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

Step 1 of 2 - Sighting Details

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    • What’s leaving scat near our house?


      Hi! We have a problem with a nighttime visitor who is leaving scat within a few inches of our house. The larger pile is in the front of our home, in a cubby where the garage meets the house (90 degree angle), and is recurring. The other place is in the window well of our basement glass block window, where one pile was left several days ago. The scat ranges from about 1/2" in diameter to 1" (at least). It looks like a child or adult could have left it! I've attached photos.
      . The larger "garage" pile was built up a bit, so the measuring tape is not accurately reflecting size (I had to hold it about 3" off the pile, closer to me). Please help with any ideas on how to deter this visitor from claiming our home as his own. I have not seen raccoons in the area (but my next door neighbor has). We do have coyote sightings. Could it be one of these? I'm at 100 Waverly Lane in South Russell. Thank you!

      Naturalist's Response

      The culprit leaving the mystery scat behind is most definitely a raccoon. They frequently leave their scat behind in the same place, thus the piles you are seeing. If this were coyote, it would most likely have fur in it and it would be pointy on one end. If you want to deter this visitor from claiming your home as his own, I would remove all available food sources such as bird seed, pet food bowls, outdoor garbage cans, etc. If you remove any potential food source, the raccoon will likely not stick around.

      Best of luck!

      -Chief Naturalist John Kolar




    • What’s growing on my trees?


      I have some trees on my property that have what looks like green moss on them. My wife and I are concerned that we may have some type of disease occurring. Is it possible to get someone out to our home to check them?

      I reached out to a local tree company but they don't perform this type of service and recommended I reach out to the park district for help.

      Naturalist's Response

      Most of what is on your trees are lichens. These are naturally occurring organisms that are a combination of an algae and a fungus living together. Rather than a problem, they are actually completely harmless and are indicators of good environmental conditions.

      Click here for a link to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ lichen guide. This will give you lots of information about these amazing organisms.

      Some moss is also on your trees, which again is harmless.

      Let us know if you have any other questions. Thanks for asking!

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • How to protect snapper eggs?


      We found a momma snapping turtle laying her eggs on our property what should we do to protect them until they hatch?

      Naturalist's Response

      How awesome! I myself have seen females laying eggs every spring, but it never gets old. What a spectacular Nature sighting!

      Thank you for wanting to do what you can to help the success of the hatchlings. I would definitely advise you to use a wire-type mesh to cover the top of the soil of the area where the eggs were laid. Secure it with large either rocks or deep stakes to prevent predators like raccoons from digging up the nest and having an egg meal. The sooner you do this the better, as the scent from the mother is still on the nest area. Then you can remove the mesh probably in a month or two. Hatching generally takes about 80-90 days, but can vary depending on temperature and environmental conditions. The hatchlings usually emerge in August through October.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

      -Naturalist Nora Sindelar

    • Raccoon family in our garage


      It appears we have baby raccoon(s) living in our garage in Geauga County. Do you know who we can call to safely remove them?

      Naturalist's Response

      My first call would be to the Ohio Division of Wildlife at 330-644-2293. You can ask them to suggest a solution.

      If you want, I have a list of some wildlife removal businesses that I found from our receptionist info book. I don’t have any knowledge of these businesses, though, so that’s why I suggest you contact the Division of Wildlife first.

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • Snake ID?


      What kind of snake is this? Unfortunately it was hit, but it had an orange belly. Saw on Riverdale Road in Ashtabula County. Was curious of the kind, never saw one like this before. Thank you!

      Naturalist's Response

      This is an Eastern Garter Snake. Often people think of garter snakes having three stripes running down their body, however these snakes may have three bold stripes, or the stripes may be nearly absent (as this snake is demonstrating). These stripes may be yellow, orange, gray, tan, bluish, or greenish. The body color ranges from olive brown to black, and may have a checkerboard pattern (as seen on the front part of this snake) or be solid colored.

      In short, the Eastern Garter Snake is not only our most common snake, but also our most variable snake – which equates to it being our most misidentified snake!

      -Naturalist Andy Avram

    • Owl ID?


      Sharing a few photos of wildlife in West Woods that my husband and I spotted on our run last night. This owlet was right by the trail and its parents were nearby higher up in the trees keeping a watchful eye. We didn't stay long but I did manage to get a few photos. Any chance you can tell what kind of owl this is?

      Naturalist's Response

      Thanks for the great photos!

      You were lucky enough to spot a pair of Barred Owls.

      In general, Barred Owls are a little more active in the day than other owls.

      They have a distinct call of, “Who, who, who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • A color-changing squirrel conundrum


      We have a squirrel living in our backyard that is turning from brown fur to gray/white fur. This has been happening for about a month. Started on the head. Is this normal, or does the squirrel have some kind of disease?

      Naturalist's Response

      Eastern Gray Squirrel

      An Eastern Gray Squirrel (ODNR)

      For our two common backyard squirrels (the gray squirrel and the fox squirrel), it’s normal for growing squirrels to undergo a “spring molt.”

      For gray squirrels, this typically involves slight change in color and follows a distinct head-to-tail pattern.  (It’s described quite well on the Wild Adirondacks website.)

      Since you mentioned that your squirrel is growing in to gray/white fur, our best guess is that it’s a juvenile gray squirrel growing into its adult colors.

      Another possibility is that you’ve spotted a squirrel with the inherited piebald color pattern. (You can find some great photos of piebald-colored fox squirrels in Texas here.)

      Diseases like mange, scabies, and fungal skin infections typically result in patches of hair loss rather than color changes.

      Keep an eye on your local squirrel, and feel free to send us a photo if you can!

      (Of course, if you really want to get into the details of the coloration of gray squirrels, you can always join in the Squirrel Mapper citizen science project. It’s actually a lot of fun!)

      Thanks for your question!

      -Naturalists Chris Mentrek & Denise Wolfe

    • Where to view Virginia bluebells?


      Do any of these parks have Virginia Bluebells coming into bloom soon. We only have one area in Leroy Twp in Lake County that I know of and would like to see some other growth areas.

      Naturalist's Response

      Definitely try the Beechwoods Trail at Big Creek Park! They should be blooming anytime now; it’s just dependent on the weather.


      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • “A problem with woodpeckers”


      We have a problem with woodpeckers. A big one. They are making holes around our front door. How do we stop this and prevent it from reoccurring?

      Naturalist's Response

    • Blossoming skunk cabbage?


      We encountered these skunk cabbage poking through the gravel trail at Lucia Nash. To our surprise, we noticed the blossoms within. What function do they serve, if any? Propagation? Anything else?
      I've normally enjoyed skunk cabbage from a distance, usually tightly wound or unfurled. This was the first time I could look inside and see a blossom.

      Naturalist's Response

      Aren’t skunk cabbages awesome?!

      (I’ll confess, they’re my favorite wildflowers.)

      The “surprise inside” of skunk cabbages is the plant’s flower itself.  It’s one of the earliest-blooming wildflowers in our area, and its trademark stinky odor is intended to attract carrion-feeding flies and gnats to help pollinate the plants.

      By late summer, this fruiting body part of the skunk cabbage will drop a crop of seeds, which are then dispersed by water and wildlife.

      If you want to read more, the University of Wisconsin’s extension has an article with some terrific photos.

      Thanks for sharing your photos, too!

      -Naturalist Chris Mentrek