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’s coming out of the water at Claridon Woodlands?

    Question

    We were wondering what this is. It is in the pond at Claridon Woodlands.

    Naturalist's Response

    You’re seeing the roots from an aquatic plant called spatterdock. Interesting fact is that beavers will munch on them!

    -Naturalist John Kolar

  • I saw a turtle laying eggs in the fall. Will they hatch this spring?

    Question

    I witnessed a painted turtle laying eggs in my front yard last autumn, and then she buried them. Using crates that have holes on the sides for baby turtles to be able to crawl through, I have them covered with weights, to protect the area from other wildlife critters who might want to dig up the eggs to eat them. They are still there; they've never hatched. Is it possible they will still hatch this spring? How do I know if they have been fertilized? I still have them protected, so when they do they could crawl out; however in the meantime other critters cannot get in. Thank you!

    Naturalist's Response

    I’m so excited for you to have seen the turtle laying its eggs, to hear you did not disturb the nest, and to know you did your part to protect it. The eggs you saw being laid likely hatched in the fall. You haven’t seen the tiny turtles yet this spring because they are still in the nest! Painted Turtle hatchlings are able to freeze entirely solid in winter and thaw again in the spring thanks to some special adaptations. Hopefully the eggs in your yard were viable and the tiny turtles will emerge this spring on a warm day.

    Isn’t Nature amazing?

    -Naturalist Karie Wheaton

  • September? March? When do painted turtles hatch?

    Question

    We found two baby painted turtles in our yard yesterday, April 8. We thought they hatched in September. When do they normally hatch?

    Naturalist's Response

    This is such a great question! Baby painted turtles are one of those incredible creatures that have an adaptation that seems more like science fiction than reality. You are correct: baby painted turtles do hatch in September! Some will emerge from their nests and head straight for the water, but those that hatch later in the season stay safe in their nest through the winter. These incredible  turtles are actually capable of freezing solid and thawing the following spring! They do this by flooding their cells with an antifreeze, and the space around their cells with a substance that encourages water outside of their cells to freeze uniformly. This ensures ice crystals don’t destroy the cells in their tiny bodies. Wood frogs, spring peepers and gray tree frogs are also capable of this amazing feat!

    -Naturalist Karie Wheaton

  • Is this a crow?

    Question

    Is this a crow? Not normal crow behavior: it's building a nest in a tree cavity and I don't see other crows around helping. It seems smaller - about the size of a blue jay. Could there already be a chick in the nest?

    Naturalist's Response

    Yes, this is an American Crow. There are many “black” birds, but they will usually have different-colored eyes, beak or legs. The distinguishing characteristics of the American Crow are its all-black feathers, legs, beak and eyes, and they are the only birds in our area that are all black.

    Crows nest in trees usually near the trunk, so the location you indicated would be a place they would likely nest. You might also like to check out this page about the American Crow by All About Birds, one of our best online resources for bird identification.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • What’s growing in my milkweed garden?

    Question

    This flower just popped up in my milkweed garden. What is it?

    Naturalist's Response

    Sorry for the delay in this reply, however, in case you experience this growth again this year, we figured it would be better for us to answer later than never!

    The plant in your photo from last summer looks like a hairy willow-herb, which, according to our retired naturalist Judy Bradt-Barnhart, “is an aggressive weed that can take over a garden like it did at Big Creek Park’s Meyer Center a few years ago. The seed pods are explosive, too, so it can spread quickly throughout an area.”

    – Naturalist Dottie Drockton

    The Midwest Invasive Plant Network categorizes hairy willow-herb as an invasive plant. I could try to define this, but I don’t think I can beat the one they give: “Invasive plants…encroach upon and severely threaten natural plant communities. They spread aggressively, crowd out native plants and create monocultures that threaten the habitats of native wildlife.”

    Should you see this weed again, you may want to click here for a great resource from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that talks about controls to remove this from your yard including physical, chemical and preventative measures.

    Thank you for your question!

    – Naturalist Karie Wheaton

  • Snake ID, please?

    Question

    Hello! I need some help with a snake identification. This weekend, me and my buddies were walking in the Swine Creek Reservation. We were walking down Bear Creek towards Swine Creek, when all of the sudden we found this snake right in front of us! We had no idea it was there until we were a foot away from it - it looked like a stick and it never moved despite how close we were to it.
    My friends and I have been looking online to identify what type of species of snake this is. My hunch is that it is a Ratsnake, but my friends think it's a Massasauga? Any ideas on what this nice-looking snake is? Also, do you think that this snake is pregnant, or just resting from a large meal? We noticed that several lumps that the snake is showing. Thank you!

    Naturalist's Response

    From the photos you so helpfully provided, it most definitely looks like a Gray Ratsnake. It also looks rather large to me, whereas Massasauga Rattlesnakes are two feet long at most. One of the Gray Ratsnake’s primary defenses is to remain still and blend into its surrounding. Maybe even look like a stick, right? Although I can’t be sure if she may be pregnant or “gravid” (some new terminology you can throw around to impress your friends). Ratsnakes are breeding around April, May and June, so it is possible. Since snakes can’t chew their food and have to swallow it whole, several lumps would indicate several meals at one time.

    However, my thought on the lumps you saw are these snakes happen to be great climbers and need to flex and contort their bodies to get a better grip. I think you happened upon the snake mid-climb and it froze in a tensed-up position as seen in your photo.  I hope this information helps.

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

    Thanks for your questions!

    – Naturalist Trevor Wearstler

  • Does Geauga County have Massasauga rattlesnakes?

    Question

    Curious to know if there are any known populations of Massasauga Rattlesnakes in Geauga County?

    Naturalist's Response

    That is a great question. Massasauga Rattlesnakes are listed as an endangered species in Ohio. They have been recorded in 30 counties but only recently been reported in eight counties. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Geauga County is not one of them. However, nearby Ashtabula and Trumbull counties have small pocket populations.

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

    Thanks for asking!

    – Naturalist Trevor Wearstler

  • A fawn born out of season?

    Question

    This doe and fawn appeared at our feeding station at the end of January. I've read a bit about fawns born out of season, this is a first for us. Since there are still spots, I am estimating perhaps 4 months of age? The fawn is eager to eat and has a great winter coat. I have read the track record for out of season fawns is not good. I am hopeful for this little one!

    Naturalist's Response

    Thank you for sharing your photos with us! Typically fawns are born May through July and lose their spots in three to four months. I think this little guy or gal is lucky we had a mild winter! I can’t imagine that a winter with deep snow pack, or a polar vortex, would have served this fawn well.

    You’ll have to let us know if you are continuing to see the little (or not-so-little) one!

    -Naturalist Karie Wheaton

  • How do you become a naturalist, and what is your job like?

    Question

    What are the educational requirements to become a naturalist? What is a typical work day like for a Geauga Park naturalist? Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    Apologies for the delay in responding to your question regarding naturalist requirements and job responsibilities.  Below is some information I hope can still you find useful.
    Education and experience requirements for a full-time naturalist position at Geauga Park District include a minimum two-year degree from an accredited college or university in an appropriate scientific field such as natural history interpretation, astronomy, ecology, biology, environmental studies, cultural history or other related natural or physical sciences, as well as two years’ experience as a naturalist or in a similar position. (Part-time and seasonal position requirements may vary from this but typically do require some biology or natural resources education or experience.)
    Naturalists are responsible for having knowledge of many natural history topics and developing creative programs and displays to educate about them. A naturalist’s main responsibility is education or programming for the public. This includes leading hikes and classes for all ages. Programming is done in parks, in schools, nursing homes, senior centers and more. Also, to be a naturalist, you should probably be a good communicator and teacher, scientist, writer and exhibit designer.
    I always suggest to people who may be interested in this field: volunteer for a park district or other Nature organization. That is the best way to see first-hand what goes on in a naturalist’s day!  Thank you for your interest!
    -Naturalist Nora Sindelar
  • Are there any fishers around this area?

    Question

    Are there any fishers around this area?

    Naturalist's Response

    Sorry for the delay in response to your question! I hope you are still curious…

    This gives me an excellent opportunity to share with you a wonderful resource on Ohio animals  It is the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s website. They have excellent information provided through articles, wildlife updates and more.  My favorite item they share is their downloadable field guides. These are wonderful resources for a variety of topics including: mammals, spiders, birds, butterlies, fish…the list goes on. I encourage you to check it out.

    Click here for that website and an informative article that was written about fishers in Ohio which answers your question perfectly. Thank you for contacting Geauga Park District with your inquiry.

    -Naturalist Nora Sindelar