for footprints. They can be a handy way to distinguish minks from river otters.  (The Ohio Division Of Wildlife has a handy guide for distinguishing mink tracks from otter tracks.)

    Best of luck with your search!

    – Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • On keeping sparrows out of a bluebird box

    Question

    I have a bluebird house that the house sparrows took the bluebird eggs out of the nest. I just saw a YouTube video that if you put a skylight in the roof of the bluebird house with using plastic to cover the hole up the house sparrows will not bother/use the house. Does this work?

    Naturalist's Response

    I have not heard this before. I believe that the bluebirds will also not use the box. The best thing to do is clean out the box. Watch the box closely, and if the house sparrows build a nest, clean it out and keep cleaning out the box.

    If this keeps happening, you may also want to move the box farther away from buildings. House sparrows are very persistent, but they will eventually give up if you keep removing their nest.

    You can click here for the best source for Eastern Bluebird information. Good luck!

    – Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Will our bluebird eggs still hatch?

    Question

    My bluebird eggs are taking longer to hatch, is this because of the cold weather? Will they be ok?

    Naturalist's Response

    Yes, sometimes eggs will take longer to hatch if the weather turns colder. Fourteen days is the normal incubation time, but I’ve had eggs hatch after 18 days and maybe longer, though I don’t know exactly how much longer. Sometimes, however, bluebirds will abandon their eggs. A couple potential reasons for this: death of one of the adults, or severe cold that forces them to forage for longer periods of time. I would continue to wait for the eggs to hatch. If possible, watch the nest box and surrounding area for signs of the adult birds. Hopefully you will see activity.

    – Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Snake ID, please?

    Question

    Found this guy in our back yard near the woods. He's about 2 to 2.5 feet in length. Constrictor I think. What kind of snake is s/he?

    Naturalist's Response

    You are correct, that is a constrictor. If you happen to have any water sources nearby, this type of snake might be a frequent visitor to your backyard. It is a Northern Water Snake, commonly found throughout Geauga County, especially on a sunny day near the water.

    Thanks for the questions.

    – Naturalist Trevor Wearstler

    NATURE NOTE: Ohio is home to three different venomous snakes: the Timber and Massasauga rattlesnakes, both state endangered, and the Copperhead. None of these three have ever been reported in Geauga County.

  • Snake ID, please?

    Question

    I saw a dark black snake with brown chevron markings on it and a triangular shaped head; it was about 2 feet long and an inch in diameter. It was found in Munson Township. Can you tell me what snake this is?

    Naturalist's Response

    The description you provided seems to describe one of our most common and widespread snakes. But before you get overly concerned about that triangle-shaped head, you should know that Geauga County has never had a report of any of the three venomous snakes in Ohio: the Timber Rattlesnake, the Massasauga Rattlesnake, and the Copperhead.  So, to answer your question, you saw a Northern Water Snake in a defense posture. When threatened, they will flatten out their bodies to look bigger. This also changes the shape of their head; therefore, they are commonly mistaken for Water Moccasins or Cottonmouths, neither of which live in Ohio. I have attached two examples of Northern Water Snake in this defensive posture for you to compare to what you saw.

    Thanks for the question.

    – Naturalist Trevor Wearstler

  • Snake ID, please?

    Question

    Saw this snake at the Rookery on Sunday. He was about 3 feet long and headed toward the water on the Interurban Trail. What kind of snake is this? Thank you!

    Naturalist's Response

    That is one of our most common and widespread snakes in Geauga County. The Rookery is a great place to see them, as they love to bask in the sun near water. That is a Northern Water Snake in your photo. Unfortunately, they are commonly mistaken for water moccasins or cottonmouths, neither of which live in Ohio. Northern Water Snakes are rather shy and will retreat to the water for safety if you get too close. Fairly harmless, unless you pick one up. Then they will aggressively defend themselves and bite.

    Thanks for the question.

    NATURE NOTE: Ohio is home to three different venomous snakes: the Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga Rattlesnake and Copperhead, none of which have been reported in Geauga County.

    – Naturalist Trevor Wearstler

  • What are these on trees?

    Question

    What are these on trees?

    Naturalist's Response

    You have found a burl! Burls are produced after a tree undergoes some form of stress from a fungus, an insect, or the environment. These irregular structures are produced by an abnormal growth of the xylem in a tree. Xylem cells provide structure for plants and transport water and nutrients up from the root to stems and leaves. The abnormal growth of burls make these strange structures prized by woodworkers because of their beautiful, irregular wood grain pattern. There is no way to manage these growths, and removing them will cause more harm then help. Keep your eyes out for more interesting burls in the parks – there are many!

    – Naturalist Karie Wheaton