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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  • What to do with a small turtle in my driveway?

    Question

    Hi - I found a small turtle (painted I believe) in the middle of my driveway. No larger than a half dollar. No idea where he would have come from or where he might have been going. Just glad I didn't t smash him with my car. I have him in the garage in a tub and he seems to be doing fine. I bought some turtle pellets from the pet store but he seems to prefer flies that I swap and put in his tub. I have a small fish pond (apx 10 x 10 x 2'). Would he thrive in that environment or could he be kept in the tub?

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for saving the little one from getting run over.

    Turtles lay their eggs from late spring into summer. The eggs and newly hatched turtles will remain in the ground until the following year, which is really amazing considering that they will stay buried all that time and still be OK.

    Despite its size, your turtle is very capable of fending for itself and should be released right away. These turtles thrive in ponds, so by all means place it near the pond you mentioned. It will be a much more natural life for it.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Name this snake!

    Question

    I saw a very long, thick black snake in the middle of the Bridle Trail in The West Woods on June 10 around 5 PM. From research, could it be a Black Rat Snake or Eastern Racer? Just curious, including most importantly to confirm it's not venomous. Thanks!

    Naturalist's Response

  • What’s growing in our backyard?

    Question

    Over-four-foot-tall plant in our backyard. Weed or flower?

    Naturalist's Response

    You have a yucca on your hands.

    With their long, thick, pointy leaves, they kind of look like a dessert plant, don’t they? I personally think they look pretty out-of-place here in Ohio. But they are still frequently for landscaping due to their tall, stately flower stalks.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Name this “pea-sized tree pumpkin”!

    Question

    Found these on a hike this afternoon, if I had to guess I'd call this pea-sized tree pumpkin!? A number of these were falling from the canopy!

    Naturalist's Response

    Wow, that’s a great photo!

    Our number-one suspect is an pokeberry. Here’s a terrific photo from the Ohio State University Weed Guide website.  They look like little green pumpkins about this time of year, though some have already started ripening into their trademark dark-purple color.

    (A great way to identify pokeberry fruit with 100% certainty is to make sure that it has exactly 10 sections; I’m afraid I can’t count the sections on the berry in your photo.)

    The only oddity would be that pokeberries falling from the tree canopy, since they only grow to about the height of an adult human.

    Our number-two suspect is an unripe buckthorn fruit.  They’re about the same size as pokeberries, but buckthorn trees grow much higher than pokeberry plants.  Maybe they’re the ones dropping on you from the canopy. Here’s a photo from a buckthorn-removal hobbyist.

    Buckthorn trees/shrubs are a fast-spreading nuisance that we try to control in our parks; however, there are still plenty of buckthorn saplings along some of our trails.

    Thanks for sharing your finding. I hope this helps to figure out what you saw!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • Fungus ID?

    Question

    I found this fungus on the base of one of my trees in my yard. I believe it to be brittle cinder fungus which, according to my research so far, is pretty serious. I want to get rid of it but I have found nothing to tell me what the best course of action would be. While losing one tree is bad enough, I'd prefer to prevent the spread of this fungus to the rest of our trees. Ideas? Thoughts? Thank you.

    Naturalist's Response

    I would recommend that you contact the Master Gardeners of Geauga County at 440-834-4656 or email at http://mastergardener.osu.edu/ask.

    The Master Gardeners are still taking calls, but you may have to wait a few days to get an answer.

    I have also forwarded this to one of our staff that is interested in fungus.

    Thanks for your inquiry.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

     

  • What kind of snake did I see?

    Question

    I recently saw a black snake with white rings, about 4ish feet long, in a lower tree in my back yard in Bainbridge. I didn't have my phone so I didn't get a picture. Not sure exactly what it is, king snake? Thanks

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for posting your observation!

    Our #1 suspect is Pantherophis spiloides, the snake that books call a “gray ratsnake,” and that most Ohioans call a “black ratsnake.”

    They’re the dark-colored, tree-dwelling snakes that are typically the size of a garden hose, and up to six feet long.  Ratsnakes are non-venomous constrictors that hunt in the trees, seeking out rodents, birds, eggs, frogs, and just about anything that they can swallow.

    When they’re young, they can have a variety of markings ranging from white to gray to black.  Here’s a terrific set of photos from Marshall University comparing the appearance of the multi-colored juveniles to a solid-black adult.

    Based on your size estimate (about four feet long) and description of the color, I’d guess that you’re sharing your backyard with a juvenile ratsnake.

    See if it will “hang around” for a photo!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • What kind of snake is this?

    Question

    Recently moved to Chardon and have seen two sankes in yard. One is a black snakes ( assuming non poisonous ?) and the other I'm not sure of. I've attached a couples of pictures. Please advise if this is Poisonous. Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    Wow, those are great photos!

    The snake in your photo is a garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis.  They’re found throughout the county, and can range from the size of a pencil to the size of a belt.

    They can also show an amazing variety of colors, but all have the three distinctive, garter-like stripes that give them their name.

    Garter snakes patrol yards and forests, looking to ambush any small, snack-sized creatures.  Like all the snakes currently found in Geauga County, they’re non-venomous.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • Why aren’t the eggs hatching on your live bird box cam?

    Question

    The question is about the nesting boxes. The one at Big Creek. The eggs have been there a few weeks now. Shouldn't they have hatched by now? What are the types of birds in each box? Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    This must be the same pair of birds that attempted to nest in that box last year. Apparently one of them is infertile. The eggs did not hatch last year either.

    -Naturalist Tami Gingrich

  • What are these giant trees at Headwaters?

    Question

    I never saw trees in Ohio with such a large diameter of a tree trunk in as I saw at Headwaters Park recently. Could you please tell me what they may be?

    Naturalist's Response

    That is an American Beech tree. They do get very large!

    Check out the Facebook page Big Trees Ohio to see many, many big trees in our state.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • What is this bald red bird?

    Question

    This bald red bird came to my feeder this afternoon. Can you identify this one?

    Naturalist's Response

    After cardinals nest and raise their young, they undergo molting when they shed their feathers and grow new ones. Usually they lose just part of their feathers at any one time, but sometimes all the feathers on their head will molt at the same time, making the bird look sick.

    Although it is unusual, it is still considered normal and the bird will soon grow new feathers.

    Thanks for your inquiry!

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe