Education home home

Ask a Naturalist

For Kids

For Teachers



Ever wondered what kind of footprint that was? What was growing in your backyard that made you itch? Or whether it's true that daddy long legs are venomous?

Look no farther than your local naturalists, the people at your Park District whose job it is to help you understand the natural world around you.

Submit your question about nature in Northeast Ohio to and you'll hear back ASAP with a naturalist's response. Please include in your email: photo (if available), description of sighting (including size), location of sighting (somewhere in Northeast Ohio only, please).

Your Knowledgeable Naturalist Team

Chief Naturalist John Kolar • Judy Bradt-Barnhart • Dan Best • Dottie Drockton • Linda Gilbert

Tami Gingrich • Chris Mentrek • Nora Sindelar • Karie Wheaton • Denise Wolfe

We'll even listen to your recordings of backyard Nature sounds! For example:
Bald Eagle | Chipmunk | Field Cricket | Wood Frog | Spring Peeper | Eastern Screech Owl
Katydid | Eastern White-tailed Deer | Great Horned Owl | Black-capped Chickadee | Virginia Rail




Q: Could you please identify what is the cause of these diggings in my yard? They are numerous, and I am finding more each day. Thank you in advance for your help. I placed a water bottle beside the holes to give some sort of size perspective.

A: Yes, this looks like skunk turfing. They tear away the turf looking for beetle larva (grubs), particularly Japanese beetle larva. Skunk damage is secondary; the real problem is the grass root damage done by beetle larva. Strip off the damaged turf, loosen the soil with a garden rake and reseed. As far as preventing recurring problems with beetle grubs, there are a number of organic and natural controls available to treat your lawn without insecticides, which affect many forms of life.

- Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Mushrooms seem to love my yard. These win as being the most peculiar looking. They're all very irregular in shape; I kicked one over to make sure it actually was a mushroom. Can you recommend a good guide to mushrooms in Ohio?

A: Looks like a bolete that has been infected by one or more other fungi, i.e. a very rotten mushroom.

- Walt Sturgeon, the area’s foremost authority on fungus and co-author of Mushrooms of the Northeast

A: Walt co-authored Mushrooms of the Northeast, a smaller pocket guide covering most common species. We sold out of it during a recent program about mushrooms. I also like National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms as it has common names, which most people prefer.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: We found this in our woods under a brick between rocks and dirt. We live in Auburn Township. It's maybe 2-3 inches. Can you tell us what it is, and if these are eggs next to it?

A: It is the erythristic form red/orange version) of the Red-backed Salamander. Erythrism refers to an unusuaI reddish pigmentation of an animaI's fur, hair, skin, feathers or eggshells. Causes of erythrism include genetic mutations which cause an absence of a normal pigment and/or excessive production of others. Normally, Red-backed Salamanders are blackish with a red back, but occasionally, the all-red ones can be found. There is also a "lead-back" color form of this species that is all gray/dark gray.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

A: We believe the eggs nearby are slug eggs.

- Nora Sindelar and Dottie Drockton, Naturalists

Q: We found this little one slithering on our garage floor on October 14 in Chardon. It was about 3-4 inches long. Any clue as to what kind of snake this could be? Thanks!

A: The snake in your photo is a young Northern Brownsnake, also known as a DeKay's Snake, a species which seems to be able to live in human-modified habitats. This is a common snake in most of glaciated Ohio, and this one's tiny size and the light band around its neck tell us that this is a recently born snake, since females give birth in late summer. Your visitor was likely is search of a protected place to spend the winter.

Brownsnakes feed exclusively on slugs, worms and other soft-bodied invertebrates; as adults, they usually do not exceed 15 inches in length. Hopefully, with some warm autumn days, this little guy will be able to find a few meals and a sheltered spot before winter's cold so thatnext year's warm season will allow him to grow to adulthood!

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

A: Excellent response, Dottie. Just an interesting note on the alternate name, De Kay's Snake. This small brown snake was first collected on Long Island by, and subsequently named for,- James Ellsworth De Kay, a notable American zoologist of the early-mid 1800s. 

- Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Found this tree yesterday (Tuesday) during my lunchtime walk. Pretty sure this wasn’t there on Monday when I walked by the sample place. The excavation pretty much hollowed out the base of the tree, the scratches got up a little over 3 feet. Would be interested to know what you think may have caused this damage.

This tree is in Frohring Meadows right on the Bluesteam Trail. It’s along the trail spur that heads to Founder’s Park (facing toward Founder’s Park). Thanks.

A: Woodwork by Pileated Woodpecker. When trees reach the point in decay where the wood is soft and "punky," the consistency of stryofoam, Pileated Woodpeckers are able to whack away large amounts in search of insects within. I follow with a photo of similar act. So weakened, this tree will soon be horizontal instead of vertical. 

- Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What kind of frog is this? In the backyard in Strongsville, shaded area. We have a small pond.

A: That is a young Gray Tree Frog.

- Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

A: Tami is correct. To elaborate, Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla versicolor) are a colorful amphibian throughout their lives. As tadpoles, they have reddish tails. The newly morphed gray tree frogs – “2017 models,” “tad grads,” young of the year – are bright green. This makes them hard to see among the ground foliage they cling to during the summer months. As they mature and become more arboreal (tree-climbing), they acquire the blotchy pattern that provides excellent camouflage against bark, especially lichen-covered bark. With this blotchy pattern comes the ability to alter their color, hence the species name versicolor, ranging from the all-over juvenile green to olive to an all-over gray in varying shades, with the blotches often contrasting in darker shades of green or gray. Also, they develop a bright yellow hue to their under-thighs that is thought to startle predators when disturbed, from a virtually invisible bump on a branch to a leaping lump flashing bright yellow.

- Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Hello, we've been finding several caterpillars in our driveway and even in the street for the last few days. My daughter has searched Google images and can't find a match. We've attached a picture and would appreciate your help! Update: My daughter found an ID, we think it's a Yellow Striped Armyworm. :)

A: That’s a great photo! The caterpillar species is a Large Yellow Underwing. This is a non-native moth that was introduced to North America in 1979.

Thanks for sending the photo!

- Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: Why have the birds seem to have disappeared from my Chardon bird feeders and surroundings?

A: Fall "harvest time" provides migrating and resident birds with an abundance of natural foods. Fruits like spicebush and dogwood are ripening, insects are in high numbers, and flowers are going to seed, so our feeder foods are not as choice as these natural foods. Lack of bird songs make an almost eerie quiet now until preparations for next year's nesting season when birds once again advertise their territories with song. Thanks for sharing your nature observations!

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: Recently we enjoyed exploring along the Grand River, and the kids were intrigued by the clams. I grew up
along the Grand River, played with clams and shells,
but know absolutely nothing about them. It seems hard to research them online as well. What information can you share to help us identify this clam, its habitat, what it eats, does, etc.? Thank you!

A: The lower Grand River between Harpersfield and Painesville has about two dozen varieties of freshwater mussels, perhaps the highest diversity in the Lake Erie drainage rivers of Northern Ohio. This could be any one of several varieties of large mussels. I would need a full-shell photograph, as well as a photograph of the inner shell showing the hinge on both halves, to attempt an identification of this particular one. 

If so inclined, you may pick up a variety of empty shells (dead specimens, not alive) and bring them to me at The West Woods Nature Center of Geauga Park District OR you could visit Andy Avram at Lake Metroparks' Penitentiary Nature Center, who’s pretty good at identifying local freshwater mussels. Possessing the shells without a permit is illegal, but if you turn them over to either nature center, you’d be OK. 

Glad to hear of another person fascinated with this group of animals.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I live in Parkman, and my daughter and I located these insects on a beech tree branch in my yard this afternoon. I am guessing they are some sort of tree hopper nymph/larvae? The one picture shows a “horned hopper” on the branch near the small ones. I am assuming it could be a parent or it may be looking for a snack or it is just hanging out and is of no relation. There were several dozen of the small insects and only one large one.

I am hoping you could help me identify them, I have not observed these before, so I hope to find out more about them.

Thanks in advance for your help!

A: These are Oak Treehoppers, an adult and nymphs. They are obviously thorn mimics. They are also highly variable in color. Click here and click here for more information.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Found on the ground in Orwell, Ohio. Oak and cherry in the vicinity. Very hard and crunchy underfoot.

A: As my cohort Dottie Drockton keenly identified based on size and texture, they look to be basswood fruit. Crunchy underfoot did you say? Yep, basswood.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Can you please help identify this weed?

A: This is pilewort, Erechtites hieracifolia. It is a native pioneer species that comes into recently disturbed areas, and actually isn't a weed; it's a good sign that native seeds remain in the soil of these disturbed areas.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: Found this little beauty in southwestern Geauga County. Just curious what it’s called? Appreciate your time and feedback.

A: This is really a beautiful picture of Indian pipe; another name for it is ghost plant. This is a very cool plant that has no chlorophyll and therefore doesn’t produce its own nutrients. Indian pipe gathers nutrients through its roots, which contain a fungus. The network of fungi connect to the roots of the trees growing around it and take nutrients and sugar for the Indian pipe to grow.

You were lucky to see it when it was fresh and new – look how white it is. Usually they are brownish by the time I see them.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

A: Photo data indicates that these lovely (indeed) Indian pipes were camera-captured on Aug. 16, which is indeed late for this plant to be in such prime condition – a sight better seen in July, as we did on July 16’s Fairy Candle Foray at Swine Creek Reservation.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I found these 2 winged creatures on one of my trees today. They are quite large (about silver dollar size). What are they? What are they doing? Do they sting or bite? Does this indicate that my tree is dying? Thank you!

A: These pics are the female Giant Ichneumon Wasp laying eggs in the hapless larva of a horntail (wood wasp) inside the tree. It is an impressive insect for sure, and the female has that amazing ovipositor!

No, they cannot sting; they are harmless to humans. Here's another good link about their life cycle from one of the authors of an insect field guide.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Does anyone there know what these are? They were at Springfield Bog yesterday, and kept moving in the water. Thank you.

A: It looks like you observed a group of whirligig beetles on the surface of the water. These beetles are common in ponds and wetlands, as you mention, and true to their name, seem to never stop moving in circles. This motion may make it a challenge for predators to catch one. A fun fact is that if you can catch a beetle, you may notice that a very gentle squeeze will cause them to give off a smell much like watermelon candy - but don't taste it!

For more info and a short video, check out this link.

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: I was wondering if you could help me identify this bug. We are in Orwell and found him on my son's camp chair walking circles.

A: Thanks for sending a photo of this female parasitic wasp. I think I found the species (well, at least the genus) on my go-to website, It parasitizes spiders. Here's the link.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I live within sight of Bass Lake. I often have insomnia so I sit out on my deck for a while between 2 and 4 a.m. listening to the sounds, but this summer haven’t heard the owls. My neighbors have mentioned this also. Have hey gone elsewhere?

A: Anyone who has Barred Owls in their neighborhood is, as you are, very aware of their presence, if not by sight, then certainly by sound  Their vocalizations are not limited to their standard “Who cooks, who cooks for you aaa-all?” call but include cackling, screeches and monkey-like ruckus that can have humans sit straight up in bed. So yes, their silence is something to be noticed.

As year-round territorial, I doubt that the owls have vacated their Bass Lake haunts. Rather, I suspect that they are engaged in launching their young out on their own.

I would anticipate the calls to resume in coming weeks as Barred Owls are said to be more vocal at the onset of the nesting season in early spring and again in late summer. In the meantime, I guess you’ll have to resort to counting sheep to overcome those sleepless hours.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: My husband photographed this bird in our back yard in Medina county two days ago. The bird has an odd feathery 'crown' around its head. Could you please help us identify this bird? Thank you.

A: It's a female house sparrow, perhaps a young bird. Can't explain the frill on the back of its neck other than perhaps a predator took a swipe at it and displaced the feathers. 

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I have noticed that, all over Northeast Ohio, I have not seen many frogs, turtles or other animals "out" this summer (2017), even at ponds where such animals were numerous in the past. Is anything specific causing this?

A: Exothermic animals are often called "cold-blooded" in that they do not radiate metabolic body heat like the endothermic mammals and birds. These invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and fish have body temperatures at or close to the temperatures of their surroundings. Reptiles and amphibians are most visible in spring and early autumn, when they are basking to warm up after a cold night. They deal with weather too cold to function by entering a state of dormancy amounting to hibernation. 

Conversely, these exotherms also deal with prolonged periods of hot, dry weather by entering a somewhat similar dormant state called estivation. With July's hot weather, any lack of turtle, snake, frog, etc. sightings can be attributed to the these animals retreating from the heat - but not to the point of estivation - by laying low underwater or in the mud until daytime temperatures cool down. Warm-blooded animals will also try to beat the heat by seeking out cooler haunts. For example, you may see squirrels sprawl out in a prone position on the ground in a shady spot to cool off.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Saw these at Frothing the other day. Female looks like a Red-winged Blackbird, but what is he???

A: Both birds are bobolinks. Bobolinks are blackbirds. Per the second photo, the female looks like an immature bird begging food from the adult male, which indicated breeding at Frohring Meadows. Our meadow habitat management is awarded with the presence of these birds.

I understand that the Village of South Russell Park, across East Washington Street from Frohring, has quite a population of these grassland birds hurting for habitat.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Found this snake in my backyard (Novelty, OH).

Large snake, over 3 feet in length. 

A: You found a Black Rat Snake. Very common in these parts and in our parks. More at

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator


Q: Hi, I believe this is a salamander of some sort. I spotted it in February sunning itself in a pond in Claridon Township. It looked to be a lot larger than the salamanders I'm used to seeing; about 5 inches in length.

A: What you saw was a Red-spotted Newt.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator




Q: My daughter found this guy at her house. Any idea of what he is? Thanks.

A: The big bugger of a beetle that your daughter found is a pinching beetle, also known as a stag beetle.  The males have oversized jaws that look fearsome. When I was a kid, these beetles were an annual summer plaything during their brief appearance. In the mornings we usually found them on the sidewalk or door steps, where they had been attracted to lights the night before. We found their jaw force to be rather weak and their pinching reflexes kind of slow to trigger. Apparently, the males’ big pinchers are used to spar with other males while seeking mates. The larvae, commonly known as grubs, are embedded in rotten logs feeding on the decaying wood; a big prize for Pileated Woodpeckers that will shred rot-softened log for such a treat. If you're interested, you can learn more at this link - or this follow-up link.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: We are having an issue with a pair of foxes that come in and out of our yard in South Russell. They leave pieces of dead animals that they have killed around our yard, and our dog keeps getting into them. Believe that they have also been sheltering part time under our storage shed. To discourage that, I recently put moth balls under the shed and sprayed the moth balls with water to increase the smell. Is there anything else that we can due to encourage the foxes to find a more suitable place to hunt?

A: Thank you for your inquiry. Like many of the homes in Russell Township, it sounds like you live in an area surrounded by great habitat. This is proven by the fact that the Red Fox frequent your yard! From what you are describing, it sounds like the pair that live near you are raising young. Like most wildlife, the fox really are more focused on raising their young than interacting with humans. This behavior only lasts through the spring and summer; by fall, the family unit breaks up when the young mature and the adult pair split. At that point you shouldn't encounter anymore feeding or denning behavior. Although it may be undesirable at times (you may have to check the yard and dispose of carcasses before you let the dog out), living among the wildlife of Geauga County can be a great experience for residents!

As a park naturalist, I don't have too much experience with pest control for mammals. So my suggestion would be to wait it out until the end of the summer when the fox will disperse. If you are able to view them from a distance, it is really a great experience to watch the young running around like puppies! In the meantime, I have had people share with me some pretty amazing pictures of fox that live near them, so it may also be a great photo op! 

Thank you!

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: We were walking the Buckeye Trail that runs through Headwaters Park and ran across this stream. Can you tell me what this is and what causes it? You could clearly see where it started upstream and didn't go beyond the collection on the other side of the bridge that went out to the lake. Thank you for your help.

A: The orange, rusty slime in the stream is a result of iron-fixing bacteria not harmful to humans or other life. How does this work? Water picks up iron as it passes through iron-rich bedrock. When the water is exposed to oxygen, this allows iron-fixing bacteria to fulfill their energy needs (“feed”) by oxidizing ferrous iron into ferric iron. Ferric iron is insoluble, so it deposits out of the water to produce the rust-colored deposits, while the bacteria produce the slime.

Iron-fixing bacteria are autotrophs (self-nourishing) like plants but do not use energy from the sun or carbon compounds so they are chemosynthetic, not photosynthetic. Pretty amazing if you consider that these organisms can survive without energy from the sun!

Thanks for asking!

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist



Q: We found these growing off the Gray Fox Trail at Swine Creek on Saturday, June 10. What is it that we found?

A: This is known as American cancer-root; other names are bear corn and squawroot. The scientific name is Conopholis americana. This plant has no chlorophyll with which to produce energy and is therefore parasitic on the root system of Oak and Beech trees. It occurs over the eastern half of the North America, growing in areas that have deep soil with dense forest canopy. In other words, a mature, healthy forest! Unfortunately in some areas of the eastern US it is a species of concern, or even listed as a threatened species.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: I'm curious as to the identity of a bunch of bees I found burrowing in an old unused volleyball court at Centerville Mills in Bainbridge. I know that common bumble bees nest in the ground, but I believe they use pre-existing holes.  These bees seemed slightly smaller than most bumble bees I see. I occasionally saw them taking small pieces of leaves into the nests.

A: The bee in this video is one of the mining bee species. Definitive ID requires an expert, but based on the picture and video, this particular bee might belong to the genus Andrena, sub-genus MelandrenaHere is the link to the BugGuide page. Note how many sub-genera there are! In my opinion the pictures under the Melandrena link are the closest match.

Anyway, these bees are responsible for pollinating many of our fruit trees in the spring time. It is the female that burrows for her nest. Thanks for sending the neat video!

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I saw this snake, and a smaller version which must have been a baby, in and around my pond in Auburn Township. The big one was about 3 feet and the little one about a foot. What is it?

Also found this one in my yard. It is about 12 inches long. What is it? 

A: I believe the first one is a Northern Water Snake based on the body shape, color and proximity to the water.

As for the second picture, it could be a water snake based on the color pattern.

I will confirm with another naturalist.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

A:  Yes, Northern Water Snake, and the second one is a juvenile.

Just to add: harmless, not a water moccasin (aka: cottonmouth) as they are not found in Ohio. 

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Any idea what kind of spider this is?

A: Cool spider! This is a Pisaurina mira, a type of nursery web spider. Very intimidating-looking, but not dangerous! They forage in low vegetation and use leaves wrapped in silk to place their egg case. When the young hatch, they stay under the leaf shelter until they are ready to venture out.

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: So, my daughter caught this frog on Friday, June 2, in Chardon on Thwing Road. We were all perplexed as to what made this frog spotty and what kind of frog this is. Can someone help us out? Thanks!

A: I have forwarded these to Dr. Tim Matson at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He is the curator of vertebrate zoology and is particularly interested in amphibians and especially diseases and/or conditions of these critters. I will get back to you when I hear from him. Stay tuned...

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you help ID this bird? Folks told me to take pictures of this Bald Eagle, but I have doubts. To me, the forehead looks like a Northern Harrier, but the coloration is off. Could it be a Golden Eagle? It is on the northwest side of Warren along the Mahoning river.

A: Indeed it is a bald eagle – a young one. It takes 4.5 to 5 years for an eagle to “go bald,” that is, obtain their adult plumage with a pure white head and tail as this illustration from this American Bald Eagle information webpage. After fledging, young birds hang around their natal nest for a time, begging food from Mom and Dad, who cut off the handouts to encourage the young to fend for themselves. If they’re still hanging around when late winter brings the new nesting season, tough love is administered with adults chasing their kids off...or should I say “aloft”?

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: This frog/toad was found 6 feet up in a gazebo in the shade. It could also climb on the walls. It was about the size of a tangerine. The sighting was in southwest Ohio in warm humid weather. Please tell us what this is.  

A: This is a Gray Treefrog! See this attachment for more info.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: Never seen a pigeon in our neighborhood until yesterday. It was very weak and disoriented and unfortunately was hit by a car and killed. It is banded on both legs. What should I do?

A: The bird you found was most likely a homing pigeon. You can report the band at this link.

You can also read about homing pigeons here.

- Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: I'm just curious what this is. It was in the Mentor Marsh yesterday (5/10/17). Thank you.

A: It’s the rootstock of spatterdock with the yellow ball-like flowers. They are floating at The Rookery in the Nature Scopes pond.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: We have a snake at the end of our driveway in Chagrin Falls, under it, tunnel for water drainage. It comes out for the sun, resting on rocks. It is gray, aprox 2" diameter, 2-3 feet long. Any idea what it is and how to get rid of it?

A: I’m betting that it’s a Northern Water Snake. Pugnacious if taunted or handled, otherwise harmless.

Our human-scapes often create attractive habitat for various wild animals. We naturalists encourage people to contend with, then live in harmony with, such wildlife that is not dangerous or destructive. However, if you are truly afflicted with a snake phobia, you could cover the entryways to the (we assume) culvert pipe where the snake resides with ½” wire mesh known as hardware cloth.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: My daughter’s Girl Scout troop recently planted a butterfly garden at the South Russell Village park. The troop was certified by Monarch Watch and provided a Monarch Waystation certification sign, which was mounted onto a post.
The problem is that birds are landing on it and pooping all over the sign!

Do you have a deterrent that would help stop the birds from perching without harming them?

A: Birds of open country sing from prominent perches to announce their territory. Assuming that the Monarch Waystation sign is the tallest perch in close proximity to monarch plot, I suggest placing a perch nearby that is a little taller than the waystation sign. 

We have the same problem with the outdoor interpretive stations on the weather trail at Observatory Park.
The strategy is to offer a taller nearby alternative. This can be as simple as metal post with a wooden cross piece attached to it to make a tall "T." If the metal post, pounded in, isn't taller than the sign, you can add a wood extension to the post and the cross bar to that.

Let me know if you have any questions. I'll be anxious to hear how this works for you.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: We have a snake at the end of our driveway, under it, tunnel for water drainage. It comes out for the sun, resting on rocks. It is gray, aprox 2" diameter,  2-3 ft long. Any idea what it is and how to get rid of it?

A: Stay tuned...

Q: What kind of insect does this kind of damage to a tree (an oak, I believe)? This is located in my yard in Mentor. Thanks!

A: Pictured is mammal gnawing. Looks like beaver work to me. They’ll gnaw at the bass of large trees for cambium without attempting to take down the tree.

Your photo is small, though, so I can’t rule out squirrel bark stripping. Definitely not woodpecker work.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I found this guy in a brushpile this afternoon. I live in Newbury, close to The Rookery. What kind of frog is it? Is it an albino? Thanks.

A: You're looking at a Wood Frog. Thanks for asking!

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: I am hoping you can help us identify what these creatures are. We found them in our yard in Russell Twp. First, a gray/brown caterpillar found in the grass in the yard. Second, a black and pink bug found under a decomposing log at the edge of the woods. My daughters, ages 5 & 6, really want to know what we found!

A: Stay tuned...

Q: Our property, in Hambden, is covered in tall Red Maples with many of what I am told are Blue Beech or American Hornbeam. Last year the Blue Beech were not doing well with dying and curled leaves. I thought this was leaf scorch due to the dry summer, but was told the Beeches had a fungus and would all eventually die. I’m hoping this is not true. The Beeches make the lower canopy just beautiful.

A: The common name "Blue Beech" may lead you to the assumption that all beeches are diseased. This plant is actually a birch.

While tThe American Beech does have diseases that could threaten its survival, I am not aware of any diseases of the American Hornbeam (same plant, different common name). But they do like wetter weather, so the heat and drought could have caused the symptoms you noted. Here are two links about this tree:

A good talking point here is the use of common names versus scientific names. As I described above, the "Blue Beech" common name would lead you to believe that this tree is a beech, when in fact it is in the birch family. There is also the other common name, "American Hornbeam." And I have heard people call it Ironwood, too, which is also the common name for a totally different goes on and on.

In short, I don’t know of any specific diseases of this tree, but it does need wetter areas, so the dry conditions last year could have caused the problem.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: Attached is a photo of a tree which I observed on Tupelo Trail which had shed its bark. Can you please tell me why? Thank you.

A: This is an example of bark shearing
done by woodpeckers working the trunks
of dying ash trees harboring emerald ash borers (EABs). As larvae, these invasive beetles eat away at ash trees’ life-sustaining inner bark cutting off the trees’ supply of water and nutrients, killing the trees within three to five years. EABs likely arrived in the U.S. from their native Asia as larvae embedded in wood crating material. Their damage first showed up in Michigan several years ago before spreading into Ohio from the Toledo area. These exotic invaders have since spread throughout the Midwest. For more information, see

Your photograph shows woodpecker bark-shearing as they work away at bark with their bills to feed on EABs as they overwinter in the bark as pupa. This work
is evident as light-colored expanses on
ash tree trunks where the outermost bark surface has been removed by the birds. This has become a common sight in the Geauga County region and therefore serves is a testament to the widespread damage done by EABs. Ash death will become
more apparent when the trees fail to leaf out in spring.

It remains to be seen if woodpeckers will be able effectively control EABs given the explosive onslaught of this insect, but it’s good to know that EABs have predators here in the U.S.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Along with the recognizable hairy ferns, star mosses, and metallic lichens was a very small (less than 1/16th inch) translucent flower?  Illegal aliens or what?

A: I thought this was a fungus but sent it to Tom Sampliner for an ID.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

A: Yes, this is a fungus. Due to the limitations of the images taken, I can only indicate they are one of the very rubbery textured fungi which include the various members of the Ascomycetes such as the jellies, ears, cups, etc. We would need to see detail of the underside, as well as the inside. The spores are produced in these specimens inside tiny holes within the bowl-like upper surface. Some of these are used in Chinese cultures for various purposes, including some valued for soups.

- Thomas Sampliner, past president of the Native Plant Society and fungus aficionado

Q: Who was this little critter under the little boy/sign at Bird in the Hand at The West Woods?

A: The photo you sent is of an insectivore known as a Northern Short-tailed Shrew, which although rodent-like in appearance belongs to an order whose diet is primarily insects and other invertebrates like earthworms, millipedes, spiders and snails. They consume perhaps three times their weight in food each day and need more food in the winter to keep warm. Plant material like the sunflower seeds under our Bird in the Hand feeder may be eaten, especially in the winter, when their preferred food is not as readily available.

Additionally, these shrews have salivary glands that produce venom, which immobilizes prey and enables the shrew to prey on small vertebrates like mice and salamanders as well. Good job getting a photo of this little guy, since most of the time shrews are beneath logs, leaves, snow or underground.

Here is a link with more information about Northern Short-tailed Shrews.

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: A gray tree frog accidentally came in with plants over wintering in my basement. Just discovered she is there. She sleeps on top of the LED light bank which stays from 70-83 degrees F by day and is usually in the moist geranium pot during the night.

Question: Internet entries state that if I put her outside now she will die since her metabolism has not gradually prepared for cold weather. If this is true? How many days/weeks(?)  must she have proper weather to acclimatize her blood chemistry? How long to be able to find a good safe spot to hibernate? If she stays inside, what can I clean the light’s covers with that will not harm her? There is quite an odor, I suspect from her urine.

A: First of all, let me compliment you on your concern for your “accidental tenant” and efforts to assist the tree frog through the winter. Coincidentally, the one gray tree frog that we keep as part of our minimal live animal collection here at The West Woods Nature Center came to us under identical circumstances: brought in undetected on a house plant kept outdoors for the summer, discovered too late in the season for release.

Sounds as if your tree frog is active and therefore has the need to feed. How do you feel about housing her and feeding her until an end of April release? A simple terrarium with soil and real or artificial plants and a water dish will suffice. Meal worms and crickets from a local pet store will fill the bill for food.

If this is not a viable choice for you, let me know and we’ll work on a Plan B. I am copying Dr. Tim Matson, vertebrate zoologist with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who I consult with regarding matters of amphibian biology, in this case the possibility exists of inducing hibernation for a mid-winter release.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: My son found this pink grasshopper December 28 in Chester Twp. Pretty unusual, yes?

A: Pretty in pink! Wow, yes Joe, finding a grasshopper still alive in late December is unusual in itself, nevermind a pink one! I consulted Dr. Lisa Rainsong, a local expert on the insect order Othoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids), for an explanation of this unusual color form. According to Lisa:

It is called erythrism, an unusual and little-understood genetic mutation caused by a recessive gene similar to that which affects albino animals. This mutation results in one of two things happening or even a combination of the two; a reduction or even absence of the normal pigment and/or the excessive production of other pigments, in this case red, which results in pink morphs. Here's another example of the same species, but a younger one (nymph), found at the Hiram College Field Station in 2014.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I have lived in Geauga County for many years and have just started to notice black squirrels in the area. I have seen them in great numbers in Canada and southern Ohio, but not around here. Just wondering why I am seeing them now.  Thanks.

A: The black squirrel is the dark form of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. The black form is more common in the north (Canada), but the ones that are showing up in Geauga County probably expanded their range from the population that was introduced to Kent State University more than 50 years ago. Our Geauga county habitat is providing the things they need for survival, so sightings have increased. Here is a 2011 article about them.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

A: The local gray squirrel population is increasing, as evident at The West Woods feeding station. Black is a color phase of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. As gray squirrels increase in number, so does the incidence of this color morph. Gray squirrels are more of a forest squirrel than fox squirrels. The natural reforestation of Geauga County that has been taking place over that last 70 years or so have provided them with more habitat. 

There is a widespread belief that the black squirrels came from Kent, Ohio - released or escaped from a KSU study - and have spread from there. By the below accounts from history sleuth Connie Wells, black squirrels were in our area prior to the Kent State population, so the ones we see today may have expanded from Geauga's own historical population. A genetic study could tell us more. Here is the account:

History sleuth Connie Wells, in combing the micro-film newspaper archives in the Chardon Public Library, produced some history of black squirrels in Chardon. Connie writes in an email to Geauga Park District Naturalist Dan Best dated November 4, 2011, that “This reference came from an 1885 newspaper article about Claridon called The Middle Street. That street became Taylor Wells Road and was designated 'middle' because it was between the 'West Street' (Aquilla Road) and the township 'Center Street' (Claridon-Troy Road). The black squirrel incident had to happen between 1815 (when the Wells families arrived from Connecticut) and Oct. 2, 1882, when Ebenezer Wells died. Eben Wells is the father referred to in the article. He was the father of Jason Wells, the article’s author. Jason Wells was born in 1818 in Claridon (Twp). The Wells farms were on the highest hill in the area. The first Claridon settler families came in 1811.”

In a reference to rattlesnakes written by Jason Coe Wells in the Feb. 4, 1885, Geauga Republican newspaper, a reference to timber rattlers featured this passage: “They were quite large, and I have been told that they were sometimes found four and even five feet in length.  My father once killed one and brought it to the house.  As the reptile appeared considerably enlarged, he cut it open and found a black squirrel inside, which the snake had caught and swallowed. How the snake managed to secure so large and active an animals as a black squirrel is a question the writer is unable to answer.”

From the diary (no dates or page numbers) of renowned Geauga Historian Ella Maude Beech (1905-1990) housed in the Chardon Public Library’s Allyn Room: “In 1910, County Auditor H.A. Cowles, conceived the idea of placing black squirrels in the park (Chardon Square). Many residents enjoyed the new residents. Houses were put in the park for them and feed was provided for them  I suspect many people put feed out for them. I can remember Art Carlson (founder of the Geauga County Maple Festival and owner of Carlson’s Hardware Store on Chardon Square) crossing Main Street with his fast walking gait to feed the squirrels. But there were people who complained the squirrels were getting into their attics. They howled until the squirrels were neglected and gradually disappeared. They were there for 30 years, then no black squirrels."

From an article with the caption “Park Squirrels Go Out to Meals” on page 8 of the July 12, 1916, edition of the Geauga Republican newspaper: “The sight of many black, gray and fox squirrels in the park and about town is a source of great interest to visitors in Chardon . . . mention of fox squirrels being handfed . . . " "Most of the fox squirrels live on South Street. Nearly all the black squirrels, about 30 in number, live in the park in homes placed in the trees by citizens. It takes a large quantity of shack to feed them.”

In the Geauga Republican, Feb. 23, 1921, page 5 Local News column: “The park squirrels wintered fine. There are more black squirrels than gray.”

In the Geauga Republican, June 15, 1916, page 5 Local News column: “There’s a new crop of black squirrels in the park.”

From the Pioneer and General History of Geauga County, 1953 edition, pages 190-191: “In 1925, the black squirrels had become so numerous in Chardon that the citizens were anxious to be rid of them. So eight were obtained and four were placed in Dr. Crampton’s yard, four in the park. Those in the park now stem from those eight. “

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Is this beautiful creature, as seen at Bass Lake Preserve, an otter?

A: No, this is a mink, another member of the weasel family, as are otters. Otters are large mammals: three to four feet in length. Male minks may reach two feet in length, females smaller. Both are aquatic mammals with otters being the Olympic swimmers. Both are dark brown in color; mink may have a white chin spot. Both are voracious predators of fish and other aquatic animals. Mink, too, take frogs, snakes, crayfish as well as muskrats and venture away from water for mice, voles and birds. Mink are pretty common locally, more apt to be seen than otters. They inhabit or frequent ponds, lakes, streams and ditches.    

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: These guys look creepy to me. Any ideas what they may be? It's on Allyn Road in Mantua.

A: This looks like Pseudocolus fusiformis, commonly called the stinky squid or octopus stinkhorn. Its spores are in the green slime which insects eat and carry the spores elsewhere. It is most common in wood mulched areas. It was named by Lloyd, an early 20th century Ohio mycologist.

- Walt Sturgeon, the area’s foremost authority on fungus and co-author of Mushrooms of the Northeast

A: Mycologist (fungus expert) Walt Sturgeon of the Ohio Mushroom Society determined it is Pseudocolus fusiformis –stinky squid or octopus stinkhorn. Click here for a good reference on this mysterious mycological marvel, one of the bizarre group of stinkhorn fungi. Here’s an excerpt from by Michael Kuo:

Stinkhorns are amazing mushrooms, notorious for popping up suddenly and unexpectedly in urban settings. They are very diverse in appearance, but all of them share at least two features:
* Some part of the fruiting body, at some stage in development, is covered with a foul-smelling slime.
* The fruiting body arises from an "egg," traces of which may disappear by maturity.
Beyond these shared features, however, just about anything goes, and stinkhorns range from looking rather like morels to appearing like, um, a portion of canine anatomy, or odd marine creatures with tentacles, or crab claws, Wiffle balls, Chinese lanterns, and so on.
Stinkhorns occur "naturally" in North America, especially in subtropical and tropical regions--but some stinkhorn fruitings in temperate and north-temperate climates may be caused by human endeavors, resulting from the transportation of soil, sod, wood chips, trees, and so on.

- Dan Best, Naturalist, and Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: My property backs up to Bessie Benner Metzenbaum Park. We also have a lake. We see lots of wildlife. Yesterday I observed two large birds, low to the ground in the woods. They flew to some lower branches. When they eventually flew away, the call the one gave was something I've not heard before. I checked Cornell for sound and description, and it sounded like their recording of female harrier alarm call. The birds were quite large and almost owlish-appearing as well. Have there been any Northern Harriers spotted in Geauga County recently? Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me. Thank you for any help/info you can give me.

A: While I can't say for sure (at least without a picture) that the birds were Harriers, it most certainly is in the realm of possibility. I looked at an aerial image of your property, and the swamp/marsh area along the creek that runs through Metzenbaum Park just might be attractive for a Harrier. Also, the "owlish" appearance, as well as behavior, seems right for a Harrier. The Sibley field guide says habitat for Harriers includes marshes, farmland and grasslands. They do like to perch low or on the ground. Reports for the species in Geauga this year come from Frohring Meadows, Hayes Road in Middlefield, Walter C. Best Wildlife Best Preserve and LaDue Reservoir, to name several.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you please help with an ID here? Thank you.

A: The photo you sent is of a Short-winged Blister Beetle. The name reflects an oily substance that can be exuded from the legs of this insect if it is disturbed, or released from the insect's body if it is crushed. This substance, called cantharidin, is able to raise blisters on the skin, and the insects can be a hazard to livestock if ingested, which can occur if blister beetles are crushed in hay production.

Adult blister beetles feed on plants, while larvae are usually parasitic on grasshopper eggs but can also feed on eggs or larvae of bees. The cantharidin is sometimes extracted from the body of certain species and used medicinally. Here are two links with some additional photos: 

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: Porcupine problem? I'm right off Route 87 on Watt Road, right by The West Woods. 

A: My first thought is that this is an example of bark scaling by a Pileated Woodpecker. While these hammerheads whack their way into the heartwood of insect-infested trees leaving conspicuous oval-shaped holes, another feeding mode is bark-scaling: chiseling off the bark to get the bark beetle larvae found between the bark and the wood.

However, the extensive work done on this tree does not penetrate to the wood. Thus, I’m going to attribute this extensive debarking to squirrels. The reasons why squirrels do this is not fully or well explained. With shreds of bark littering the ground, the squirrels don’t appear to be eating much for all of the work done. One theory is that squirrels do this merely to satisfy their need to gnaw. I’ll think about this next time I chew gum.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Reply: So you think a squirrel did all that in three days? Wow, busy squirrel. I do have a family of 3 Pileated Woodpeckers in the vicinity also. Additionally, I've identified another tree with similar scaling. With a dog and cat that go outside, it is a relief that it isn't a porcupine. If you want to see the damage, I'm a mile walk from the nature center. 
Thank you.

A: OK. Question: are the scaled trees dead or live trees? Would they be ash trees? -Dan

Reply: Both are alive and definitely ash. Both have no leaves left, deeply grooved bark. The bark removed is not all the way down to the cambium layer either.  

A: I think I have this mystery figured out – finally. Your Pileated Woodpeckers have been bark shearing in search of Emerald Ash Borer larvae and/or pupa. Check the bark-sheared areas for woodpecker feeding holes.

From "In many infestations such as the one in the vicinity of Saugerties in New York State, woodpeckers have been shearing the outer bark off of ash trees in order to find the pre-pupae in the bark. This feeding behavior exposes lighter colored bark underneath the outer bark. This lighter bark is very obvious to even ground-based observers and looks a lot like the mark the might be left if an adjacent tree had fallen and removed outer bark on its way down. The observers have noted this to be one of the most helpful clues to finding EAB-infested trees. ... Additionally, woodpeckers may feed on earlier instar larvae underneath the bark of the tree by boring the typical round woodpecker holes into the bark."

From the USDA Forest Service: "As EAB populations increase over the years after initial infestation, larval development becomes more synchronized, and the majority of larvae mature during September. These fully-grown larvae spend the winter folded inside a small pupation cell constructed in the outer sapwood or outer bark. Younger larvae spend the winter in feeding galleries in the phloem and outer sapwood and may feed another summer before reaching the adult stage."

Also see:

And, the best early sign of EAB infestation in an area is woodpecker feeding on the main upper limbs and large branches of ash trees. Woodpeckers are important predators of EAB living under the bark of ash trees. Evidence of woodpecker feeding is readily observed because they remove patches of bark from trunks while scavenging, resulting in light-colored (orange-pink) patches of bark along the usual grey weathered ash trunks. Over the years of EAB attack, woodpecker feeding can be observed lower and lower on the ash trunks. 

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I have a lot of these mushrooms in my lawn. They will often grow in clusters of three or so. What are they? Also, is there a good picture identification guide you could recommend for fungi identification? Thank you.

A: Think it is some kind of bolete, but I sent it to Tom Sampliner for an ID.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

A: This is the Ash Bolete, Boletinellus meruloides. The spore print should be olive-brown. It should be under or very near some ash trees. There are chemical applications that give diagnostic color turns to various portions of the flesh. The net vein appearance of the pores underneath is classic. It has a fantastic symbiotic relationship with an insect called the "leafcurl aphid." The aphid gets free housing and, in return, gives excess honeydew to the mushroom.

- Thomas Sampliner, past president of the Native Plant Society and fungus aficionado

Q: A friend obtained this short video early this morning (9/24/16) while sitting in a tree that looks over the creek that runs thru our property. We have never seen any wildlife other that opossums, raccoons, coyote, turkey and deer, so we were wondering if these are otters or mink. It is not the best video, but thought you would have more experience than us. We live on Farmington Road near the cross road with Hobart. Thanks for your help.

A: It's very hard to tell based on this video, but if I had to guess based on habitat alone I would say mink.

- John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

I was given your contact information concerning questions that you have about dead trees on your property. Do you have any photos? Please describe the problem and I will offer my thoughts. Can you provide any information like:

1) What kind of trees are they?
2) How large/small are they?
3) When did you first notice the problem?
4) Any time of year considerations?
5) Are they dead or just look bad?
6) Any other detail would help, especially photos.

- Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: I thought it was just one tree last year and then this year more trees. I look through the wetlands and the area is covered with dead trees. Saddened by this discovery, as I have been living in this house that backs up to the wetlands for 11 years now and would like to preserve its beauty and wildlife.

A: Can't tell for sure what kind of dead tree you have. The picture is a little blurry, I need to see the bark/twigs better and, of course, if there are any pictures of the leaves that would be ideal. A few thoughts for you:

1) Dead trees in wetlands are common now because of a few things. First, Emerald Ash Borer beetle is killing many ash trees (green & black species) around here and they are commonly found in wetland situations. Second, American Elm trees (which are also commonly found in wetlands) die from Dutch Elm Disease. I see many dead elm and ash when I'm out in wetlands now-a-days.

2) Dead trees are not always a bad thing. They often provide great habitat for cavity nesting songbirds and woodpeckers with insect food.

Just let me know if you have any more questions/photos. Thanks for your interest in Geauga County's plants and wildlife.

Q: Simple question, I hope. My husband and I are looking for oak trees in this area, Geauga County. Mostly we find maple and hickory and beach. Can you tell my if there are any areas that have different types of oak trees? I am looking for oak trees in forests, can only find a few here and there. Thanks for your help.

A: Many of our park forests include oak trees. A great spot to look at oaks is at the campfround within Big Creek Park and surrounding trails. Both red oak and white oak trees should be producing acorns right now (late October), which makes identification easy.

- Tami Gingrich, Naturalist

Q: Hi, will this hatch into something good or is it a bad bug? 

A: This is a praying mantis egg case. It will overwinter in this sheltered spot and the young mantises will emerge as
the weather warms.

- Tami Gingrich, Naturalist

Q: Can someone help explain this Jell-O like substance? We found it on the southwest shore of Pymatuming. The large one is about 14 inches long and 1 inch thick. Is this a living creature or just a blob of goo?

A: Yep, these gelatinous masses are indeed living creatures. They are bryozoans or “moss animals,” colonial creatures whose “alien blobs” are found in unpolluted warm water environments such as our inland lakes and reservoirs. Most kinds of bryozoans are marine animals, but there are a few freshwater kinds such as the Magnificent Bryozoan that you have found. Here and here are a couple of good references to learn more about them.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: My maple is afflicted with these black spots that look a lot like the leaves have been burned!? So far as I can tell all the leaves have these spots.

A: There is nothing to worry about because this is a very common foliar fungus occurring on maples during this time of the year. The common name of this fungus is “maple tar spot,” and here is a fact sheet with some more information on this minimal impact disease. Hope that helps!

- Erik Draper, "Plant Doc," Ohio State University Extension Office in Geauga County

Q: Today I found this animal, which looks like an oversized caterpillar, eating some of the leaves of a virginia creeper outside my kitchen window. It is between four and five inches long and about 3/4 inch thick  It seems too big for a caterpillar. If it were a caterpillar, the butterfly which it will become would be tremendous. I have lived here for more than 20 years and not seen one of these animals before.

A: I have been on vacation and just now received your email. Your mystery caterpillar is a Pandorus Sphinx! How lucky
you are! This species is found in northeast Ohio but it isn’t often seen. The caterpillar is amazing and can be green or brown. When fully grown, it burrows beneath the soil and will hatch out in the spring as an adult sphinx moth, which is very beneficial to flowers as it nectars and pollinates them during the night. Here is a link where you can read more.

Let me know if you have any additional questions. I have raised this species in the past!

- Tami Gingrich, Naturalist

Q: Hi! I found this spider in my back room warehouse at work in Ashtabula. I see this spider all the time out here. Sometimes a little bigger and sometimes a little smaller than this one. At first glance I assume it is a wolf spider. But the abdomen has a pointed shape at the end and that doesn't seem to fit the description in my identification book. The coloring seems more defined in my book than it does in person. The hair seems to be all over the body in my book, while in person hair seems to be isolated to the legs. Also, this one is unique to other ones I have seen because the end joint on all the legs is a white/clear color (almost like the color of a cat claw). This isn't the clearest photo but wondering if you can confirm this is a wolf spider. Thanks!

A: As you may have guessed, this is a very common spider found in yards and around homes. For those who have not seen the actual spiders in their house, I am fairly certain they have seen signs of their presence. Below is a photo of the web of Agelenopsis pennsylvanica, aka grass spider!

These spiders are the ones responsible for all those cool-looking dew-covered yard "decorations" that you see in the early morning! It is a type of funnel spider, and if you look closely at the web you can see a funnel-like retreat where the spider sits, awaiting the movement of possible prey. And they are not a problem to have near the home, either, especially if you have a garden and welcome the free pest control! 

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Hello, we want to build a large bat house on our Bainbridge property that crosses the Chagrin River. Our intent is to help control mosquitos. There are already quite a few bats on most evenings, flying overhead. What kind of bats would these be? We want to build a house specific to their habitat. Thanks!

A: Click here for a great website with details about construction. With any questions/concerns, please call me directly at 440-279-0812. Bat houses are typically occupied in this region by either Big Brown Bats or Little Brown Bats. Yyou do not need to "tailor make" them to one species as long as you follow the proper construction designs/dimensions and situate them in the right places and at the right time of year. Unfortunately, Little Brown Bats are extremely uncommon now due to white-nose syndrome,. and Big Brown Bats are also on the decline.

- Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: Hello Naturalist Team! We want to place an owl house/nest in our yard. Does it matter which side of the tree? How high? Which owls are we attracting? We live in Bainbridge. Thanks.

A: Click here for a link to Ohio Division of Wildlife nest box plans. It’s a PDF that lists dimensions of different boxes, heights to place boxes, habitats and that sort of information. And here's another link to a page by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Good luck!

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: You have answered my questions in the past about wolf spiders that are sharing my home. Now I have a question about another spider that is invading my home. They are everywhere! I've seen them many times before but not in the numbers I am seeing now. I call them ant spiders. They look like ants at first glance but are definitely spiders. They have a head and abdomen and eight legs. They also hang by webbing. The head and very end are black while the middle portion is an orange-red color. I'm not sure if there is a way to eliminate them or if they are harmless and I should just live with them peacefully. I am mostly fascinated by them and their mimicry.

A: I am very impressed with your use of the word "mimicry," as that is exactly what this is! You have observed one of my personal favorite spiders, Myrmarachne formicaria, also known as an "ant mimic spider"! The species name formicaria means ant-like. One school of thought as to why they resemble ants is to avoid predators, as there are many things that will not eat ants.

One interesting feature of Myrmarachne males are their extraordinarily large forward-projecting chelicerae. The thought is that these mimic an ant holding a prey item (or other "load") in its mandibles.

As far as them being a problem in your home, they are not. They are not harmful to humans, and as you have noticed, are actually pretty interesting to observe. As with most spiders, their presence simply means that you have in home control for insect pests!

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Hi there! What is 8' tall, has flowers like a sunflower on a leafless stalk, and undivided, serrated, large basal leaves at Orchard Hills Park? I attach some pix.

A: The very tall yellow composite flower with the thick, rough “rhino skin” basal leaves is prairie dock. It is a pretty unique native prairie plant found in Ohio’s remnant prairie patches and is a “must have” for prairie restoration and introduction projects that strive to showcase the diversity and beauty of Ohio’s prairie heritage. 

- Dan Best, Naturalist

A: Prairie dock is Ohio’s tallest wildflower, a prairie plant that I covered on the prairie hikes this summer at Frohring Meadows. It is one of the silphiums in the sunflower family where only the ray flowers produce seed. To survive the harsh prairie environment, it aligns its leaves north-south to avoid evaporation in the hot mid-day sun. Try this: if you put your hands on either side of the leaf on a hot day it will feel about 10 degrees cooler. And its gummy sap that smells like turpentine giving it a bitter tast; Indians chewed it to clean their teeth and mouth.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: Hi, I have several Monarch caterpillars that will soon be ready to form their chrysalis, also several eggs that may hatch within the week (8/12/16). Do you know about when the eggs for the migrating generation will be hatching? I know the Monarchs arrived in the northeast part of Ohio a little later than usual. Thank you for any information. 

A: This has been an extremely “different” year for monarchs. Due to a late winter storm in March that wiped out almost half the overwintering population in Mexico, monarchs were late to arrive in Ohio. Thus, their numbers have been building slower than usual. This hot weather, I believe, is also pushing back the migratory generation a bit, as I am finding larger quantities of eggs much later than usual. Normally anything that emerges as an adult butterfly starting anytime in September is migratory, but that may not be true this year…

- Tami Gingrich, Naturalist

Q: Could you identify the tree and plant in the pictures? Thank you.

a) The blue flower on the yellow background is from a plant about 5 ft. tall that is growing in front of the Burton Library. Don't know if it an annual or perennial. It is covered with bees and butterflies.

b) The leaf and seed (or nut) is off a large tree that is growing in front of a friend's house. She does not know what it is.

A: The purple flower is from a butterfly bush – yeah, they can grow up to 6 feet tall! I didn’t even know that. They are wonderful at attracting all kinds of insects that drink nectar. We were planting some small ones today at the fair building! They can be found at most garden centers.

The leaf and seed pod are from one of our major forest canopy trees and also found in many yards, too. It’s the American Beech. It is characterized by smooth light gray bark (people like to carve initials in it!) and serrated leaves. They produce these small nuts which are covered in the prickly little pod. The American Beech is facing several disease and pest problems. Click here to learn more about the problems this tree is facing.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: I was wondering why there seems to be fewer hummingbirds this year. Other people have noticed this also. I thought maybe they have more resources with people putting out more feeders and planting more flowers, but I was also wondering if temperature could be part of the equation. Any thoughts or info on this is appreciated. Thank you.

A: Well, droughty summers tend to mean less nectar available in flowers. Theoretically, this should mean more hummingbirds visiting feeders, giving them high visibility. There has been a pair at my next door neighbors' feeder all summer, and I know of a couple of nests. My guess is that hummingbirds are very localized where their needs are best met and under the dry conditions of this summer, more localized than usual, accounting for their absence where their expected to be based on previous years. This article may lend some insight.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I was wondering why there seems to be fewer hummingbirds this year. Other people have noticed this also. I thought maybe they have more resources with people putting out more feeders and planting more flowers, but I was also wondering if temperature could be part of the equation. Any thoughts or info on this is appreciated. Thank you.

A: This appears to be one of the cauliflower (Sparassis) fungi. Looks like a brain or brain coral, doesn’t it? It is weakly parasitic on the roots of conifer trees and does not kill the tree.

As you indicate, your specimen is past its prime. It is considered edible when newly formed and very white, although its convoluted form tends to envelope a lot of dirt and detritus making it a challenge to clean. 

As always, we recommend the varieties found in grocery produce sections as sure bets for eating. Harvesting wild mushrooms to eat is risky business. Fungi, in its great diversity and variety of form, feature many look-alikes, some deadly poisonous. We leave identification of edible vs. toxic to the real experts. 

None-the-less, some rain will bring on a visual feast of fungi, an annual late summer, early autumn spectacle of shape and color that will be prompted by some badly-needed rain! Thank you very much for your inquiry.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Reply: Thank you very much.  We were just curious; we do not eat wild mushrooms!

Q: Hello, I live in Munson Township and just walked out my front door to find this snake in the mulch next to my porch. I have seen garter and milk snakes around, but never this type of snake. It appears that he just had a meal. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind identifying this snake for me. Thank you for your time!  

A: Well, this, too, is a garter snake - an Eastern Garter Snake, to be exact, the species found in our region. I'm thinking that the bulge resulting from its recent meal - as you correctly surmised - has distorted the otherwise recognizable color pattern into something unusual. 

Your inquiry, however, provides the opportunity to point out the variability in our local garter snakes. Some appear more simply "striped" than others, such as yours, that have light colored edges to their scales, giving them more of a "jacquard weave woven belt" look to them.

And, speaking of "weave," the origin of the name garter snake comes from their resemblance to the striped weave of sock and shirt garters of bygone men's apparel. With garters having disappeared from men's toggeries so long ago, it's understandable how this reptile's name has been corrupted to "garden" or "gardener" snake.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I was wondering why there seems to be fewer hummingbirds this year. Other people have noticed this also. I thought maybe they have more resources with people putting out more feeders and planting more flowers, but I was also wondering if temperature could be part of the equation. Any thoughts or info on this is appreciated. Thank you.

A: Well, droughty summers tend to mean less nectar available in flowers. Theoretically, this should mean more hummingbirds visiting feeders, giving them high visibility. There has been a pair at my next door neighbors' feeder all summer, and I know of a couple of nests. My guess is that hummingbirds are very localized where their needs are best met and under the dry conditions of this summer, more localized than usual, accounting for their absence where their expected to be based on previous years. This article may lend some insight.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Can you give me an ID: this spider and why it's back look so creepy. I shot the pic at Mosquito Lake.

A: Thank you for the picture. Although I would consider myself very fond of spiders and have never been afraid of them, I confess, I agree with your description of "creepy" for the way this spider looks. This creepiness however quickly goes away for me when I realize what exactly makes it look this way. BABY SPIDERS! Yes, that is correct, all those little bumps on this "mama spider" are baby spiders (spiderlings). The wolf spiders (family lycosidae) build an egg sack out of silk around their eggs and and carry it on the end of their spinnerets at the tip of their abdomen. After they hatch from the egg, they crawl on their mother's back and remain there for 6-50 days, depending on species. The average time is about 14 days.

On her back, the spiderlings are protected from predators, and the mother helps them with acquiring water to drink. If disturbed, the spiderlings may fall off, but the mother will attempt to help them get back on. So even though this may not be as cute to you as a mama duck and her fuzzy little ducklings, I am very impressed by this maternal care given, as most invertebrates generally don't exhibit caregiving behavior towards young.

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Can you also please ID this spider from the same place?

A: Excellent picture! You are looking right at (or is it looking right at you?) of one of the species in my absolute favorite families of spiders. It is in the group Salticidae, or jumping spiders, so named because they prefer to jump for their prey as opposed to building webs and idly waiting for food to come to them. Note the two very large, round, forward-facing eyes that give the spider its ability to see detailed images and judge distances. The smaller eyes track movement, as you may have observed this spider looking at you and moving its head to follow you as you snapped its photo! This certain species looks to be  the tan jumping spider, Playcryptus undatus. These avid hunters are great pest control, as they prefer flies and are not dangerous at all to have around your yard. 

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: What is this spider? Is it harmful? People are freaking out; I say it's safe.

A: You are correct! It IS safe! This is a Black & Yellow Garden spider (fitting name, huh?), scientific name: Argiope aurantia. By the looks of the size of this spider, it is a female. Males are about 1/4 of the size! They around backyards in late summer and survive until the first frost. Although the size is pretty intimidating, these are not dangerous to humans. They do not possess enough venom to harm a person, but instead prefer to hunt insects such as grasshoppers. Thanks for setting the record straight with those who were afraid. Now you can tell them to appreciate how cool it looks and its amazing orb web! 

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Are there coyotes roaming in Geauga County? I've been spotting what looks to be a pup by itself once crossing the road during day and again at night in the same area (Hotchkiss and Old Rider road near gravel pit). Could not capture any pics as I was driving both times. Sure had a resemblance of a coyote to me, as I have seen plenty of foxes cross my path and this did not look like a fox! Thanks for your response.

A: Yes, there are coyotes in all 88 counties of Ohio. They resemble scraggly, shepherd-mix dogs with long legs.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Program Coordinator

Q: My cat brought this to me yesterday (7/15/16). Can anyone tell me what this might be? Any information would be appreciated.

A: This is a newly emerged annual cicada. We have three species in our area, so it could be a Swamp Cicada, Linne's Cicada or Lyric Cicada. There are probably some physical characteristics which could be used to ID the specific species, but it is difficult when they are new. Their song is the best way to tell them apart (at least for Naturalist Linda).

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Saw this hawk in a low branch of a White Pine at the Naturerealm in Akron. I believe it is a Broad-winged Hawk, but I am not sure.

A: This youngster is a Coopers Hawk. Note the long, rounded gray-banded tail. He/she must now become a full-fledged hunter facing the trial of survival in his/her first winter. One of these (excellent, by the way) photos shows the bird with its mouth agape. Could be yawning, about to eject a pellet of indigestible bone, feather or fur; or calling out in hawk-talk: “Mommy, Daddy! Feed me! Feed me!” – a sound heard in July in many bird languages as fledglings are tended by adults while gaining independence.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Reply: Thanks for the response. My initial thought was that it was a Coopers, but then after looking through all my bird books and the Cornell website, I talked myself out of it. It's great to be able to get your help. Thanks again. 

Q: Ok I usually tell ppl what bugs are but I can't figure this one out. can u help me? sry it's not the best pic and I think it's a young Ichneumon wasp but im not sure.

A: I'm 99 percent sure this is an adult stonefly. It has the proper posture and shape. It is not a wasp.

The larva of stoneflies are aquatic and live in streams. They are bio-indicators of good water quality because they need clean, cold, well-oxygenated water for survival. Adults may fly to lights at night.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Reply: I found another bug, it's weird.

Reply: This is a phantom crane fly – a denizen of wetlands – and well named
for its ability to easily disappear in the shadows among wetland vegetation.

This is a very unique insect in that it has such long legs and relatively small wings; one wonders how it flies at all. Well, here is a good article explaining how they put together. As Mr. Spock would say, "fascinating."

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: This animal was wandering a subdivision in Kirtland in early June. Larger in size than a red fox. Could it be a cross fox?

A: Yes, it looks like a cross fox to me. The "cross" is a melanistic color phase of the red fox. The term "cross" applied to this dark color phase is due to a band of dark hair running down the back (not really prominent in this particular specimen) coupled with a dark band running across the shoulders (quite apparent in this specimen).

The cross color phase does occur naturally. However, this fox’s close proximity to an occupied vehicle suggests some lack of fear of humans. It is also quite possible that this is a captive-bred fox – which might also account for the large size that you noted. Such animals are available from exotic animal breeders in Ohio. 

Thank you for your inquiry. Lake Metroparks' interpretive manager, Andy Avram, had these additional insights to offer:

I would agree with Dan that this is the 'cross' phase of the Red Fox. A very cool sighting, and I am not sure how common they are in Ohio. They become more regular as one moves northward. In Quebec a few years ago we saw a number of foxes and about half were cross. I would presume it is a wild fox, but pretty hard to tell. Either way an interesting animal!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Greetings naturalists, the ~30 year old oak tree in my front yard in Russell Township is struggling this year. The leaves look as though they have been chewed by a Japanese beetle, but I haven't seen any of them this year anywhere in my yard. Several branches, including the main growth stem, have lost all of their leaves, and some small branches have just fallen off. I noticed that these dead branches have a hole in the middle as if something is boring down the branch - and it was! See photos. Any ideas?

A: My best guess is that this is the larva of an Oak Twig Pruner beetle, Anelaphus parallelus. They're a nifty beetle that lays its eggs within oak trees; then the growing larvae nibble a passageway through the tree's tiny twigs. Around July, the maturing larvae munch around the circumference of the twig, "pruning" it off of the tree, and falling to the ground.  (Which makes them the most aptly named beetles in the world.)

The larvae doing the pruning this year are frequently a year old, and have over-wintered within their tunnels. After they've fallen to the ground, the larvae wall themselves up within their little cavities, pupate over winter, and emerge as adult beetles the following spring.

Most sources say that Oak Twig Pruner beetles rarely kill their host trees; however, they can produce damage to twigs that gardeners might find unsightly. If you'd like to get rid of the little stowaways, the suggested treatment is to gather up the fallen twigs (with the larvae inside) and burn them; this can prevent the adults from emerging next spring to continue the cycle. However, since the beetles have a two-year life cycle, it's important to repeat this treatment next year, to catch the next crop of baby beetles. 

[The "nuclear option," so to speak, would be the application of a systemic insecticide to the entire tree by watering it into the roots. However, both the Ohio State and Michigan State University extension services caution that no insecticide has been tested to see if it's 100% effective at eliminating Oak Twig Pruner beetles. Since this isn't known to be effective against these insects, and it will also kill any beneficial insects on the tree, it doesn't sound like the best treatment option.]

If the photographs showing nibbled oak leaves are from the same tree as the wormy twig, this is a bit of a puzzle. Oak Twig Pruner beetles don't eat leaves, and so there must be another animal (likely an insect larva) eating the leaves. If a tree is being parasitized so thoroughly by at least two kinds of insects, that's usually a good sign that the tree is in pretty poor health overall. If you're determined to keep the tree, it might be a good idea to call an arborist to make an examination.

Here are some links for more information about Oak Twig Pruner betles:

- Chris Mentrek, Naturalist

Q: My sister wanted to get an ID on this beetle.

A: Your sister appears to have found a Pale Green Weevil (Polydrusus impressifrons). A non-native beetle, it was originally from Europe. The adults feed on the leaves of a wide range of trees while the larvae feed on roots. Rarely considered a pest. For more information, see

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Any idea what insect was in this? Many thanks.

A: I'm pretty sure these are the mud pots that Potter's Wasps make. It looks like they have/may be emerged/emerging from the pots. They have an interesting life cycle; learn more at this link (and be sure to scroll all the way down the page to see what's inside the "pots").

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Taken at Penitentiary Glen on the side of a valley leading down to a creek, wondering what type of flower this is? Flower looks like swamp rose, leaves and berries kind of look like grapes.

A: It's purple flowering raspberry, a member of the rose family. It grows in rich woods, often on stream hillsides that get some sun. The showy rose-colored flowers make it stand out.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: I live in Geauga County near Big Creek Park. I regularly jog at the park and a week or so ago I noticed what appears to be some kind of disease affecting beech trees. It appears to my very untrained eye that all the beech trees along the Beechwoods Trail are under severe distress, perhaps even dying. In some cases all the leaves are gone and they just bloomed in the past few weeks. I am not a naturalist, but it looks pretty dramatic because I usually don't notice such things. Dramatic enough that I was compelled to look online. When I did so, I found this guy's website, and the pictures I took this afternoon may be the same thing he's talking about.

A: I have seen this in several Geauga parks including Bass Lake Preserve, The Rookery and Big Creek Park. It's still unidentified. The website you mentioned by Jim McCormac, an excellent Ohio naturalist, does a good job describing it.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Another take by Naturalist Tami Gingrich, and her pictures of this condition she observed, can be seen at this link.

Q: Just wondering if you can identify this very distinctively marked brown spider my daughter saw in Ashtabula. 

A: Great picture! What you behold is a really interesting arachnid, the Nursery Web Spider (Pisaurina mira). Common throughout Ohio. Sometimes found near houses (judging from the picture, as this was), but are not considered dangerous. More information about this and other spiders commonly found in Ohio can be found in the "Common Spiders of Ohio" field guide produced by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. They have multiple field guides for various animals (birds, mammals, dragonflies, etc.). I highly recommend checking them out. Here is the website to the spider guide. Hard copies can be requested through 1-800-WILDLIFE, or if you would like, contact me and I can set some aside for you to pick up either at our Big Creek Park (Chardon) or The West Woods (Russell Twp.) location.    

Thank you for sharing. It's great to see the diversity of species in the area.

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Why does it seem like so many pine trees are dying in Geauga County? Any ideas?

A:When you say “pine tree,” are you referring to all evergreen trees? The Colorado blue spruce, especially at Swine Creek Reservation, are all dying from being planted in clay so they are stressed from climate change; they prefer a colder climate, not wet and hot. This tree was extensively planted by New Englanders when they came here.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: My neighbors told me they saw a fisher in their backyard a few weeks ago. I was driving on Route 44 heading North from 87 and believe I saw the same fisher crossing the road around 3 p.m. It was about 18-24 inches tall and had a lurching gate as it ran across the road. I've never seen any animal move like that and after looking at some online video of a fisher, it moved in a similar fashion. It was very dark brown and black in color. Are there any other reports of fishers in Geauga County? Are they dangerous? My wife is afraid they will harm our cats if they happen to be outside and the fisher confronts them.

A: The possibility of a fisher in Geauga County: improbable, but not impossible.

Fishers are large climbing weasels that specialize in killing porcupines as well as birds and other mammals. Fishers are mammals of the mixed coniferous/deciduous forests in Canada and the more northern states. They were found in extreme NE Ohio prior to 1850.

The first critter that comes to mind as medium-sized mammal perched on its haunches to look out over roadside vegetation would indeed be a woodchuck. But, as apparently not the case, other possibilities, in order of probability, would be a:
1) mink, quite common actually
2) otter, uncommon but widespread in Geauga County
3) fisher: a several sightings in Northeast Ohio in recent years, wandering in from Pennsylvania; a dark, fox-sized member of the weasel family; short legs, long body

The observation of a lurching gait indeed suggests a member of the weasel family. At 2 feet or under in length  - you did mean length, not height, yes?  - and dark-brown in color, I’d say mink. Anymore, otter would be less likely, but very possible. Both mink and otter are uniform dark brown in color. If you were seeing a more grizzled look of brown and black, that does suggest a small fisher. Also click here for a good article on fishers.

I now have mounts of mink, otter and fisher here at The West Woods Nature Center. Let me know when you’d like to come over and see them as a help in determining what animal you saw.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: We have lived In Munson Township for 10 years. Yesterday was the first time we ever saw a fox. It ran in front of our car on Bass Lake Road. It was brown in color and the size of a medium sized dog. Are they known to be in the area? Are they dangerous? Thanks so much in advance.

A: Well, size is relative to the observer, but a fox (Red Fox) would be reddish in color, have a black-tipped tail and be more on the order of a small dog in size. A coyote on the other hand, may appear to be more brownish and more the size of a medium sized dog.

In either case, both wild canines are common mammals that flourish among us. We needn't live in fear of them. Both may give humans a curious look from a distance, but avoid people. Any wild mammal that shows a lack of fear towards humans should be avoided as diseased and the sheriff's department notified. Dog walkers need to keep their dogs on a leash in town, country and certainly parks. A parent coyote, protective of its young, may take an aggressive stance towards dogs when human and pet are coming close to a den. Turn around and calmly head the other direction.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Thoughts on this squirrel ? I've seen black squirrels with orange tails too and wonder if is a hybrid between gray (black morph) and fox? Or even gray and red???

A: I'm not aware of any hybridization between our local squirrel species: Eastern fox, gray (including the melanistic black phase), red and Southern flying squirrel. However, your inquiry prompted an online search that produced a very informative article addressing this phenomenon:

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: It’s already blooming in late April and it’s small, maybe 10 inches.

A: This is primrose, which is non-native. The small purple flower also in the picture is creeping Charlie or ground ivy. Used to be called ale ivy used to flavor beer before hops.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: I was with Tami on her bluebird walk at the Earth Day Extravaganza and I showed her my bluebird eggs. Well I came home today and all 5 eggs were pulled out of the nest. They were pecked open. I’m not sure if it was wrens or sparrows. Can you ask her for me? I forgot which one she said would do it. Also if I would need to remove the nest. The bluebird parents keep going in the nest looking for their eggs. I feel so bad for them. I hope they will nest again. If it was wrens, would a wren guard be a good ideal if they do lay more eggs?

A: So sorry to hear about those eggs. Wouldn’t you know it! Actually either species, House Sparrow or House Wren could be the guilty party. Wrens are more likely to remove the eggs, whereas House Sparrows just start building right over them. In any case, make sure you clean out the box thoroughly and take away all the destroyed materials so as not to attract predators. If your box is located next to a shrubby area, you may want to move it into a more open space that won’t be as attractive to House Wrens! Chances are that pair of bluebirds will start over. Best of luck!

- Tami Gingrich, Naturalist

Q: Noticed something in the front yard Monday evening, possibly some early emergence of Brood V? We're in Bedford, in a heavily wooded lot. It was incredible 17 years ago. Here are the photos. Curious what you think?

A: Wow, neat photo! These most definitely look like cicada tunnels. However, it also looks like they have been dug out. My guess is that because the larvae are sitting so close to the surface of the soil at this time, that animals such as raccoons, skunks and opossums can sense/smell them pretty easily and are going after them early.

Keep an eye out for more clues such as this. Soil temperature is around 54F right now and we still need to get to 64F for emergence!

- Tami Gingrich, Naturalist



Q: I have attached a video clip that I took out my window this morning in Burton. I know it is very faint, but I am wondering what bird is singing the very long song. Thank you in advance.

A: It is a Winter Wren. These are tiny, tiny birds with one of the most beautiful songs in the bird world. They are forest birds that prefer conifers: pines, etc.; they eat invertebrates: insects, etc.; and they nest in cavities in trees. Click here for more on the Winter Wren.

-Denise Wolfe, Program Coordinator

Q: Can you please help me identify this snake?

A: The snake in your photo is an Eastern Milk Snake, a wonderful snake to have around since they feed on mice and other rodents. The name milk snake originated from the fact that farmers seeing them around their barns mistakenly believed they milked the cows at night. From the ODNR Ohio Reptiles: "They should be considered an asset, worthy of protection on anyone's property"! Thanks for sharing your photo!

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: I don’t have an identification question and instead am interested in the bat population numbers in Geauga County. Specifically, I am curious if you are seeing a decline in the occupancy in your bat houses in the parks.

I am considering building a bat box with my kids for our yard (Claridon Twp.) and, while not overly expensive, it is an investment of nearly $100 or so for wood, a 15-foot pole and other supplies. I am hesitant to spend the money only to learn that bat populations have decreased enough that the house would never be occupied. I could use the same money in other forms of wildlife habitat around our home. Thanks for the any information you can give me.

A: You are correct in stating that bat populations have dramatically declined over the last few years in NE Ohio and elsewhere. This is a result of white-nose syndrome. Good information about this serious problem can be found here.

This fungal disease was first discovered in the US (New York state) in 2006, and I first documented this problem for Geauga County in February 2012. Since that time, our bat numbers have sadly and steadily declined.

Bat boxes are best put up where you have observed bats before and know that they are using the habitat. Questions for you to answer: 1) Have bats used your yard in the past? 2) Is the correct habitat available for them? 3) When is the last time you observed bats around your yard? 

If the answers are yes to the above and they were in your yard last summer, then maybe I would try it out (if the cost is not a major concern). There are other worthwhile wildlife projects you can do with kids, too, that may not be so expensive: 1) Bluebird boxes 2) Plant a butterfly/hummingbird garden 3) Stop mowing areas of your lawn and allow them to grow in naturally (or try planting) with good native plants like milkweed, goldenrod, etc.  (this will attract a lot of wildlife for you that lawns will not and save you time/money on lawn maintenance)

Hope this helps and let us know if you are successful with the bats. Thanks for your interest in Geauga County's wonderful wildlife.

- Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: First of all, thank you for all that you do - I am truly grateful to live in an area with such an amazing park system and staff. My wife and I have had the opportunity to attend a variety of GPD events and every time we come away with a greater knowledge, respect, and appreciation of the natural world around us.

The last few nights I've heard a mystery sound outside of our Chardon Twp home. I was able to get this recording, which I'm hoping may help to identify the animal (I've thought owl but haven't been able to find a similar sound). Our property contains a mature beech maple forest and we regularly get a variety of wildlife but this is a new sound for us.

I appreciate any insight that you can provide. Thanks.

A: It is an Eastern Screech Owl. Screech owls have two calls: the low-pitched monotone trill and a higher-pitched whinny. You recorded a prime example of the trill. Glad to hear that you have them around!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: With all the concern about football players and concussions these days, how do woodpeckers hammer away at hard wood without suffering conditions or chronic headaches?

A: This oft-asked question was prompted by a video my good friend Jim sent me of a woodpecker whacking away at a tree trunk with its beak:

Woodpeckers do so for three different reasons: (1) to feed by to excavating wood for the insects within, (2) to “carve” out a nest cavity, and (3) to rapidly drum on resonant wood (as opposed to singing) to define territory. But HOW? Well, a number of ways.

First, woodpecker skulls are thick and spongy, and loaded with microscopic beam-like bits of bone that form a tightly woven “mesh” for support and protection of the brain. This spongy bone is concentrated at the front and back of the skull and functions as a shock absorber.

Woodpeckers' tube-like hyoid bones act as additional support structures. Hyoid bones serve as a sheath for the extendible barbed tongue that woodpeckers use to probe and extract insects housed within wood. The ends of hyoid bones wrap all the way around the skull eventually meeting to form a sort of sling shape. This bizarre-looking bone, the researchers think, acts like a safety harness or seat belt for the woodpecker’s skull, absorbing shock.

The brain itself is small and is positioned in a tight space with little room to rattle around inside the skull. The largest surface of the brain points towards the front of the skull. When the front of the brain does collide with the skull upon impact, the force is spread out over a larger area. This is said to makes it more resistant to concussions.

A woodpecker’s beak helps prevent brain trauma, too. The outer tissue layer of the upper beak is longer than the lower beak, creating a kind of overbite while the bone structure of the lower beak is longer and stronger than the upper one. The researchers think that the uneven build diverts impact stress away from the brain and distributes it to the lower beak and bottom parts of the skull instead; click here for more.

With today’s elevated concern for concussions in football players, maybe engineers should take a closer looks at woodpeckers in their efforts to design a better football helmet! A prime opportunity for bio-mimicry!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Hi! Wondering about these footprints found in Gates Mills Land Conservancy this week. They’re about 7- 7.5 inches, top to bottom. Here are my guesses: Barred Owl, Wild Turkey, Pheasant. Thanks!

A: Gobble gobble, turkey time!

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: This is on a windowsill on the 23rd floor of a dorm at Ohio State. It looks to me like a gray phase gyrfalcon, but they shouldn't be this far south.

A: Ya know Dorothy, people drive for miles to see a Peregrine Falcon. And here's one looking right in the window! Yes, you're correct in recognizing it as a falcon, but alas, it is indeed a peregrine. You are right, a gyrfalcon appearance in Ohio, or anywhere in the lower 48 for that matter, is a rare occurrence for sure. 

Considering that the eastern population of Peregrine Falcons became extinct in the wild well before the end of the 20th century, their comeback is a remarkable conservation success story. Much of the credit goes to captive propagation and re-introduction efforts since the 1970's for sure as well as the banning of DDT and other persistent hydro-carbon pesticides that caused reproductive failure. But the species adaptability - switching from remote cliff ledges to downtown city skyscraper ledges as nesting sites - is at least as miraculous as the success of human efforts on their behalf. 

Today, peregrines nest in many of Ohio's big cities including Columbus, with multiple pairs in Cleveland. Your bird is likely the single male that resides on the OSU campus. See this link for details.

Very cool photo! Thanks for the inquiry!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Wondering if you can tell me what kind of canine this is? A family member took the picture in her backyard in Broadview Heights on January 6, 2016. She has friends telling her it is a coyote and wolf hybrid. I’m not really sure what it is. To me it looks a little like a husky.

Here is another photo of the canine I sent you the other day. This you can see the face good. I think she said this is one of the pups from the first photo I sent, which means she has seen three of them?

A: Though we weren't able to say for sure based on these pictures, a lot of people weighed in with their thoughts.

Looks like a coyote to me! See the scent spot on its tail?! Unique color! Cool! - Tami Gingrich, GPD Research Assistant

It is reddish phase Coyote with its full winter coat. Sometimes the coat can be misleading and make the animal look bigger than it actually is. According to Ohio Division of Wildlife, coyotes weigh between 20 and 50 lbs, comparable to a medium sized dog. - John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

I had a couple others look  at this and we cannot say for sure, but here are some our thoughts: Some characteristics do appeared to be coyote. Tail, bit of the face, belly, posture,  and we have seen coyotes this color before. It does have some characteristics of domestic dog. Ear shape and placement, body shape, some of the nose, and fluffy fur. Would we rule out coy dog?  No, but cannot say for sure. So, bottom line is we are not sure, but feel it is not pure coyote and I think we are safe to say not wolf! - Tim Krynak, Cleveland Metroparks

Let me know your consensus; I think coy-dog. - Tim Matson, Case Western Reserve University

Q: We live in Russell. What kind of critter did this to our attached garage? I just discovered this yesterday morning; it had to have happened recently. The tearing and bending is just as I found it. The siding is older heavy gauge aluminum. That corner is open at the bottom and chipmunks can be seen and heard at times during the active season. I'm sure mice also use it.

A: Our best guess is a rodent like a squirrel, or chipmunk. Non-toxic deterrents (found at home improvement stores) can be sprayed onto the siding to prevent future damage.

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: We found this hole in a tree on the Affelder Link trail on Christmas Day. It is about 5 feet off the ground and is about 2 inches in diameter. Who might be living here?

A: Noting the deeper cavity below the entrance hole, this would be a nesting cavity. Consulting Hal. H. Harrison’s Peterson Field Guide to Easter Bird Nests, here are some entrance hole dimensions:

Round holes:
1-1/4”:  Downy Woodpecker
1-3/4 “: Red-headed Woodpecker
1-3/4” to 2-1/4”: Red-bellied Woodpecker
3”: Northern Flicker

Slightly oval (horizontal x vertical):
2’ x 2-1/2”:  Hairy Woodpecker
3-1/4” x 3-1/2”: Pileated Woodpecker

So there you are! Get out your ruler and take measurements for your answer. Nice find!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Hi there. We found this mushroom last week when we hiked at The West Woods and wonder if this is reishi mushroom or not.

A: I'll defer to a mushroom expert to answer this one.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

A: While the bracket fungi could possibly be one of the Ganoderma, particularly lucidum, which would be the one attributed with the common nomenclature of Reishi in Japanese, the image is of such poor quality and fails to show the underside so that one cannot be sure. I would only confirm it is a bracket fungus without ability to go beyond that.

- Thomas Sampliner, past president of the Native Plant Society and fungus aficionado

Q: I know that Black-capped Chickadees are most abundant at the Bird in the Hand feeding station at The West Woods. How come? Thanks!

A: Chickadees at first seem to be more "friendly" than some of the other birds, but perhaps they are just bolder? I looked to see if anyone else had thoughts on this and found a few links.
The explanation that seems most logical is that chickadees are bolder and more observant than some of the other birds. Last year the Red-breasted Nuthatches and this year the Turfted Titmice have picked up on the easy source of winter food. I think the titmice have been interested all along but have not been bold enough to land on a hand before.

I wish I knew what goes on inside their brains!

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: Sorry if it looks a bit chewed – one cat and two dogs had hold of it. Not a happy ending, poor thing. It was dead when I got to it.

Is there anything we should know about having these critters in the neighborhood? We are in Chesterland, 0.6 of a mile from County Line, and have a large stand of woods in the back of our home as do most of the neighbors. I don’t know if the cat brought it up from the woods or if it was living near the house.

A: If your guess was Least Weasel, you are correct. Since they are the smallest carnivore in the world at six to nine inches in length, they are seldom seen. Favored habitat is upland fields with underground burrows lined with grass or fur. A least weasel may eat one or two mice daily but are victims of other predators like larger weasels, hawks, owls, coyotes and domestic cats or dogs. Here as link to ODNR web page:

Thanks for contacting us.

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: As I walk through my yard, there are eruptions in the dirt everywhere! Can you tell me what is causing this? Thanks!

A: Hard to know for sure without a picture, but I am assuming that the eruptions in your yard are the piles of dirt made by mole activity. Here are a couple links:

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: What poisonous snakes can be found in Geauga County? Thanks!

A: We have NO venomous snakes in Geauga County. In the state of Ohio there are three venomous snakes (Northern Copperheads, Timber Rattlesnakes and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes), none of which are very common. The Massasauga (also known as the Swamp Rattlesnake) lives closest to Geauga County in pristine wetlands in the Grand River Watershed in Ashtabula County.

- John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Q: I am wondering if you can help me identify this animal that I followed from my boat along the shoreline of Lake Roaming Rock in Roaming Shores, Ohio (Ashtabula County). I think it is an otter…am I correct? Thanks for any info you can give me. I grew up in Geauga County  in Parkman, along the Grand River, and have always been a big fan of Geauga County.

A: Trotter Otter?’s a mink. Common misidentification between these two members of the weasel clan. Mink are aquatic weasels that prey on fish, frogs, mice, muskrats, snakes, turtles and birds – about anything they can put a killer neck bite on. Great photos, though!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: What causes birds to hit our house windows, and is there anything that can be done to prevent this? Please help.

A: Window strikes have long been a saddening hazard to birds. 

Window strikes occur under several circumstances. The most benign, albeit annoying to human occupants, are male birds (typically robins and cardinals) interpreting their own reflection in glass as a rival. This puts territorial males into the attack mode with lots of feet flailing and pecking. This can become bothersome, especially when weeks turn into months of window-whacking. 

Another cause of window collisions is panicked feeder birds fleeing marauding Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawk: bird hunters who specialize in the art of the ambush. The solution is to place bird feeders further away from windows.

The most deadly window collisions, claiming untold millions of birds occur during spring and fall migration. Most songbirds migrate at night, many using celestial cues as part of their navigation repertoire, and therefore become confused when interior building lights for mistaken for stars. Efforts are underway in large cities, including Cleveland  with the Smart Light, Safe Flight initiative to get businesses to save energy and save birds by turning off their lights at night when their offices, except for a few custodians and over-achieving workaholics, are largely unoccupied. This is especially critical for tall buildings which reach into the altitudes of migratory flight.

Daytime window collisions claim legions of migratory and resident birds with the carnage often heavy among residential, commercial and institutional buildings. The problem comes about by birds seeing the image of foliage behind them reflected in the glass in front of them which they fly into at full tilt. Often birds are not killed upon impact, but die later from head trauma and neurological damage. Accurate estimates of window kills are hard to determine as most victims are carried off by scavengers before being discovered. But witnessed, it is a heart-wrenching experience: that sickening thud of feathers and flesh on glass reverberates in my ears for a long time. 

Many solutions have been offered to deter birds away from glass, ranging from inexpensive if unaesthetic homespun remedies such asribbons and suspended pie tins, plastic lids and compact discs waving and twirling in front of the glass, to a variety of commercially available window decals such as falcon-in-flight and leaf silhouettes claiming to deter birds from striking window glass.  

The latest preventative measure being touted as inexpensive, aesthetically appealing and above all, effective is the use of nylon parachute cord. The cord is strung taut vertically in parallel with strands a few inches apart using nails or small hooks in the window frame. The claim is that the cord breaks up the image of the reflected foliage and thus deters window collisions. Although kits are available commercially, this is an easy project to attempt on your own with materials readily available at any hardware or home improvement store. We're even about to install such a contraption at Big Creek Park's Donald W. Meyer Center. See

Give it a try and let us know how it works!

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: What is this tree along The West Woods' Pioneer Bridle Trail?

A: This beautiful "tree" is a European euonymus, which unfortunately is listed as an invasive plant although it does not seem to have spread much in its location at The West Woods. Click here and here for some links to more information about the plant.

A related species and better known plant is burning bush, which has beautiful fall color but has become very invasive in our forests. Click here for more.

Enjoy your fall rides!

Q: My friend in eastern PA has a tree with leaves falling like this. I have never seen leaves change color like this, but maybe they're around here, too? Do you know what it is? Maybe some sort of Aspen or Poplar?

A: The invasive callery pear has a variety of leaf colors in the fall; it escapes into natural areas, out-competing native species.

- Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: Got any idea what kind of frog this is? It has been hanging around our back deck all summer. Appreciate the consideration.

A: Thanks for sending a picture with your inquiry. It is a Gray Treefrog. Even though it is green in your picture, it is able to change color and blend in with whatever it is sitting on. It also may be a young individual that emerged from a nearby pond this past summer. Gray Treefrogs will make use of people's backyards, sometimes clinging to windows or screens in order to take advantage of insects that are attracted by house or patio lights. I'm glad you noticed that it was sharing your space. Maybe it will hibernate near your home. In the winter, Eastern Gray Treefrogs bury themselves beneath logs, leaves and dirt. About 40 percent of their body can freeze during the winter. They keep their blood stream from freezing by producing an antifreeze-like fluid called glycerol. The rest of their body fluids usually become frozen during hibernation. Hopefully you will also see him/her next spring!

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you identify the bird pictured, please? I don't think it is a sparrow. Thank you.

A: That's a female House Sparrow you see.

- Linda Gilbert and Dan Best, Naturalists

Q: Yesterday saw a fuzzy yellow caterpillar hanging to the underside of a leaf. It had no black on it. When I tried to look it up, it looked most like the Tiger Moth pictures that came up, but when I looked those up it looks like they aren't native to this area so maybe it's something else?

A: ID's are difficult to do without a picture, but here are some links to species of  "fuzzy yellow caterpillars" that are found in our area. I wonder if you know what tree it was on. That could also be a helpful clue........or not.

- Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: What the heck is this?

A: I enjoyed the subject line of your inquiry! "What the heck is this!" is a common thing yelled when seeing this bizarre creature. The answer: this is a Marbled Orbweaver, a cool spider that is sometimes referred to as a "Halloween Spider" because of its orange coloration and presence at this time of year. Marbled orbweavers feed at night and are usually hidden in a folded leaf retreat during the day. The size of this individual in the picture indicates it is a female. It is full of eggs, and is in search of a good spot to place her egg case. Don't be alarmed, they pose no threat to humans, they just look scary!

- Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: On this morning’s walk on the Affelder Link Trail, I found these little critters roaming around on a beach tree leaf. What are they?

A: This is the beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator). They form large colonies on small branches and the undersides of leaves. They feed on the sap of beech trees. They don’t usually cause much damage to the tree, but you will notice a black, sooty mold growing on the ground below the colonies. It is caused by a fungus that grows on the sticky “honeydew” that the insects excrete.

Here are some links:

The last is a fascinating video of up-close shots of these tiny insects. Way cool!

- Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: We back up to Silver Creek. Is this a common water snake? What kind of caterpillar is this?

A: The snake is a Northern Water Snake, and the caterpillar is a Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillar, which is pretty neat considering the leaves in the picture of the snake appear to be sycamore leaves. The larval host for this caterpillar is sycamore and they over-winter as a cocoon, with the adults emerging in May or June.

- Karie Wheaton, Naturalist

Q: I love your Ask a Naturalist feature on your website! GPD gets it - who else are we supposed to ask? 

My cousin sent me the attached picture and I'm sorry to say it wasn't taken in NE Ohio. But I'd be willing to bet your gang can come up with an ID. It was taken this past weekend at a fruit farm near Dayton. The Montgomery County park website does not offer what you guys do - no help at all. I have to admit, this picture is not the best quality, but it's what I've got. It's not a dragonfly, right?

A: This insect is a female Ichneumon Wasp. You are correct, your image is not a dragonfly, but ichneumon wasps are also beneficial to humans, helping to control many agricultural and forest insect pests. The long structure on the tail is an ovipositor ("egg depositor"), which a female uses to deposit eggs in larva of other arthropods. Though it may look threatening, these ichneumon wasps do not sting, so you enjoy observing any of the thousands of varieties that can be found in North America. Click here for a link to more info and here for a link to a wasp ovipositing.

- Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: What type is this?

A: Wolf Spider. Let me guess: on concrete floor of your basement or garage? No worries. Big, but harmless. Known for giving arachnophobiacs a bad case of the willies, but a very cool critter.

- Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Never saw anything like this before, but this year we've got 'em in droves here in Bainbridge Twp. These beetles are 0.5 to 1.0 cm and they love my pole beans. They're crawling up the siding of the house, too. I've killed a lot of them by flicking them into a cup of detergent-water. What are they, do you think?

A: The pictured insect is not a beetle. It is the nymph of the green stink bug - another TRUE BUG belonging to the taxonomic insect order Hemiptera! (See the entry below for another example of this.) These guys eat a variety of plants/crops and, as a predator defense, exude a smelly substance, hence the name. Click here for more information from BugGuide.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you help ID these insects? They are on our sunflower leaves? Are they all the same in different stages of their life cycle? What are they actually gaining by eating the leaves? These are in the Hartford, Ohio, area.

A: I knew they were treehopper nymphs, but I wanted to see if I could get to a species (well, at least a genus) and, after much searching, I think this is as close as I can get.

The nymphs pictured here belong to the insect order Hemiptera. Insects in this order are also known as TRUE BUGS, so any insect belonging to this order may indeed be called a bug! It is interesting to note that all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs - but I digress!

Treehoppers have great camouflage; the ones in these pictures look like they will be thorn mimics. Click here for more information from BugGuide; if you click on the species name at the end of the taxonomic breakdown, it will show more info on the species. It also says they feed on plants belonging to the Asteraceae family, to which sunflowers belong. 

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Do black widow spiders breed in magnolia trees? I was told this by a staff member at a garden. Thanks.

A: I went to my favorite spider person, Sarah Rose, PhD candidate at The Ohio State University's School of Environment and Natural Resources, to help with this answer:

There could be black widows in NE Ohio; Latrodectus variolus (the Northern Black Widow) can be found up through Canada. They are less venomous than Latrodectus mactans (the Southern Black Widow), but are still medically relevant. (L. mactans can occasionally be found in Southern Ohio, but NE Ohio would be out of its range.)

As far as where they breed: I have found many L. variolus (Northern Black Widows) and their webs are usually close to the ground, with a retreat under something. That something could be a log, stones or the edge of a building. They really like log piles. I am not saying that they would never use a Magnolia Tree, I am just not aware of that being a preferred place for them.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Got a picture of a fascinating butterfly. Doesn’t have a swallowtail. Unique color for me. Can you help me out?

A: This beautiful butterfly is a Red-spotted Purple. It occurs in two forms or subspecies - Limenitis arthemis astyanax, the Red-spotted Purple, and Limenitis arthemis arthemis, the White Admiral, which has a broad white band across both wings. Having two broods, Red-spotted Purples become a common sight twice between late spring and late summer. The purples are often seen landing on limestone gravel from which they derive salts and minerals.

Your inquiry suggested its resemblance to a swallowtail butterfly. Indeed, with both butterflies having black and iridescent blue wings, the Red-spotted Purple is considered a mimic of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. The pipevine, in retaining toxins ingested with food plants as caterpillars, are unpalatable to many predators in much the same way, just as the Monarch butterfly is made distasteful to their predators from milkweed fed upon as caterpillars. The Monarch’s mimic is the Viceroy butterfly.

Great photo!

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I found this deceased bird while cutting my grass in Chesterland, and I'm having trouble identifying it.

A: Baltimore Oriole. Female or immature of either gender. If it's an immature bird at mid-summer, it is probably a recent fledgling. Hard to say what this bird's cause of death was. However, fledging is one of the most dangerous times in a bird's life. As inexperienced foragers, they may succumb to starvation or malnutrition, especially if weather conditions such as prolonged periods of cool rainy weather, inhibit insect activity. They are also subjected to predation by cats and hawks. 

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Found this at Punderson on a fallen oak tree. What is it? Thanks. You all are awesome!

A: It's not an oak apple gall, but it is a gall most likely caused by a solitary non-stinging wasp or flies that do not harm the tree. The insect secreted a growth hormone which causes the plant to grow a “house” for the developing larva where it will be provided with food and protection. Many kinds of galls are commonly associated with oaks.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

A: Judy provides a good explanation of galls. By finding a match on Google Images, I was able to find out that this particular kind of gall is attributed to a midge: Polystepha pilulae. Although they might look like red blisters, like Judy says, they are not harmful to the tree. 

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I have come across a spider that I cannot identify. I live in Painesville city and I found this little guy in my garage. It scurried across the floor in a 'silverfish'-like way. Legs moved very quickly. It was smaller than an inch in total size with legs included. In my Audubon Society Insects and Spiders book the closest thing I can find is the 'Turret Spider' but the spider I found in my garage wasn't not hairy and there was such defined coloration. The only other thing that looked even remotely like it is the 'Ant-mimic Spider' but the abdomen shape and size are so different that I'm not sure it is that either...wish I had a better picture. Can you help me identify this?

A: This looks like the Woodlouse Spider. It feeds on "pillbugs" or "rolly pollies." It is commonly found near house foundations, basements or under rocks.

Ohio Division of Wildlife has a field guide, Common Spiders of Ohio, which is easy to use, has excellent picture and best of all, it's a free booklet! You can get one by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE or look at it online at this link. There are many other free field guides as well. Check it out!

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: What is happening to my elm tree?

A: Base on the photo, I'd say those are definitely scale insects. (My best guess is that they might be "European elm scale," Gossyparia spuria. Great work in identifying the tree that they're on!)

I always like to think of scale insects as "tree vampires," since they bite into the plants and slurp out nutrients. The nifty thing is that you seem to have caught them in their "mobile" phase, when this year's Young 'Uns are scurrying out towards the leaves to find new feeding spots. The mothers generally have their young in the early spring, so mid-June is the typical time for the new generation of scale insects to be on the move. However, there's some ongoing research by the folks at the Ohio State University Extension that cool, wet spring weather can alter the timing of some scale insects' life cycles.

Even though scale insects are pretty cool to watch, they CAN become a garden pest: lots of feeding by heavy infestations can cause tree branches to die back. If you would like to control your scale insect infestation, there are two basic strategies that gardeners use:

One is to use an organic, horticultural oil, such as neem oil. It's basically just a vegetable oil that's sprayed onto the insects to smother them. (This is my mom's favorite approach.) Most references say that oils are particularly effective on the young, mobile scale insects who haven't settled in yet. However, horticultural oils ONLY work on the pests that a gardener can physically reach; it's tough to get high into the branches of a tree!

The "nuclear option" is to use a systemic insecticide; these are liquids that are watered into the soil around the tree, taken up by its roots, and then passed on to any insects feeding on it. The folks at the OSU Extension's Geauga County office or the Geauga County Master Gardeners program should be able to answer any questions you have about controlling scale insects as garden pests. They're the real experts on products and treatments for pests! The OSU Extension office even has a Facebook page you could consult: behold.   

Thanks for your inquiry!

– Chris Mentrek, Astronomy Naturalist

Q: Can you help me identify this beautiful butterfly?

A: Baltimore Checkerspot, an uncommon beauty. Caterpillars feed on turtlehead, a “less than abundant” wildflower of high quality wetlands. Great find. I found one on Monday on the pavement of a mini-mart. Pretty ragged, faded and spent – end of life condition. Butterflies don’t live too long.

The second photo shows it mating, no less! Hope there are some turtlehead plants to lay their eggs on!

Summer OK so far full of nature happenings. Hope you are enjoying the season.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Would you happen to know what kind of snake this is? Found it in rotten hay.

A: The snake in your photo is an Eastern Milksnake, a wonderful snake to have around a farm since they feed on mice and other rodents. The name milksnake originated from the fact that farmers seeing them around the barn mistakenly believed they milked the cows at night! Glad to see you have them on your farm!

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: Today, June 3, I saw a large flock flying in v formation headed north. They were very high, so I was not certain what I saw. There were at least 20 birds. Isn’t it either a couple months too early or a couple months too late for v formation flights? Perhaps a flock blown off course and late arrivals?

A: There are two possibilities. First of all, our local Canada geese population is pretty much non-migratory. However, they do fly here and there to their favored places and this has them in a “V” formation. The other very good possibility is that you saw Double-crested Cormorants. These birds are very plentiful on Lake Erie and in recent years have been making increased use of inland lakes and reservoirs. They are dark birds, overall black, have outstretched necks in flight and, yep, fly in “V” formations. 

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Reply: Thanks! I believe they were the cormorants, ’pump n glides’, right? A friend was visiting from Minnesota a few years back and pointed them out to me and called them pump n glides. This flock was flying high and just did not appear to be geese. I appreciate your response very much.

Q: Here are some pictures of a turtle I found in my yard today. Do you know what kind of turtle it is? Could it be looking for a place to lay eggs? If so, what is the best way to protect the nest? I'm so excited, I have never seen a turtle in our yard before. The turtle came from our neighbors' pond. He said it has been active lately.

A: It’s a mama Snapping Turtle digging a pit to lay her eggs in. Every year at the end of May/early June, snappers and painted turtles are out crossing roads to find a place to lay eggs. While most people do their best to avoid hitting them, or even stop to help them get to the side of the road that they’re headed for, it’s evident that others go out of their way to run them over.

Residential landscaping is attractive to the turtles, as the soil in the beds tend to be in sunny areas as warm earth provides the incubation. And cultivated soil is also easier to dig that the characteristically hard Geauga clay soil.  Depending on this summer’s weather, the eggs may hatch with baby turtles scampering off in early autumn or, if it’s a cool summer, they may hatch later in fall only to stay put and hibernate, emerging in spring. 

Many turtle nests are pillaged by our overly-abundant raccoons as well as skunks. Best way to protect the nests is to fashion a cage from wire mesh fencing with spaces large enough for half dollar-sized hatchlings to get out, but to keep paws from digging. Place the wire cage over the nest excavation and pin it down with tent stakes (available from hardware, sporting goods or discount stores) being careful not to penetrate the clutch. 

I’m glad you got to see senora snapping turtle digging her egg pit. The fancy footwork to dig such a narrow hole for its depth is truly fascinating to watch; more artful than the most skilled back hoe operator!

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Can you tell me what kind of fly this is at Whitlam Woods? It's about the size of a green-bottle fly, it's on a maple leaf. Maybe it's your common Yellow-legged, black-footed, lace-winged, golden-mantled, grey-eyed flyAlso, what kind of dragonfly at Beartown Lakes?

A: Your picture is a Golden-backed Snipe Fly. They are beauties. Click here for more information.

The dragon picture is probably a Common Baskettail. It could also be a Beaverpond Baskettail, but I'd need a lateral view of the male terminal appendages in order to tell for sure. Beaverponds fly earlier than Commons, but there is a period of overlap when both are on the wing.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I was wondering what kind of snake this is? We live in Russell Township. It's been in/around our yard for years (at least I think it's the same one). Last year it measured around 60 inches. I'm just curious what kind of snake it might be.

A: You're multi-year tenant is a beautiful 5 ft+ black rat snake. Non-venomous. Non-aggressive unless grabbed, which is reasonable considering those that would grab them are predators like hawks, owls, raccoons, herons, fox, coyotes, etc. Good snake to have around if you don't care for mice. I get the impression that you have a "live and let live" attitude towards your black rat snake. Would you have any words of wisdom or advice based on your experiences that you'd like to share with those terrified to find these beneficial creatures on their property?

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Reply: I absolutely love having snakes around my yard. We do have a few, but that is the biggest one. I actually wish we had more. They are amazing creatures. This snake may look intimidating because of its size, but it is actually very docile. My husband, who had always had a extreme fear of snakes, decided last year to face his fear and actually hold the snake since its been around for so long.

The only advice I could give to someone who may fear the snake is please don't kill or harm them. These type of snakes are gentle creatures. If you don't want to be around them, then walk away from it; it will not come after you. If it is in your yard, barn or garage and you do not want them there, you can easily guide it out using a stick to give it a gentle nudge and it will slither away.

Q: I took my dog for a walk on the path by The West Woods Nature Center. As we walked the boardwalk over the first marshy/bog area, I was lucky to see a big black snake and green frog sunning themselves relatively close to each other. I thought it was interesting that they were hanging out so close together. Aren’t they predator and prey?

A: The snake near the frog in the water is actually a Northern Water Snake, and the frog is a Green Frog. As you suspected, the Northern Water Snake would most certainly eat a frog, tadpole or fish. The frog in your picture is likely very aware of the presence of the snake. Should the snake "make a move," the frog would be "out of there" in no time! The vernal pools along the Discovery Trail are wonderful places to observe wildlife! Click here for a nice article about the Common Water Snake.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Reply: The information about the snakes, vernal pools and frog were quite interesting, and I checked out the website links. I have seen very few snakes in my life (that I can recall), yet this year I have seen three very interesting snakes, "up close and personal." You know about the Northern Water Snake, and the Black Rat Snake, of course, but in February we came across our first Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, in Arizona!

Q: A few people spotted these on last night’s hike (5/20/15) at Swine Creek with Judy Barnhart. I don’t think Judy saw them because the group that did had fallen way behind. They decided they were mating mayflies, but none of the mayflies I found online today look like these two. Are they mayflies?

A: This picture shows a pair of mating Crane Flies. These critters often get mistaken for "giant mosquitos" because that's kinda what they look like. Crane Flies are harmless, however, and many are beautifully marked. Their aquatic, accordion-pleated larva are much uglier and live in streams where some species can be indicators of decent water quality. I am always happy to see their larva on stream surveys. Click here for Crane Flies on the page, or click here for a BugGuide link to pictures of the larva.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I saw a broken, rather leathery small white egg at Beartown Lakes Reservation and wonder if it is a turtle egg or not. Also, I saw tiny black catfish-like fish at Bass Lake Preserve. Are they catfish? They have whiskers.

A: We are in prime turtle egg-laying time right now, so yes, the small leathery white egg probably belonged to a turtle.  If it was round like a ping-pong ball, it probably was a snapping turtle egg. Painted turtle eggs are more oblong in shape, but a picture would be good to determine exactly which species. Oftentimes predators, especially raccoons, dig up the nests and eat the eggs, so it is not unusual to find eggshells and sometimes even one that is still intact.

And yes, Bass Lake has a population of bullhead catfish, and the one that you most likely saw was the Black Bullhead. Click here for the ODNR fish field guide, in which information about bullheads can be found on page 22.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: My daughters and I were at The West Woods. We were hiking towards the observation deck from the Nature center when we noticed this growing out of the tree. There appears to be a seed attached to it. What is this? Also, did it grow from the seed? Is this normal or an unusual occurrence?

A: This is in fact a seed that germinated from the hole in the tree. You can see the seed, which looks like a sunflower seed. The seed probably fell in there and the rest happened naturally. This is just by chance.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Our three enterprising young boys have been digging a "mine" in the backyard of
our Chardon City yard.

With the recent good weather and some friends over to help, they've reached a surprising 3.5 feet deep and had started carving out an alcove before we asked them to stop for the time being. Within days, bees starting buzzing around the damp, shaded, alcove in the clay soil. Within a few more days, dozens upon dozens were quite visibly building a nest in the alcove. They're small - easily less than an inch - and seemingly docile, almost skittish. I had a tough time getting close enough to one to snap a decent picture, even with a telephoto lens.

Any idea what kind of bee this might be? Ideally, we'd love for the boys to continue digging in their "mine" in some fashion, but we're not sure how or even if we should remove the bees.

A: There are many species of bees, and I'd need a few more pictures to try and ID it. But here is a link I found on the internet that may "bee" of some help!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: My son found a very small nest with tiny eggs in a tree. I didn't think hummingbirds would build there nest like this. Attaching a picture. Hard to see, but in the center of the pic.

A: Looks like a Black-capped Chickadee nest with the downy material. Could be a Tufted Titmouse, too.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: A friend in Salem, Ohio, has this strange-looking mushroom? Toadstool? Looked through my mushroom book, but no luck finding it.

A: The “mushroom” is actually the spore-producing structure of the field horsetail Equisetum arvense, which is a primitive plant that reproduces by spores not seeds. This one is common and spreads quickly.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: On Sunday (4/26/15) my granddaughter was taking a walk in Munson and a black and yellow butterfly flew by. Not sure what kind, but it seems early for them. Can you fill me in on when butterflies come to town? (Maybe a Swallowtail, not sure.) Thank you so much.

A: This could be the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. They overwinter as adult butterflies and are the earliest to be seen flying around. The other butterfly is the Tiger Swallowtail, but it isn’t usually here this early.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

A: Denise is correct with the ID and life-cycle of this butterfly: it is a Mourning Cloak, a true sign of spring in Geauga County. Sometimes they can be seen on warm winter days at the end of February and early March - and yes, even when there is still some snow! It is a little early for Tiger Swallowtails, but butterflies NEVER read the field guides, so it can't be ruled out.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Hello. We found two of these plants in the woods very near a creek today. Our best guess is a pitcher plant...can you help us? The creek runs behind our house in Concord Township, I think it is a small section of Kellogg Creek. It runs between Melridge Drive and Morley Road.

A: This is a Jack-in-the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. It is part of the arum plant family (Araceae). Another member of this family is skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. The main characteristic of these plants is that their flowers are composed of a spathe (a modified leaf that covers the flower spike like a hood) and a spadix (a flower spike on a fleshy stem that is inside the spathe).

The Jack-in-the-Pulpit is found in rich moist woods and the skunk cabbage is found in wetland areas in woods and open areas.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: I saw a pile of these snakes on a walk through The West Woods yesterday. They were quite calm and basking on fallen branches and logs by the large marsh pond. They were about 2 feet in length and a few did swim away. Curious if they're Northern Water Snakes?

A: Yep, Northern Water Snakes. Seeing at least three snakes in this serpentine bundle, I suspect that mating is in the offing. Or they're basking in the afterglow and the sun. Breeding is sort of a group thing with these snakes that form writhing piles of reptilian reproduction.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: This weekend I found four small trees stripped of bark nearly to the top. I presume it happened in the winter, since the bottom 18-24 inches are untouched. There is a pile of small chips at the base of each tree. One of our friends said it was porcupine damage, but I didn't think we had porcupines here. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Your photographs document bark stripping by squirrels. The tree damage suggests beaver, but the gnaw marks aren’t nearly as prominent. Porcupines strip bark as well, but you’re right, we don’t have porcupines in Ohio presently.  (I think that they will eventually colonize from Pennsylvania.) I was not able to find definitive explanations as to why squirrels strip bark from branches, limbs and trunks of trees. The reasons that seemed most plausible to me is that, being that this activity takes place mostly in the spring when there is a lot of sap flow in the trees, squirrels are going for the juicy, nutritious inner bark. The bark strips may also end up as nest lining for those leafy treetop nurseries known as dreys. Bark stripping is potentially harmful to trees, exposing unprotected wood to wood-decaying fungus.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: This stump is in Penitentiary Glen, about 65" tall. Our hiking group is having a raging debate: did a bear tear up this stump or did woodpeckers? (I am firmly in the woodpecker camp; the men are really hoping it is a bear.) Thank you.

A: Our vote is that this is the work of a Pileated Woodpecker. It appears that the stump is so rotten that the weight of a bear would likely topple the entire trunk. That is probably why the woodpecker broke it up so easily looking for the insects hidden inside the rotted wood. Thanks for sharing!

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: I sent a question in the fall regarding spiders I was finding in my home.
I did not spot any during the winter, but just this week have found two. I am including a picture of one I found wandering in my bedroom. The other was same type but smaller and darker and was taking a bath with my 4-year-old. What type of spider are they and are they (hopefully) harmless?

A: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, I can't get a good enough look from the picture to be able to tell you what species this spider is without a doubt, but here is what I can tell you:

The habits of spiders are as you described, most active in fall and dormant in winter. Now you are seeing the adults that overwintered and are roaming around looking for the insects that are also active again.

A little bit of nature facts are great, but I know your main concern is, as you asked "is it harmless"? Although I can't tell what species it is, I am pretty confident in saying, there is no need for concern. While many people worry about spider bites, they are actually rare. Only two groups
of Ohio spiders, the black widows and the recluse spiders are considered dangerous to humans, both which do not have noted populations in Geauga or nearby counties.

My guess from your picture and description is that you have the Field Wolf Spider (Hogna helluo), a very common spider around homes. Their large size (3/4" female) can spark fear when first encountered, but they tend to only bite if provoked. As you have probably observed yourself, they are more interested in hiding and getting out of the way. I suspect the one "taking a bath" happened into the tub and couldn't get out!

As the temperatures get warmer and the insects (food source) become more plentiful, you will see more spiders wandering into your surroundings. If you see them in the same areas, look for cracks they may be coming in from and seal them. Catching them in a container, as you did in this picture, and putting them outside will help them take it to their more preferred habitat!

For more great information regarding Ohio spiders, I recommend the Division of Wildlife's website,, where you can also download a great field guide to common spiders.

Addendum: After further consideration, you may want to look up the Common Fishing Spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus (page 52 in this guide). These are large (non-aggressive) spiders that sometimes wander into buildings. If it was in the tub and it seemed to walk on water and was getting around easily, this would be my guess. This species will be much happier in a wooded, wet area than in your house!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Public Service Announcement from Naturalist Dan Best

Since The West Woods park was established, trail hikers have noted and, by most accounts, delighted each spring in seeing up to three large black rat snakes basking high overhead in the branches of the big hollow beech trees that they hibernated in. Yesterday (4/13/15), I had the pleasure of co-leading two classes of third-graders on a geology walk to Ansel’s Cave. With the day’s warm temperatures, I was hoping one of the snakes would be up in the branches basking for all to marvel at its size and climbing ability. Instead, as we approached this location, we came upon the limp dead body of a 5.3-foot black snake. It showed the marks of having been beaten with a stick and stomped.

I’ve long been well aware of fears and phobias of snakes; my mother had a deathly fear of them. This fear is apparently deeply rooted within the human psyche, and it widespread among people. I am also well acquainted with the culturally ingrained perpetuation and media-fueled exploitation of this fear and hatred towards snakes regardless of their status as venomous, non-venomous or harmless. It keeps life dangerous for snakes of all kinds in the presence of humans.

For the 50 third-grade students with me this day, their teachers and parent aides, this incident was nonetheless a teachable moment, an opportunity to impart positive values toward unjustly maligned wildlife.

One needn’t become a snake lover. If afraid of them, then just leave them be.

Not aggressive unless taunted, content to warm its cold body in the April sun after a long winter, there to excite and enthrall visitors as part of our wildlife heritage to be enjoyed in Geauga Park District... I enjoy a wonderful career explaining nature to humans, but it can be very difficult to explain human nature.

Q: I live in Newbury. I saw white foam at the base of several trees this morning. I've seen it on ocassion. My brother said its from phosphates in soaps I use and that I am damaging the trees. What's the real story here? Do I need to make some changes? Thanks.

A: The tree foaming is known as slime flux, a disease that affects many of our mature hardwood trees.

Click here for more information.

– Dan Best, Naturalist






Q: Hello, I am a natural resource student at Hocking College, and currently in a little dismay of my own knowledge of pond life and its functions. This situation occurred to me to have the chance to figure out the best situation for an ecosystem and here it is...

I am currently at home back in Ashtabula County, and me and my father had a very disputable conversation about aquatic life. I wanted to get a hold of you to see what your opinion was on the matter. (I'll try to be as descriptive as possible...)

So here in the mid-succession [young forest] stages of a once planted, plowed and harvested field, we have a lentic and artificial pond. Approximately 9 feet deep. Surrounding the open area, it is about 40% grassland, 15% forbes, 25% woody plants and 20% trees. There is a small stream coming off of a pond on the neighboring property than runs along the north side of the pond a few feet below the surface level of the pond, but the pond has no streams running in or out of the pond, it is stagnant/lentic. This pond has been functioning and providing life now for about 9 years, and is approximately 3/4 acre wide pond. It has been sprayed for cattails, and also has about 10% coverage of other aquatic plants in the summer season. This pond supports fish. This pond supports ducks and other waterfowl, and also an abundance of Odanotas & Dipteras.

I am trying to look at the situation of an artificial dye (Curtrine - Plus Algaecide) and its use on this pond described above. The purpose of the dye is to limit the sunlight onto the water killing algae from growing on the bottom of the pond. (You've probably heard it all before...)

Anyhow, because the pond is only so big and deep, artificial and lentic, I was in questioning of the use of it because of the drawbacks it could have on the ecosystem and pond life. From an ecological and aesthetic standing, would the use of this product limit or help the life of this pond stay in a proper balance? What about the fisherman's opportunity, would this help or take away from his yield? Would this prevent other creatures that use this pond previously or currently to detour and find another? Is there any vital information that I am leaving out that could help decide what is the best decision, dye the pond or not to? Are there any alternatives?

A: Nice to talk with someone studying at Hocking College (many of my very best employees have come from Hocking College). From what I read, you are asking me if using dye in your pond is a benefit or detriment to the aquatic life?  First, you may be slightly confused or just made a typo error when you stated below that the dye was called "Cutrine-Plus Algaecide." "Cutrine" is not a dye but rather a copper based algaecide that is used for the control of unwanted algae in ponds/lakes (be careful with this because it can cause fish kills if not applied properly). One "dye" that I am familiar with is called "AquaShade." This is used to color water and reduce sunlight penetration. This in turn hypothetically reduces unwanted algal blooms. I've seen it used in many ponds and have mixed feelings about it. 

Your question should really be:

1) What is the goal of your pond management?

a) If it is for nature viewing and wildlife habitat, then I would not recommend the dye. This dye really creates an "artificial blue lagoon" look to your pond or lake. Certainly nothing natural looking for an aquatic biologist to appreciate. Also, it will limit planktonic algae which is really the start of your pond's food web and very important food for fish fry, aquatic insects, zooplankton, etc. 

b) If it is strictly all about aesthetics (a clean swimming pool look with no weeds) and you are not worried about the pond ecosystem, then I would go ahead and use the dye.

Good luck to you at school.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Reply: Thank you! I agree, and quite frankly, I am sad that not as many people take the time to learn about the pond ecosystem, and how it is magnificently more complex than what meets the eye. Fortunately, the owner of the pond decided that it would cost too much to frequently apply the algaecide to the pond, and he would let it grow naturally and hope for the best. I have also given him a suggestion that my Field Biology Instructor had also offered with a possible grass carp, and is currently a possibility for the future, but the owner has to do more research considering the pond size, fish population, and proper environment for it to grow.

I appreciate all your help very much, and I hope all is well with GPD and all the species which thrive there. [including the humans]. :)

Q: Any idea who made this deep hole and why? This is in a wild cherry tree at Frohring Meadows.

A: I'm pretty certain this is the work of a Pileated Woodpecker that made a hole in this wild black cherry tree. Pileated Woodpeckers have a knack for finding trees with their favorite food: carpenter ants. Click here for more information.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist










Q: Several years ago, there was a disease or condition that affected mostly House Finches. Whatever it was affected the eyes of the birds. They would be swollen looking and eventually the bird would go blind as the eyes would be completely shut. Then of course, no longer being able to find food, they would die. I have noticed last season and already this year, the same thing; I see it every year, but last year it seemed to be more prevalent. What causes this, does anyone know, and why does it seem to affect only this species of bird? I haven’t noticed it in any other species.

A: This is known as House Finch Eye Disease – scientific name Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. As you said, iIt eventually causes the eyes to swell and the bird goes blind. The best treatment is to keep feeders clean, and if you see a bird that looks like it has this disease, take your feeders down and wash with 10 percent bleach water. Click here for more information from Cornell.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: I have not seen any robins or hear their songs...they are late arriving this year (2015). Why?

A: The American Robin has been seen around the area. They don’t do a true migration. They simply go where food is available. So the heavy snow cover could affect whether you see them or not. As for their singing, they should start fairly soon, with their long melodic song which they do to stake out nesting territory and attract a mate.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

That's right, we usually have robins around in the winter, and more robins in some winters – as when the ornamental crab apple crop is large – than other winters. But this winter there were very few. I’ve since noticed a large influx of robins since the second week of March and have seen some feisty brawls among territorial males. 

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Reply: I love hearing all of the beautiful song birds. I always get a smile when I hear the robins.

Q: What's the reason for this red staining around pools of meltwater on the ice at LaDue Reservoir?

A: Here's a nifty article from Smithsonian magazine describing "watermelon snow," which is due to the red-tinted cysts of a kind of freshwater algae (Chlamydomonas nivalis). The article even features a microscopic view of the cysts. 

Here's how the nifty, wiggly little algae look under one of The West Woods' microscopes. Some were still moving even after sitting in a Wendy's cup on my desk for a few days!

And here's one more article from Scientific American.

– Chris Mentrek, Naturalist aka "Astro-Nat"

Q: We have a Red-shouldered Hawk that has begun sitting on our porch railing, not far from the tree where we hang four bird feeders. So far he/she has eaten 2-3 titmouse (pile of small grey feathers on the ground, nothing else left). How do we discourage this hawk before he eats most of our beautiful birds and/or tells his/her relatives about the feasting buffet that has been found? It’s kind of an enclosed area where the birds can only fly out two ways. Thank you for your help.  We know all of us living creatures need to eat but we feel guilty calling birds to our feeding tree where they may now get plucked up. 

A: I'd like to know for sure if you're sure it is a Red-shouldered Hawk that is hunting your feeders, as Sharp-shinned or Cooper's Hawks would be the more likely choice. However, January through March are such dire times for wildlife that it wouldn't surprise me if a Red-shouldered Hawk took advantage of feeder birds, even though that is not their normal practice.

There's no need to worry that a whole bunch of hawks will show up and clean out all their birds, since hawks are mostly solitary. You might discourage the hawk by scaring it away - or you could buy some suet or raw hamburger and offer it on a platform and maybe it would eat that instead. Tami, our field naturalist was feeding steak to the hawk visiting her yard, and one of our park volunteers currently has a Red-shouldered Hawk cleaning out her suet feeder. My guess is that the hawk will disappear when the weather breaks.

Please don't stop feeding the birds, though, because they need our help right now to get through this awful winter!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: There's a puddle. It's 18º. ... Why is there a puddle? A spring? Ground water pushed up by the weight of the snow? Heat from decomposition? A moose?  

A: I think it's ground water/spring/seep. It would be great if it were a moose. I love moose.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

A: I agree with the groundwater seep analogy. Being that groundwater is going to be at or near a constant 50-some degree temperature, it is warmer and capable of melting surface snow, especially if its flow is bolstered by an infusion of ground-saturating snowmelt.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I've noticed that the osprey nest poles at Best Lake and Headwaters/322 are either down or in poor condition. Are there plans to repair the nest poles?

Last summer I enjoyed photographing the ospreys at Bass Lake, and just bought a 150-600mm telephoto lens so I can get better pictures. I’m looking forward to their return.

A: The osprey platform at Walter C. Best Wildlife Preserve was erected in 2006. No osprey were observed using the platform prior to it being removed in 2013. The one at Headwaters is starting to lean and will likely be removed, as well.  Canada geese had nested on it last. It seems of late that the osprey have gone to new "heights" in nesting elsewhere near East Branch.

– Bob Lange, Land Steward

A: Canada Geese began nesting on the platform at Headwaters three years ago, forcing the pair of ospreys using it to move to a nearby cell phone tower. There are at least six pairs of ospreys nesting on cell phone towers throughout Geauga County. Just look up!

– Tami Gingrich, Research Assistant

Q: Please help me out with the ID. The sparrow has me stumped. Looked at field marks and check my books for the rusty crown, eye stripe, chest spot, grey tail feathers and black feet. I know the dark eyed junco – so I get 50%.

A: American Tree Sparrow. Your photo and “spot on” (pun-intended) description leave no doubt.

Tree sparrows bear the nickname “winter chippy” for the chipping sparrow, which lives among us from April through October, with tree sparrows coming down from the tundra as regular winter residents from November through March or so.
For them, and most of the juncos, our latitude is their south for the winter. I say most juncos because we have an expanding local breeding population here in the northeast corner of Ohio. 

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I have been seeing signs of River Otters along the banks of the Cuyahoga River. These include slide chutes, scat with fish scales and tracks. However, I have not actually seen the animals despite visiting the site at various times. Do you have any information regarding the best time to try and observe them? Are they nocturnal only? Thanks so much.

A: Yes, you are correct that River Otters are essential nocturnal animals and can most likely be seen at dawn and dusk. They can be seen during the day, however you increase your odds of seeing them earlier or later in the day. What I would suggest is to find a location at Eldon Russell Park where you see a good bit of River Otter evidence and plant yourself there at dawn or dusk. Remember to be very still and quiet, as like most wildlife they are easily spooked.
I hope you have a great otter adventure!

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Q: Do juncos interbreed with chickadees? Along Lake Erie in Dunkirk, NY, I saw a large-looking chickadee but noticed it had a yellow beak, a black head and cheeks, a distinct 1/4" white ring around its neck, the white outer tail feathers of a junco, and a mottled black & white back. It was larger than nearby chickadees, but slightly smaller that other juncos. It favored the feeder on a shelf over one with a perch. Same flighty behavior of a chickadee. Any idea? I'll appreciate any help you can give. Thank you.

A: It is highly unlikely for these Chickadees and Juncos to interbreed. The more likely explanation for the unusual bird described below is that it is a Junco hybrid. Juncos have been known to interbreed with white-throated sparrows as well as other Junco subspecies (oregon, pink-sided, white-winged, cassiar's). Another possibility is the condition known as leucism. Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents melanin and other pigments from being deposited normally on feathers. Leucism comes in two main varieties — paleness, an equal reduction of pigment in all feathers; and pied, an absence of pigment in some feathers creating white patches. It is difficult to make a determination without seeing a picture, so I can't say for sure what species of bird you have. Try googling images for "Junco hybrids" or "leucistic Juncos" to see if you find a similar looking specimen. I'm sorry not to be of more help.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you ID this scat? Found along The Maple Highlands Trail - Central the day after Christmas. ... Reindeer?!

A: Based on the size, location and content (animal fur), it is definitely coyote fur. We see this often, as it is common for coyotes and fox to mark there territories by relieving themselves on the middle of trails. This time of year coyotes are mostly eating small mammals like mice and rabbits, thus the large amount of fur in the scat!

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist, aka Dr. Scat



Q: Where and when do I look for Comet Lovejoy in January 2015?

A: Throughout January, we here in Ohio have a chance
of spotting Comet Lovejoy as it swings north during its trip around the sun. You can use the constellation Orion to help locate the comet; it should be visible with binoculars as a fuzzy patch of light first below, and then to the right of, Orion.

Orion and Comet Lovejoy won't rise in the eastern sky until about 7:30 p.m. (depending on how tall the trees are in your neighborhood). By 10 p.m., they'll both be high in the southern sky.

We'll be trying to catch a view of Comet Lovejoy using the Observatory Park telescopes during our January programs, starting with "The Full Wolf Moon" on
Sunday, January 4!

You can read more about Comet Lovejoy courtesy of
the folks at Sky And Telescope magazine here.

– Chris Mentrek, "Astro-Nat" Naturalist

Q: This guy/gal has been a permanent fixture in our Chesterland backyard through the years...year round. These photos were taken yesterday and he/she doesn't seem to mind when we get close. A great hunter as you can see by the (well fed) broad body and at least a foot tall. My friends tell me this is a broad winged hawk, but he/she is so large and no tail feather band marking, and doesn't migrate. What do you think?

Also we wonder, if we ought to be providing fresh water or something as we'd like to make sure he/she keeps our swingset as his/her favorite perch.

A: This is an immature Red-shouldered Hawk with a vole or shrew that it caught. Looks like it’s using the swing set as a perch. Locally, Red-shouldered Hawks have increased in numbers, demonstrating their adaptation to semi-suburbia, especially wooded neighborhoods.

They eat a wide range of prey from earthworms to large insects to amphibians, snakes, etc. In winter they are pretty keen on rodents, less so on birds.

Unfrozen water is an attraction to birds of all kinds in winter. Use a drip system or safe heater (from a bird feeding store) to keep the water open, never use glycerine of oils.

A bird of prey’s first winter is the ultimate survival test in which only the "A+ students" survive. So far so good for this bird.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I have been noticing a blue heron that is still hanging around the north side of the Headwaters reservoir, and it seems a bit late for it to still be here (November 25). Maybe it is injured? Any thoughts on this? 

A: Great Blue Herons are partial migrants going to where they have access to food. Maybe this heron has found a good fishing hole and isn't ready to move on yet. There's really no way to know for sure. John, what do you think?

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

A: Very likely the bird is just fine! It's not unusual to have a few herons hanging around all winter even if there is no open water. Although they eat mostly aquatic creatures like fish and frogs, they can also switch to other creatures like small mammals and other birds if there is no open water around. In this case, because there is still a lot of open water we still have a good number of herons hanging around!

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Q: I've got a pickerel frog hanging out in my unfinished basement by the drain. There is standing water with a perch that the frog is sitting on. I'm sure it could eat its fill of sowbugs, if so inclined. What are the chances of this frog surviving the winter in this habitat, not buried in the mud in a pool? Thank you, Nats!

A: It probably will be able to survive the winter in the basement. Life slows down in the winter because of the cold, so I don't think it will eat much (at least our treefrog at The West Woods isn't eating much, if anything, since I gave it a new terrarium with some actual soil - it has partially buried itself). If your frog has access to the drain pipe, it may stay in there. If not, you could by some of those feeder crickets from the pet store and see if it will eat them. The pillbugs may suffice. Keep us posted.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We live in Portage County (Rootstown). As my daughter was opening our barn door she said an animal ran out. It was a bit larger than our cats, gray in color, larger ears, no tail she could see. I followed the tracks in the snow, but couldn't tell a lot from what I saw. The snow is deep enough that you couldn't see the paw shape, just the holes where the legs went into the snow. Do you have any ideas as to what it might be?

A: Bobcats are pretty wary of humans, so I would doubt that they would enter a barn. Other than a visiting feral cat, I do not know what she might have seen. Sorry!

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

A: Yeah, I agree, pretty sketchy. Bobcat in the barn? Much less likely than a feral cat or even fox, but I wouldn't say impossible. Sorry I couldn't offer more...

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: A new gull! --- for me anyway ... It appears to be in a summer-winter change
or just immature ... it's less than half the size of a ringed-bill and has a call more like repeating buzzing sounds... it also has reddish feet and an ear spot ... can you identify it? There were many of these at Eastlake Sunday

A: Your excellent, multi-angled photo’s make identification easy. This is a Bonaparte’s gull, named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the zoologist nephew of Napoleon. Indeed they are small compared to the more familiar ring-billed gulls and the even larger herring gull found in great numbers wintering on Lake Erie. These small gulls nest in conifer trees of Canada’s boreal forest and taiga wetlands.

Unlike the ring-billed gulls that loiter in shopping center parking lots watchful for a dropped French fry, Bonaparte’s gulls are dainty fish-eaters. November sees a major influx of migratory Bonaparte’s gulls on Lake Erie as they make their way to the Gulf of Mexico for the winter. LaDue Reservoir here in Geauga County is visited by Bonaparte’s gulls at this time as well. Their winter plumage is marked by the small spot that you noted behind the eye. This is all that remains of the all-black head of their breeding plumage. Sort of makes them look four-eyed. As you watch flocks of “Bonies,” keep an eye out for one with all-dark underwings. This would be the rare Little Gull which sometimes appears in the company of its near relatives. 

Be sure to visit Jim McCormac’s blogspot for a fine treatise on this bird which also notes it’s buzzy call. I would recommend bookmarking Jim’s site, as it always features wonderfully informative pieces on Ohio wildlife of all kinds; a pleasure to read.

– Dan Bestr, Naturalist

Q: In the past week and a half, I have removed four of what I believe to be wolf spiders from my home in Middlefield  I have not tried to measure them, but they appear to be around the size of a quarter except for one which appeared to be a juvenile (smaller and much lighter in color). If they are wolf spiders, is there anything I can do to discourage them from coming inside? Could they possibly have some kind of a nest inside?

A: Thank you so much for your question. I am sure many others from Geauga County are wondering the same thing! It's the time of year where residents all over Ohio, but especially those in agricultural areas, seem to get visitors of the eight-legged variety. I myself don't mind this at all, but that is because I self-admittedly adore arachnids! But understandingly, not everyone does, so I am hoping to answer your question and alleviate any fear you may have.

You are probably right in assuming the spider is a wolf spider (family Lycosidae); they are pretty large and intimidating, but in looks only. They are not harmful to humans and rarely bite. For more information on this species, along with many other commonly found spiders in Ohio, I would highly recommend the Spiders of Ohio field guide, put together by The Ohio Division of Wildlife and Dr.Richard Bradley of O.S.U. It explains juvenile (subadult) wolf spiders preparing to overwinter come into buildings in late fall to find good hiding places (cracks, etc.) to spend the cold months. If you know of major cracks where they can be coming in, you could close those up, but they can squeeze in small spaces you wouldn't think they could.

I wouldn't recommend any type of spray or other chemicals as that would have to be in common areas where  you are seeing them and may be a problem for pets or humans. You probably will stop seeing them as the cold comes, as they are not as active, and when they do move around they provide the service of getting other household pests that can potentially be problems.

I hope this answers your question, and I am sure you can find more great information from the above field guide. Thank you!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: I found this attached to a tree in my back yard in Bainbridge Twp. Can you tell me what it might be? It's hard and it seems to be a covering something up? Good or bad?

A: I did some research on this "marshmellow" growing on your backyard tree. It’s a fungus, but I couldn’t find enough pictorial reference to determine exactly what kind of fungus. I suspect that it's in the early stages of growth, and in time may morph into something more identifiable. There are so many forms of fungus among us!

Solid or hard types of fungus growing on tree trunks are known as conks. They are the spore-producing fruiting growth of internal tree fungus. The presence of conks indicates
a fungal infection of the tree. Fungal spores invades a crack, hole or wound in the tree. If the internal environment is right for the particular fungus, it will establish itself and gain nourishment as an agent of wood decay.

Click here for more about conks. Below are a couple pictures from the Internet that
didn’t have identification but greatly resembled your example. Don’t know if your tree fungus will stay a tiny blob of a knob or grow into a big honkin’ conk.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I took some pix of an inchworm at Burton Wetlands. Any guess what kind it is, or what it'll become?

A: Caterpillar ID for small species is tough. My reference book on caterpillars, which is quite comprehensive, did raise some candidates, but I’d have to have better (sorry! despite your multi-angled shots) close-up photos to attempt an ID.

Later that day...

Awright! You piqued my curiosity, pushed my "got to know" button, penetrated my naturalist soul with a challenge I couldn’t resist.

The pine tree in the background was a clue. So, the question became: What green, white and brown-striped caterpillar has an autumn generation with larvae this late in the season? Well, I won’t swear to it, but my best guess is the pine sphinx moth caterpillar.

However, I’m still not satisfied with the ID, as pine sphinx for pine needles veers towards other more eastern and southern pine species, and is said to shun white pine, which is the kind-o-pine in your photograph. Also, the rear pseudo-feet arrangement is all wrong. Note how they occur almost to the mid-body on the pine sphinx caterpillar, quite unlike the long gap between true legs at the front end of your caterpillar and the pseudo-feet at the back end, the familiar inchworm characteristic you noted.

So, I give up...for now. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America got a work-out, but alas, I’m stumped. 

Then there’s this false hemlock looper moth caterpillar...

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: Yesterday I noticed some silk strings flying by and when I looked up. Hundreds of feet up into the air the sky was filled with flying/floating insects. I couldn't capture any, and I took some photos but they don't do it justice. You could see them best in the sun. It was millions of them and went on for hours. I can see now how someone came up with fairies. It was beautiful. Any idea what they could be? They flew, or something eating them flew, not sure. I have seen insects that look like a ball of fluff before, and when you look closely they have small wing stubs that move the silk so they can determine their path. Never figured out what those were either.

A: You probably observed the dispersal of spiders! The behavior is called "ballooning." Wikipedia explains about it at this link. Charles Darwin noted this behavior aboard his ship, when the ship's rigging intercepted a whole bunch of spiders that were ballooning over the ocean.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We have a male and female cardinal who have nested and lived in our yard all spring and summer. They are now eating the berries on our miniature magnolia tree. The berries are almost gone and I would like to continue feeding this couple throughout the winter just to "keep them around." Will they stay if I feed them? What should I feed them? Am I harming their natural instincts to find food if I feed them? I have enjoyed their presence so much that I will miss them if they go elsewhere. Thanks for your help.

A: Cardinals will eat black-oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. I’ve also seen them eat cracked corn, peanut pieces and even suet. They prefer platform feeders and also will eat off the ground. Click here for a link about Northern Cardinals. As for harming their natural instincts, nope! We just become another source for their foraging behavior. If we didn’t feed them they’d find food elsewhere. The good thing about feeding is we get to see them and all their interesting behaviors.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Attached are photos I took this morning of a very large inchworm type caterpillar, if you can, help me identify it please. My grandson, age 2, picked it up out of a bushel of apples I picked last night, thinking it was a stick. He loves sticks. When I placed it on an apple to get its picture, it attached to the stem and assumed its stick pose. Neat!

A: This caterpillar will turn into one of the geometer moths, but it is difficult to know which species. A lot of the geometer moths have caterpillars that are stick mimics (as seen in the photos) and are also commonly known as "inch-worms."

Many geometer moths do not have common names. I went through the Caterpillars of Eastern North America field guide and came up with some similar-looking caterpillars. Click the scientific names below for a Google image search and maybe you can find a similar picture. As far as I know, your caterpillar could be one the following species:

Euchlaena obtusaria

Merarranthis hypochraria

Tetracis cachexiata (White Slant-line moth) (wow, this one actually had a common name!)

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I fish mostly the inland lakes and have always wondered why the Amur (grass carp) breach like they do. Quite often they completely clear the water! My understanding is they are vegetarians, so jumping for bugs doesn't fit. Do they like to just show off or is there a reason for their acrobatic feats?

A: I've worked with grass carp for years and have often been marveled by their aerial acrobatics, too. Most of the time I encounter this jumping behavior when I try to net them with large nets called seines. They are intelligent and crafty animals that will escape capture by jumping "shamu style" over the top of the net (which floats on the surface of the water). This is really the only time that I have ever encountered grass carp jumping.

You are correct in saying that these fish are vegetarian. So, my best guess is that these fish are being startled and jumping in response to being frightened (if they are actually grass carp). Are you 100% sure that these fish are not common carp (Cyprinus carpio), which very often jump?

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: This white/grey deer was seen on the edge of Geauga County in Kirtland. Very unusual. Any ideas if
it was albino or is there something else going on? It was more grey than white. Thank you.

A: Could be leucistic, possibly albino. Can’t tell from the photo. Pink eyes would be positive for albinism.

From Kirtland, eh? There was an albino deer in Kirtland a couple/few years ago. 

As populations increase, so does the chances of mutations such as leucism and albinism. Partially leucistic “piebald” deer are not uncommon, but fully leucistic and albino deer are more rare.

– Dan Best, Naturalist

Q: I was hoping you could give me some tips on building and properly erecting a bat house. We have an incredible population of mosquitos, and I was hoping that by bringing some bats to our property this might help our problem.

A: Click here for a great website with details about construction. With any questions/concerns, please call me directly at 440-279-0812.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: What type of snake is this? It was on my deck and very aggressive - coiling and striking at me with its mouth open 180 degrees. Thank you!

A: This snake you photographed looks like a young Eastern Garter Snake. Garter snakes are quite variable in their coloring, and most have more evident stripes than the photo you sent, but all have the checkerboard pattern visible in your photo.To the right is a photo of one that looks similar to the one you saw. Although it is hard to tell size from the photo you provided, I would suspect your snake was small, and that its aggressive behavior was meant to bluff you into leaving it alone because there was no place for it to hide. Given the opportunity, snakes will flee rather than strike, and even if handled may musk (release a foul smelling substance) rather than bite. B

Garter snakes are not venomous, by the way. Click here for more information from the ODNR about garter snakes.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: This little guy drove me nuts this morning; it wouldn't sit still and I never got a good focused shot of it (Bass Lake, of course).

I couldn't find a match in my guide book or my Warblers of Ohio.

Can you help me out?

A: Warblers seldom sit still for a still photo! What you have here is an immature male Common Yellowthroat. His bandit mask will darken up with age and experience as a bug mugger.

– Dan Best, Naturalist


Q: I think I might have giant hogweed in my yard. What to do?!

A: In case you receive inquiries regarding giant hogweed in Geauga County, you will find two links below that are good information:

I could not find an agency in the county that willd visit a property to indentify suspected plants. The county extension office is providing identification (handle with caution & protection for eyes and skin) if people choose to bring a sample in to them. There are plants like cow parsnip and angelica that look much like giant hogweed.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: This came to the Meyer Center front hoping you can identify! Pretty cool-looking bird.

A: This kid is a juvenile accipiter (hawk) that fledged earlier this summer. ID can be tough with immature accipiters.Without a size reference (as compared with a crow) I'm going with Sharp-shinned Hawk due to the rounded (vs. "squared off") back of the head and straight vs. rounded edge of the tail. As accipiters are primarily predators of birds, sitting on your firepit, I'd say it was hoping to grab the chicken before it was BBQ'd. Seriously, young birds must work hard at hunting skills to have any chance of surviving the coming winter. This youngster is watching for a chance at a feathered fillet of flicker, mourning dove or any other bird smaller than its self. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist





Q: Although I'd love to send you a picture....  as phones so.engines do, mine died before I could get the picture off of it...  I know your Geauga but I am not sure who to ask. I live in Perry, Ohio about a mile from the lake near Lane Rd. A few massive spiders have been hanging around d my house. I would think you may need a picture however these things are huge. By huge I mean...  I killed one with brake part cleaner (shame on me I know) I then picked it up with a badminton racket and the leg ends touched from one end of the racket to the other. Its legs covered the whole racket surface...  EEEK!! Any idea what it could be? Thanks.

A: Thanks for the inquiry. Good to hear that it's not just my phone that seems to be dead more than not! Anyway, as you say, it would be great to have a picture's my guess without one.

Could you google "fishing spider"? It's also helpful to add the scientific name so that you get more legitimate identifications. That would be Dolomedes tenebrosus. That is the "common fishing spider," one of three that are in Ohio. If it is not that specific species, maybe one of the other Dolomedus species might be it. Let me know what you think.

That is the first thing that popped in my head when you say "huge." They are very comfortable near water, but can hang around yards and houses, too. Look on the sides of trees near your house; they tend to hang out (literally) on the bark and blend in amazingly. If you do find more, no fear, as they are not venemous to us! I would not handle it, though, but just admire it for its massiveness. Just imagine how many insect pests it will consume!

Here's a great link to some info on the Six-spotted Fishing Spider. You can also find more species on this website.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Hubby & I stopped at Eldon Russell Park today (late July). I was wondering what's going on with the bats. I didn't see any signs of them roosting. Thanks.

A: In late June, I counted a grand total of three bats in the Eldon Russell Park bat house. I recall this bat duplex having a “full house” of little bat faces looking down from the internal baffles. This is a prime example of the devastation of white-nose syndrome.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: While canoeing Friday in the Vermilion River under the water near Mill Hollow, I noticed many deer-like hoove prints embedded deep into the bedrock under the water near a large shale bank. You can tell they are very old as the bedrock has been there very long time. The prints are deeply formed in the bedrock and very hard in shape. Looks like the animal was walking for a while as there are many strolling prints; also looks like a larger predator animal was following it as its prints are larger and rounder...along behind it. From what I've read, these are for real; however I'd like to know more about them, especially as to their age.

Is there anybody who can give me some insight about these prints? They would be very hard to find them, as they are under about 10 inches of flowing water but certainly deeply embedded in the hard bedrock. I could relocate them with much certainty.

A: Your inquiry is indeed intriguing. However, sight unseen, I can't provide a definite answer. I can assure you that they are not dinosaur footprints or any other land animal for that matter as all of our Ohio bedrock is from the Paleozoic Era and is formed from marine deposits (mud that became shale and sand that became sandstone). The Vermillion River's stream bed, banks and valley cliffs are 400 million year old Devonian shales. One possibility that Dr. Joe Hannibal (Cleveland Museum of Natural History Invertebrate Paleontologist and I contemplate is concretions. Concretions are round, hard compact masses that form from mineral precipitation in shale. These concretions weather out of the soft shale that surrounds them leaving a depression or pockmark in the shale bedrock.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Is this poison ivy?

A: These photos, although plants with three leaflets, look to me like a plant commonly known as Indian strawberry although the fruit is not a strawberry and is tasteless. Here's some more information from this link:

Duchesnea indica (sometimes called Potentilla indica) - known commonly as mock strawberry, Gurbir, Indian strawberry or false strawberry - has foliage and an aggregate accessory fruit similar to true strawberry, though this is apparently an independent evolution of a similar fruit type. It has yellow flowers, unlike the white or slightly pink flowers of true strawberries. It is native to eastern and southern Asia, but has been introduced to many other areas as an ornamental plant. It has been naturalized in many regions, including the southern United States, and is considered a invasive species in some regions. It is considered one of the most invasive plants on the island of Réunion.

The leaves are trifoliate, roughly veined beneath, dark green, and often persisting through the winter, arising from short crowns. The plant spreads along creeping stolons, rooting and producing crowns at each node. The yellow flowers are produced in mid spring, then sporadically throughout the growing season.

The aggregate accessory fruits are white or red, and entirely covered with red achenes, simple ovaries, each containing a single seed. They are edible but have very little flavor.

Recent genetic evidence has shown that this genus is better included within Potentilla, but currently most sources still list it in the genus Duchesnea. A poultice of the crushed leaves is used to treat skin ailments such as eczema.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: While canoeing Friday in the Vermilion River under the water near Mill Hollow, I noticed many deer-like hoove prints embedded deep into the bedrock under the water near a large shale bank. You can tell they are very old as the bedrock has been there very long time. The prints are deeply formed in the bedrock and very hard in shape. Looks like the animal was walking for a while as there are many strolling prints; also looks like a larger predator animal was following it as its prints are larger and rounder...along behind it. From what I've read, these are for real; however I'd like to know more about them, especially as to their age.

Is there anybody who can give me some insight about these prints? They would be very hard to find them, as they are under about 10 inches of flowing water but certainly deeply embedded in the hard bedrock. I could relocate them with much certainty.

A: It is a Cecropia Moth caterpillar. The moth will be as large as a human hand. Nice!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: At your convenience can you look at these pictures and tell us if this is a hawk? First time we have ever seen one walking around in our yard eating…we assume bugs. He/she hopped around the yard for a good 20 minutes. Our bird books are not helping us identify this bird. Must be a young one.

A: Identifying immature buteo hawks makes me crazy, especially deciding between red-shouldered and red-tailed.  Using the Petersen Guide to Hawks and the Sibley Guide to birds, I’m going to go with red-tailed on this youngster.  The high quality and multi-angle images of your camera work were a big help.

Recently launched and on its own, young birds of prey face the challenge of feeding themselves. Thus, any small creatures are fair game. I would agree that it’s probably hunting insects, maybe grasshoppers or crickets. Maybe even worms as both red-shouldered hawks and their nighttime counterpart, the barred owl hunt them on the ground.

See you out there . . .

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Thank you so much for your input. We, also, have the Petersen and other bird guides, but we just could not pinpoint this one. We do have lots of Red-tailed Hawks flying around…keyword is "flying"...and we have learned their wing pattern up in the air and their call. Have never had one bouncing around on our front lawn. Thank you for your time. See you out there again soon, I hope. My husband and I sure enjoy your programs, whether they are on turtles, chimney swifts, bats, etc.

Q: Our son who lives in Munson took this pic of a mosquito in his garage. There were several others. We thought it was very different because of the way the hind legs curl upwards towards the head. Can you give me any info on it?

A: This is a pretty cool photo! The only information I could find on this is that it is speculated that mosquitoes raise their hind legs for sensory purposes as other would with their antennae; perhaps to monitor air currents. Your pesky pal, as you describe, appears to be lifting its middle pair of legs and then turning the tips forward. Very curious indeed.

I’m pretty sure it’s not for the same reason a dog lifts his leg, though.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Sorry I don't have a pic, but this one caught me off guard. I had just started to hike the trail at The West Woods that leaves the Nature Center heading down by the beige ramp over the swamp. I was sending a text message when I felt a snake go over my feet. I had not seen him but when I turned around he was almost the width of the trail. The snake was beige and brown and did not look any snake I normally see there. It looked like a corn snake. Do they reside at The West Woods? It was a beautiful snake, but I've never seen one like this. Thanks.

A: Too bad you didn’t catch a picture! But I have a pretty good idea of what it is based on where you were at The West Woods and the size of the snake.

My guess is that you saw a Northern Watersnake, which are one of the most abundant snakes in Ohio! They can show extreme variations in their color and pattern, which could be why it looked like nothing you have ever seen! I’m surprised, however, that it slithered across your foot considering they are known to be wary of people and flee when we are around. Perhaps it was in the process of fleeing as you walked across the boardwalk!

Check out this Reptiles of Ohio Field Guide published by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Northern Watersnake is listed with the ODNR as a Common Watersnake (page 24).

Unfortunately, we do not have Corn Snakes here in Ohio. They are found more in the southeastern portion of the US and are most common in Florida. Perhaps you were thinking of an Eastern Milksnake (page 37) instead of a corn snake?

Thank you for your question!

– Karie Wheaton, Naturalist

Reply: Please thank Katie for her reply. The snake I saw most closely resembled the Milk Snake, but I have to honestly wonder if it had been a domestic pet. Years ago I was a naturalist intern with the parks, and I have never seen a snake like this around here! It almost looked like a Boa.

A: It’s always possible that someone released their domestic pet. Any chance you got a good look at its head? There is a pretty good difference in head shape between our native snakes and boas. I will have to keep my eye out when I’m on the Discovery Trail! – Karie

Q: I saw this snake in my bush this morning in Mentor. What kind of snake is this?

A: It appears to be an Eastern Gartersnake. The light yellow belly gives it away. It probably crawled up into the bush to bask in the sunlight. Thanks for sharing!

– Karie Wheaton, Naturalist

Q: Can you please identify and provide some information about this plant? They are about 3 and 6 feet high and have small (1/8th inch) yellow buds on the stalk.

I have only seen them growing under the high tension wires that cross the north end of Frohring Meadow and on the First Energy right-of-way south of Chagrin Road at Cats Den Road.

A: It is common mullien (Verbascum Thapsus), also known as beggar's blanket, flannel plant, velvet plant, witch's candle, candlewick and blanket-leaf.

Roman soldiers used them as torches; the soft leaves were used to line Indian’s moccasins; and quaker maidens who were forbidden to use makeup rubbed the leaves on their cheeks.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Field Naturalist



Q: I’ve never seen an earwig colony like this before. There were some white ones but they burrowed into the old bolt holes before I could snap a picture and got done being creeped out a little bit. They were behind the Valley Shelter sign at Swine Creek. Must have been at least 50 of them. Enjoy!

– Shawn Harry, Foreman/Sign Technician, North Operations, Geauga Park District

A: Dang! I’ve uncovered several adults at one time, but I, too, have never seen a colony. 

I can’t image that anything creeps you out, Shawn, but you do know about the folklore associated with earwigs? That they enter the ear canal and lay their eggs. The larvae then chew their way through the brain to exit out the opposite ear canal. Now that’s creepy! 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I am somewhat upset. I have a pair of doves who next right out my kitchen window every year. This year the first batch did not hatch, not sure but I think something got the eggs, 2nd batch hatched and left the next, they have been sitting on this third batch for over a week. This morning the bird was sitting and then she/he was gone and the eggs have been in open air so I am sure they are no longer viable. The male and female would switch off sitting on the nest, but now I see neither of them. Wouldn't one of them have stayed to incubate? Fortunately I have the second nest of robins feeding now right outside our bathroom window. They all really like us I guess. Thank you.

A: It’s hard to if for sure why or even if the doves quit their nest for sure. If the eggs were being incubated early this morning and the bird took leave of the nest around 8:30 a.m., she/he could have warmed them enough to take a breakfast and bath break. If the nest is still vacated by the end of the day, then I would presume abandonment, reason not obvious. Hope to hear that they returned by mid-morning.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Sadly, she has not returned. What is interesting is that, every night while she was roosting the male (I assume) came about our dinner time and she would take off for a bit and he would stand guard. Last night he came, prodded the eggs a little and then left.  I am assuming that she may have been killed or something. Fortunately we still have our nest of baby Robins right outside another window and we have been watching them grow everyday. Mother Nature works in mysterious ways. Thank you.

A: The opportunity for intimate views of animal life comes with an upside and a downside. On the positive, we gain endearing/inspiring/amusing first hand insights into the their lives from which many empathetic parallels can be drawn to human lives. The downside is that we are also exposed to the drama and reality of mortality that exercises itself on wildlife on a greater scale than we experience as humans in our relatively safe existence. That "your" doves pulled off one brood out of three this season still makes them winners in the world of wildlife. Best wishes for the robins!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I saw this creature in the Fairport Harbor Port Authority parking lot today. It scampered to some rocks near a pier and disappeared. What is it?

A: You had the pleasure of viewing an amazing mammal that occurs in every county of Ohio, but is rarely seen because their tendency to quickly scamper away when encountered. Many people who see Mink (Mustela vison) may think they have just found a lost pet ferret, since they share many physical similarities. However, these wild creatures find their homes around streams and lakes utilizing water for food such as muskrats, fish and frogs. They will also use the large rocks you saw this one run into to find other small mammals such as mice and other rodents. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful photos that remind us that even on asphalt, Nature still surprises us! 

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Reply: That’s awesome! Thank you so much! It is such a treat to see something like that. I’m very happy I was able to get pictures to share – I had my camera with me because I’d been birding and watching for waterspouts!

Q: Since I bought a new camera a couple months ago I've enjoyed taking pictures of the eagles at Bass Lake. Several weeks ago I got some really good shots of one eagle that flew right over us while we were sitting on the bench by the lake. I noticed that this eagle was flying around with its beak open. I got another shot of an eagle today, possibly the same one, doing the same thing. Is there something wrong with this bird, or is this normal?

A: This is totally normal! Eagles and other birds don't have the ability to sweat, so the "thermoregulate" (control their temperature) by panting with their mouth open or through heat loss through the unfeathered legs and feet. What amazing photos! Thanks so much for sharing!

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Q: Can you help me identify this bug? Thanks!

A: This is a Robber Fly. It is a predator and will attack other insects by lying in wait. It uses the spines on its legs to hold onto the prey and injects it with a neurotoxin which immobilizes the prey, as well as enzymes which begin to digest the insect. The fly can then suck out the fluid. Lovely.

The picture here is a female, indicated by the long ovipositor (deposits eggs into plant tissue) protruding fromits back.

And it case you were wondering – no, it doesn't bite humans.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: I took these pictures Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at Swine Creek. Not sure what type of birds they are. -Sal Germano

A: I would guess that these photos were taken near one of our ponds at Swine Creek because these are Eastern Kingbirds, a bird that usually nests near water. The bird is a member of the flycatcher family and is quite common in Geauga County. Based on the photos, it looks like the young are over a week old. At about two weeks they should fledge (in other words, leave the nest).

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Q: We back up to woods and a snake was spotted on our lawn recently. What poisonous snakes are there in Geauga County, OH? Thanks!

A: Depending on the habitat, the snake you saw is probably a non-venomous Northern Water Snake or Milk Snake. The only venomous snake that might be in Northeast Ohio would be the Massasauga Rattlesnake, which is so rare that it is an endangered species throughout Ohio. The only massasaugas I have heard of have been found in Ashtabula County in a few protected wetland areas. They are rarely seen and quite timid as explained in the excerpt below from an ODNR publication:

These snakes are quite timid and pose no threat to people if they are left alone. Snakes do not seek out people to bite; striking and biting is a defensive measure on the part of the snake. The risk of snake bite is highly overrated; annually, more people die from bee stings or lightning strikes than from snake bites.

Click here for the rest of the publication.

The only other venomous snakes in Ohio are in southern, unglaciated Ohio, where you may find copperheads or timber rattlesnake.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: Hello, can you tell me what kind of spider this is? I know it isn't the best picture. :( Thank you!

A: Thank you for your question. Would you be able to give me some additional information to help with the identification?  Location where spider was found: indoors, outdoors, wet, dry? Approximate size? I am assuming it was fairly large from the picture - larger than a 50 cent piece?

Thank you for your help. I hope I can give you a species name, or at least genus group. I would like to tell you off the bat that it doesn't appear to be a venomous spider. There are two venomous types of spiders found in Ohio, and they are relatively uncommon (the Recluse and the Black Widow).

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: What kind of snake is this? Found in Kingsville, Ohio, near a creak. Acted aggressive/defensive.

A: Looks like a Northern Water Snake. Its defensive posturing includes flattening out to make its girth look wider, making itself convincingly resemble
a Massasauga Rattlesnake. But alas, it is not. My colleague, Tim Matson, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said
it also looks like a pregnant female.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist







Q: This snake was in my craft shed in Rome, Ohio, in Ashtabula County, on May 20. Can you ID it for me?

A: This looks every bit like a young Eastern Milksnake. Probably came in the shed looking for baby mice and/or to beat the heat. Harmless, of course.

Good to know snakes like this one are out there with good folks interested enough to inquire rather than the all-too-common "kill it, ask questions later" approach.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What kind of toad is this guy? I found him huddled up on my window frame in Burton Township.

A: This would be a Gray Tree Frog flushing a green color from its dermal palette of grays and greens. Great camouflage if it’s on a mossy tree trunk, but not so good for white window trim. A large body of evidence behind the tree frog points to a successful night of insect-eating near one of your exterior lights.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: My sister-in-law would like to know what kind of spiders these may be? They were in a pile on the side of her garage. She blew on them and they scattered, then returned to the pile. This is a greatly magnified picture. Are you a spider whiz?

A: Not sure what kind exactly; rest assured they are not Black Widows or Brown Recluses. 

They are masses of baby spiders just hatched from their egg case. Had the same thing on the door frame of my garage this past week (6/1/14). They will disperse shortly. 

I’m an aspiring spider whiz. Still rely heavily on my In Ohio’s Backyard: Spiders book from the Ohio Biological Survey.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Thanks. She likes insects so they are in good hands. A Charlotte's Web fan for sure. 

Q: Catherine and I are trying to figure out what kind of bird left his/her feather in our driveway. Some kind of hawk?

A: Looks like a Barred Owl feather to me with the interrupted white bands. Since it’s a contour (body feather), I'd say it's from the head or back. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: The snake in the photo was found on the baseball field at West Wood School. I think it is a milk snake, but others felt that it's behavior in being aggressive made it another species. Please share your thoughts.

A: It's a milk snake. Its aggressive stance is purely defensive behavior. Beautiful, beneficial animal - non-poisonous. It may try to bite if handled. Please urge protection. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

A: What a beautiful milk snake! Snakes can appear aggressive when they are approached or handled. Some non-venomous snakes even rattle their tails on dry leaves if when they are threatened. Snakes are predators but vulnerable to hawks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, cats and humans. Snakes are usually well camouflaged and try to disappear to escape if they can.

Habitat destruction and fear of snakes means that the larger snakes like the one you found are rarely seen except in protected places like parks, preserves and private lands where residents appreciate them. Thanks for sharing!

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: This sort of looks like horsefly, not sure. Can you identify please? (It was huge! What the heck does it eat, Big Macs?)

A: Neigh-winny. Not a horse fly. Looks like a European Hornet to me. Introduced to this country in 1840, about the time many of our ancestors immigrated here from Europe, it has become very common in our region in the past couple of decades. Click here for a good piece on it.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Since yesterday afternoon we have had a cowbird sitting on our wicker settee on the front porch looking in our dining room window. He doesn't fly when I go outside. If I shoo him away he doesn't go far, just to the table or railing. There are no other nests on the porch that I could find. Do you have any idea why he is doing this? He was there this morning when I got up, looking in the window at 6:30, and is still there.

What can I do to deter him from sitting on the furniture?

A: Cowbird guy is seeing his reflection in the window thinking it is a rival male to challenge. A temporary re-arrangement of the furniture, thus eliminating the perch, may solve the problem. If he takes to fluttering in front of the window, cover the glass with cloth or paper to eliminate reflection. Keep it covered for a week and see if that doesn’t take care of it. Thanks for the inquiry.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Thank you, I kind of figured that, but there is a screen on the window, so not much of a reflection. He seems to have left for the afternoon.

Not exactly a Q&A, but we had to email from Senior Naturalist Dan Best to a 2013 fair-goer...

You may remember that park guy at The Great Geauga County Fair who plucked a spiny caterpillar off of your little boy’s baby stroller. Those protective spines would have caused quite an irritating rash on soft toddler skin. 

I retained the caterpillar for video’ing purposes. In fact, the video is featured in our exhibit, Something’s Afoot: Nature Can’t Stay Put at The West Woods Nature Center, highlighting caterpillar locomotion by the internal extending and contracting its gut to move its body forward. Please visit the exhibit before the end of the year if you haven’t already.  Unfortunately I don’t have a still photo of the caterpillar, so I borrowed one from the internet.

Anyway, before the caterpillar could be released, it spun its cocoon. I overwintered the cocoon on my breezeway where it would be subjected to the necessary seasonal temperatures, but buffered from the extreme cold.

My hopes that it would emerge from its cocoon were realized on May 29 when I came home late in the evening from a park program. Upon opening the back door, I was greeted by the sound of rapidly fluttering wings. The next day, I released the moth at Geauga Park District’s Burton Wetlands Preserve, not far from its "childhood home" in Burton.

Io moths are named for a nymph in Greek mythology. They are a smaller member of the giant silk moth family that includes luna, cecropia, polyphemus and promethea moths. Just wanted to share...

Reply: Thank you for sharing the caterpillar's story. My son Daniel who gave you the caterpillar was very happy to hear the story. He is 7 and loves creatures. We did visit that exhibit once this year. He had asked me then if I had heard from you. We will have to go back to see the video.

Q: A pair of Northern Cardinals were considerate enough to build a nest in a shrub just outside my window.  I can look right down into the nest, and although they were alarmed by my presence at first, they've grown used to me being there and don't even flinch any longer though I'm only about two feet away. One of three eggs hatched yesterday (6/4/14). This morning I took a peek and both the male and female were perched on the edge of the nest facing outward on opposite sides. This seemed strange as about 95% of the time the female is the only one on the nest. The male is usually perched nearby or stops for a quick visit to drop off food and leaves. I then noticed a chipmunk climbing the shrub heading directly for the nest. The birds ran him off when he was only about an inch from the nest. A quick Google search indicated that this is pretty common behavior for a chipmunk looking to gobble up the eggs or even the hatchling. I'm curious as to whether any of you know how persistent a chipmunk will be once he locates a nest and what you think its success rate might be. There are many times when no adult is on the nest, but I assume one is always nearby. Whaddaya think?  

I also attach a pic I took quite a while ago of what I think is a Red-shouldered Hawk that hangs around my yard. Can you confirm or identify if wrong?

A: Well, part of the privilege of having a bird nest in such a handy viewing area is having a front row seat to the drama of nature. Rodents are mostly herbivorous, but yes, they are opportunistic omnivores as well. Food is a powerful motivator, so my guess is that the chipmunk will be returning. Success of the nest will depend on the vigilance and aggressive defense of the parent cardinals. I suspect that they are close by, even when foraging and, in the case of the male, defending territory.

Keep your fingers crossed.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: So far no problem with the chipmunk or the cat that sometimes sits below gazing at the nest. I did however see my first fecal sack gobbling by the adults. Had no idea that was part of the process until today.

Q: Last spring at this time I recall finding a lot of dead Wood Frog late stage tadpoles (legs present, tails shrinking) in one of our ponds here at The West Woods. Today (5/28/14), we noticed dead and dying tadpoles – all in the “hind leg” stage.  Some showed sub-dermal hemorrhaging in bellies and legs. From a brief web search, symptoms point to ranavirus. Has ranavirus manifested itself in our region? Any other information to offer?

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

A: Oh yes, ranavirus is here and has been here for some years. We have been seeing dead and dying Wood Frogs and ambystomatid complex larvae for some years. Some of these die-offs are due to ranaviruses, some to chytrid, some to bacteria (Aeromonas or Psedomonas primarily), or combinations of these. Toxic metals are present at some sites an they may also contribute to local die-offs. We have documented ranavirus in some Marbled Salamanders that I raised from eggs (1999). Some of the metamorphs were released but we kept 6 (2 each for 3 people); within 2 years the 6 died even though the three pairs of salamanders were maintained in different homes. We preserved the animals and had them tested for ranavirus nearly two years ago; they tested positive. We have tested many tadpoles and A.jeff and unisexual larvae for ranavirus and the virus is not uncommon. We see the effects mostly on maturing tadpoles and larvae.

– Timothy O. Matson, Curator and Head of Vertebrate Zoology, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Q: Any idea on the bird? Squirrel with white tail unusual?

A: Yep, the bird is a female Red-winged Blackbird. As for the white-tailed squirrel, this is what happens when Eastern Fox Squirrels interbreed with striped skunks...NOT. ;)

The lack of pigment in the squirrels tail qualifies this squirrel as partially leucistic, meaning a lack of pigment on all or part of its body, which is not the same as albino.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q (from someone else): I was at a friends house in Bainbridge and saw a gray squirrel with a totally white tail. He is in their yard every morning and evening. I have never seen them in this area before. And then today a friend at work showed me  a picture she got on her phone was the same type of squirrel and I believe she lives in Hamden. She thinks she has a male and female. Did these squirrels hitch a ride from Indiana or Michigan? Or have they been around a while?

A: It would be gray squirrel with lack of pigment in the tail hair. We see squirrels like that from time to time. Gray squirrels have always been native to NE Ohio and seem to be becoming more common with local woodlands attaining a mature stage. The Eastern Fox Squirrel, the large orange-ish squirrel that has long-reigned as our most ubiquitous squirrel, is still king/queen of commonality, but the gray squirrel is gaining ground. By the way, the black squirrels seen in the area are a color phase of the gray squirrel, which are likewise seeing an increase in numbers and distribution in the region.

Q: I hear they're predicting a brand new meteor shower on May 23, 2014. It could look so awesome, they're even calling it a possible "meteor storm"! What do you know about it, and will Observatory Park be a place to watch it?

A: Unlike the usual, tried-and-true meteor showers that occur every year on the same date like clockwork, the predicted meteor shower on the night of May 23-24 is a completely new event!

Back in 2004, astronomers working on the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project (or "LINEAR") discovered a previously-unknown comet, and, in the stipendly uncreative language of planetary scientists, named it "Comet 209P/LINEAR."  The comet stays pretty close to the Sun (as comets go), with an orbit ranging from near Jupiter's orbit to just inside Earth's.

In February 2012, the comet got a gravitational nudge when it passed near Jupiter, and astronomers began to predict that its slightly-altered path would lead to the Earth drifting through the comet's debris trail in May of 2014. 

And whenever Earth drifts through a comet's debris trail, that typically means that we Earthlings get to see a meteor shower! However, because of the "never before in history" nature of this meteor shower, it's anybody's guess how intense the meteor shower will be. The predictions for the number of meteors we're likely to see have ranged widely, from a theoretical maximum of 100 per hour to 1,000 per hour. (In my opinion, that's comically wide; when astronomers predictions vary by a factor of ten, that's the scientific community's equivalent of turning up one's palms and shrugging.) For comparison, a typical Perseid meteor shower in August has a theoretical maximum of 100 meteors per hour.

Where And When To Look:

The meteors are expected to appear to be streaming away from a point in the sky that's located within an extremely faint constellation called Camelopardalis. Camelopardalis is meant to look like a giraffe; I've been trying to spot this creature in the northern sky for nearly 30 years now, with no success. Instead, I suggest facing north, and looking at the area of the lower sky to the right of the Big Dipper and below the North Star:

The "Camelopardalid" meteor shower is predicted to be at its most intense in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning on May 23-24. The predicted maximum is expected to occur about 3 AM Ohio time on the morning of Saturday, May 24.

In a fingers-crossed effort, Observatory Park will be open to the public overnight on Friday, May 23-Saturday, May 24.  I'll be staying up late to try to catch a glimpse of the new "Camelopardalid" meteor shower. Let's hope for clear skies!

– Chris Mentrek, Astronomy Naturalist ("Astro-Nat")

Q: My husband and I took a drive from Burton to Cleveland on 87 and 422 this past week. While still on 87, we stopped next to a pond that had lots of lily pads in it. I noticed some ripples coming towards us and at first thought it was a duck...but no bird. Then I would’ve sworn it looked like an alligator. After googling around, though, it doesn’t appear that you have alligators native to Ohio. Then I stumbled across Longnose Garfish. Could that be what I saw and took a photo of? Thanks, Californian Visiting Ohio

A: It looks to me like what you saw was a Muskrat.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist, Natural Resource Management Department

Q: I went to this link but didn't seem to find a match...what is this amphibian at Big Creek Park's Linton Pond?

Also, same place, I saw a Water Strider sitting on some bubbles? decomposition? a nest? or what?

A: Red-spotted Newt: This is a good time of year to see the aquatic adults, as they tend to bask in the shallows of pond margins. Following an aquatic larval stage, newts live a couple/few years in terrestrial stage where they are known as red efts. Best observed walking about after a rain, the bright red or orange color is a warning color to potential predators of their skin toxins. Efts transform into green-backed, yellow-bellied adults spending the rest of their life as aquatic creatures feeding on a variety of small water creatures. Having developed lungs for the land stage, they don’t get their larval gills back and must surface periodically for a gulp of air. 

Water Strider: I don’t know of any connection between it and the bubble mass. Water striders are able to "skate" over the water surface because their long, wide-spread legs distribute their body weight enough that they don’t break the surface tension of the water. The slightest ripple on the water surface tickles tiny tactile hairs on water striders’ legs alerting these little predators to hapless insects that tumble into the water.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Please reply, oh master of scatology. I'm thinking it was about 4" in diameter. We've also had several wolf sightings in the area.

A: Based on the picture, it is hard to say if it is bear scat. It definitely looks similar to bear scat, but I would need to know how big it was to make an accurate determination. Possibly take a photo of the scat with a nickel next to it next time so that we can observe the size scale.

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Reply: I'm thinking it was about 4" in diameter. We've also had several wolf sightings in the area.

A: If it was that size, it could be bear scat, but I cannot say with 100% certainty unless I see it. 

As for wolves, we do not have wolves in Ohio anymore. They were extirpated in the 1800's. What people are likely seeing are coyotes, which are found in the area.

– John Kolar, Chief Naturalist

Q: First, thank Chris Mentrek for the great time he showed everyone at last week’s Thursday night session – perfectly clear skies and great night to stargaze at the moon, Jupiter, and Orion’s belt. Secondly, and just as important – my very envious wife would love to know just what kind of flashlight he uses to point out the stars, planets and constellations.

A: To point out constellations and planets, we use a green laser pointer distributed by Orion. If you'd like to get your own, you can shop for a "class IIIa green laser pointer," which has a wavelength of about 532 nanometers. These are the safe, low-power laser pointers with an output power of five milliwatts or less. Here are a few links from education-supply companies:

A quick "buyer beware" note:  the surplus company typically has the lowest prices on science education supplies, but you often end up with lower-quality instruments. (A colleague of mine tried two of their green laser pointers, and reported that one was defective, and the other worked well.) In general, the more-expensive models have laser diodes that last a longer time. However, all laser diodes will burn out eventually.

To prolong the life of your laser pointer, I recommend that you avoid letting it get cold. (I've learned the hard way that leaving a laser pointer in your pocket on a cold winter night can kill the diode!) In the winter, I generally attach one of those "hand-warmer" packs to the laser with a rubber band to keep it happy.
A second, quick note on higher-power lasers: since the development of high-power lithium-ion batteries, people have started converting high-powered, laboratory-grade lasers (classes IIIb and IV) into portable "pointer-style" devices. These have output powers well above the five milliwatt threshold, and are far brighter than is necessary (or, in my opinion, safe) for astronomy presentations. These are the kind that're sold out of the trunk of somebody's car at concerts, and also widely distributed on eBay. As a quick rule of thumb when shopping for a laser pointer:  check the batteries. Class IIIa laser pointers are powered by AAA batteries; if a laser has to use specialized lithium-ion batteries, it's probably an unsafe, class IIIb/IV laser.

Good luck, and hope for clear skies!

– Chris Mentrek, Astronomy Naturalist ("Astro-Nat")

Reply: Thanks, Chris – and we didn’t even realize it was a green laser pointer you were using! The light beam looked more whitish and, while tightly focused, didn’t seem at all like the lasers I’m used to seeing (typically red, or those used in the engineering/surveying/construction trades), so I mistook it for just a tight-beamed flashlight. Thanks for the pointer (well, not literally)! I know what my stargazer will be getting for her anniversary now.

Q: I noticed two large birds flying about and landing on the top of a cell tower. Is there a nest up there? Signed, Luke A. Bout

A: Dick Tuttle will answer in italics below. He has, for the last 40 years, been long been a promoter of bluebird conservation through nest boxes. In recent years, Tuttle’s bird husbandry has included diversification with experimentation and refinement of bird housing. This includes an improved design of my plastic jar Prothonotary Warbler bird houses, Kestrel nest boxes on the back of highway signs, and Osprey platforms. He has been a major contributor to publications by ODNR, the Ohio Bluebird Society, North American Blue Bird Association, etc.

Perhaps there is! This choice of nest location may be a way of avoiding Great Horned Owl predation. Owls hunt by dropping and soaring to snatch their prey rather than pursuing by flying upward, etc. Of course, if platforms were mounted in shallow water and over open water, I have heard that Great Horned Owls don't like to fly over long distances over water. It is hard to think like an owl.

The other possible cell tower attraction for ospreys in that the penthouse suites come ready-wired for internet, cable TV and microwave. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I took a short hike at Frohring Meadows a couple of days ago. I did get to see some snipe and Spotted Sandpipers. I saw by your recent eBird report that there are a lot more shorebirds there now. I need to get back again.

I would like to report that I saw a male and female Kestrel near the entrance. The male landed on the post in the field just to the north of the road. I think I heard that these were put up for the shrike that was visiting in the winter. But the male seemed to like it. I saw it hunting from the post and also hovering over the field. The pair eventually flew off to the south. The female perched on the lines along the road. (Is there a nesting box somewhere in the woods for these two? Maybe they will stick around.)

I do like the new wetlands area. I saw a number of ducks there. I have a suggestion: Could you put up some kind of small viewing platform along that path? Even one foot in height would improve the view to the wetlands. A similar wooden viewing blind like the one that already already exists would block the view of people for the birds - just put in some steps or a platform. (I was thinking of carrying a small step stool on my next visit.)

A couple of years ago I saw a Broad-winged Hawk at the intersection of Savage Road and Chagrin Road to the south of Frohring Meadow. I don't remember what time of year it was. But I know these migrating hawks are just about due to arrive in this area. Have there ever been reports of them nesting in that area? I do like these hawks. I have seen them soaring and calling in the springtime.

A: Thank you for reporting your sightings and positive commentary regarding our wildlife amenities at Frohring Meadows. The viewing deck rates due consideration.

Broad-winged Hawks winter in the Amazon Basin. Their migratory arrival and departure dates are among the most predictable of our birds. The are due back within the week (April 15) and they depart our latitude by Sept. 15. Their kettles comprise the largest single species numbers in migration as they ride from thermal to thermal - along the south shore of Lake Erie in spring and the north shore in autumn. They are mature woodland nesters in our area, their presence best revealed by their shrill whistle calls. Soaring above, they are crow-sized, smaller than Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks with broad black and white bands on their tail. After nesting season, they can be often be seen on roadside wires exercising the "perch and pounce" method of hunting snakes, frogs, voles, grasshoppers, etc.

So keep your ears perked and your eyes pealed!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Is the predicted rain this week (first week of April) enough to spur the spotted lizards, et al.? 

A: The answer to your question is yes! The majority of the Jefferson Salamanders are already in the pools. Their migration always precedes the Spotted Salamanders by one or two warm spring rains. I expect that they will be moving Wed and Thurs nights!

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: In most places eagles already have several eggs or hatchlings on March 12.




Does the cold lake (which prolongs the cold and extends the summer) cause eagles to lay eggs later? 

A: I heard that the Headwaters eagles were active with (presumably) the female on the nest on March 26.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Can you tell me about Jenks Creek: who named it and when? Is fishing allowed in the creek? What is the best way to explore it? Thanks.

A: Jenks Creek is the stream that flows under Pearl Road just east of Robinson Rd in Hambden Twp. Just below Pearl Road, it cascades down a steep ravine alongside Robinson Road adjacent to Big Creek Park before entering Big Creek to the north of the park. This scenic cascade may be viewable from the Pearl Road bridge. 

Can’t find any reference to it in the 1880’s Pioneer History of Geauga County, would have to peruse the 1953 edition.  I’m sure it was named for a property owner. 

Jenks Creek is entirely on private property, so there is no public access for exploring it. Owner permission would have to be sought otherwise it’s trespassing. The stream is too small to harbor game fish. 

– Joe Cluts, President of Geauga County Beekeepers

Q: Since honey bees are European, will an extended or colder winter hurt any escapees who are living in the wild? 

A: It's unknown at this time about wild, but let me tell you this. Honeybee wellfare at this time depends on many factors: What time of spring, summer or fall did they swarm and find safe haven to nest? Location, location, location - how much food were they able to gather and store? New and old queens, amount of brood. The length, extent and depth of the cold weather. If there were thaws, how long and warm, and time? The bees need a cleansing flight so they do not soil the hive with waste and spread illness - what pests did they go into the winter with? It may be estimated that more than 50 to 75 percent or more of swarms that leave the parent hive do not last to the next year. Even the parent hive may also have a rough go of it.

One to five years is the time frame before the hive dies; the rare hive may last much longer in the wild. In Geauga and the State of Ohio, man-controlled bee hives (+/- 50%) have already died this year, and winter is not over yet. How many are alive is not known yet. Maybe all will pass this year - it has happened before in Geauga. Only time will tell. Another factor is how good a beekeeper is: did they leave plenty of food or get greedy, and all the above problems added on in various forms - GMOs, herbicide and pesticide use in and out of the hive, bee pasturage.

Sorry for the point of view, but this is the life and times of the honeybee now.

– Joe Cluts, President of Geauga County Beekeepers

Q: It appears we need a late April frost to wipe out the Hemlock Wooly Adelgids in the area?

A: It seems from all the information that I have reviewed that cold winter temperatures can kill and limit the spread of HWA. Our nice cold winter this year may have a negative effect on any Adelgids in the area. Overall, though, the winters here will probably not hold back the Adelgid spread north. They have already been documented in the Northeast U.S. in higher latitudes than Ohio.

I however have not read of any recently infested Hemlocks in northeast Ohio. The last that I can find is from 2009 in Cuyahoga County. Adelgids were found on ornamental plantings in which the trees had come from a out of state nursery. The latest infestation in Ohio was last year at Hocking Hills State Park. One acre of Hemlocks were infested and the state is now taking immediate action to try and eradicate the “hot spot” from this highly visited park.

I began Hemlock Wooly Adelgid surveys in Geauga Park District last year. Several of our parks have Hemlocks in them, and if the Adelgids do make it here, hopefully they can be caught early. If you have any more questions please let me know.

Here are some really good websites with lots of information on HWA:
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Ohio Department of Agriculture
US Forest Service
USDA's Northern Research Station

– Joel Firem, Field Naturalist

Q: Will migrating butterflies take longer to get here if the winter is colder?

A: I assume you are referring to Monarchs. They would have reached Mexico by November ahead of cold weather in the south. As far as the return trip, the greater risk is a prolonged winter retarding the growth of milkweed in the southern US, on which the wintering Monarchs rely to produce the succeeding generation, as they will expire soon after crossing the border and egg-laying. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I live in Parma, Ohio, I have White-tailed Deer in my backyard with orange ear tags. Can you please tell me why?  

A: Since you saw the deer in Cuyahoga County, I checked with the Natural Resources Department of Cleveland Metroparks for this answer. The deer you saw is tagged because it is part of a fawn survival study being conducted by Cleveland Metroparks. A reminder since it is almost spring, that does may give birth April through August. Fawns cannot get around well enough to keep up with their mother so they may be left alone for long periods while the doe feeds. If you find a fawn leave it alone so mom can find and nurse her youngster when she returns! If you have additional questions about the Cleveland Metroparks study please contact Terry Robison at 440-253-2162.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Q: I live in Akron and come up to your programs as often as I can. A couple of weeks ago I attended a program John did that discussed Otters. Yesterday on Mogadore Reservoir east of Akron I found these tracks in the snow out on the ice. I am confused by what appears to be something dragging with the tracks. I have never seen Otter around here (or ever in the wild for that fact) but wonder if these are just dog or could be Otter. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Please let me know if you have any questions and thank you for your help.

A: These tracks look quite canine to me. Probably dog, but I’m pitching this to our Field Naturalist for her opinion.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What are some good books about local botany?

A: There are no specific books on local botany only. A graduate student at Kent State did a thesis on the flora of Geauga County years ago. As for books, I would recommend Newcomb's Wildflower Guide; it will have just about all wildflowers, shrubs and vines of this area and has a simple key. The Woody Plants of Ohio is also good. We do not have them in our gift shops, but they will have them at the natural history museum.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator

Q (our 225th!): These two insects were found hanging on a door inside an office in Kent, Ohio, about five days ago in February. Can you tell from the pictures what they are?

A: This is most definitely a butterfly chrysalis! To me, it looks most likely like that of a Cabbage White…a butterfly that is present in large numbers in Ohio. The caterpillars must have managed to get inside somehow (perhaps brought in on a plant) and crawled up to that sheltered spot to form a chrysalis. If kept inside where it is warm, they will hatch prematurely. It would be best if you could keep them in a container and set them outside. In order to hatch properly and safely, they must be hung back up the way they were found.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: I saw this opossum outside The West Woods Nature Center last week. I know there are a lot of them around because I so often see them as roadkill. Aren’t they nocturnal? Is it unusual to see one out during the day?

A: My guess is that has been holed up in a hollow log or tree cavity during the long spells of frigid weather. Usually nocturnal, I speculate that a case of the grumb-bellies sent it forth in search of food with yesterday's mild temperatures. We had one foraging one morning under the bird feeders at The West Woods Nature Center a couple of weeks ago as well. It, too, was during an brief break when the Polar Vortex took a day off from deep freezing. Lacking adequate fur on their ears, toes and tail, these Dixie denizens often suffer frostbite as evidenced by stubby tails, missing toes and raggedy ears. This specimen, however, looks no worse for the winter wear; must have found a cozy shelter to wait out the weather.  

Opossums are North America's only marsupial, having a pouch to harbor and nurse their newborns. They also have the most teeth and smallest brain-to-body size ratio of any NA mammal.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Can you tell me the difference in coloration between the goose in the forefront and the rest of them? I've never seen a Canada Goose with this spotted coloring.

A: We had one locally like this for a while. Small area lack of pigment.
Doubt it’s a hybrid with the "blue goose" color phase of the Snow Goose.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist






Q: What is this bird? Thanks for your help!

A: This is a gyrfalcon. Gyrfalcons are the largest kind of falcon in the world. It is native to the Gyrfalcon arctic and subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere. An occurrence in Ohio is a major ornithological event attracting birders from near and far. Its plumage ranges from sooty gray to nearly pure white. Gyrfalcons are hunters of large birds such as grouse, ptarmigan and waterfowl which they overtake with swift and powerful flight. From the jesses on the legs, I see that it’s a captive – a falconer’s prize bird.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist





Q: This guy was just checking out all the tasty little birds at my feeder. What is he? (Photo and inquiry submitted by Pamela Shaker-Maurer)

A: Your camera work captured a Sharp-shinned Hawk in defining detail for identification. The rounded head and square-tipped tail distinguish it from its larger look-alike relative, the Cooper's Hawk, which has a squared off look to the back of the head and a rounded tail.

Both species are members of the accipiter group of hawks that also includes the larger Northern Goshawk. These hawks, for the most part, are woodland bird hunters that specialize in ambush tactics. Their relatively short wings build speed while their long tail works like a rudder to maneuver unhindered through thick tangles of branches. To see a demonstration of accipiter aerial abilities, check out this video featuring a goshawk.

Your sharpie, with its blue-gray upper plumage and rusty barred breast, is an adult bird. Backyard birdwatchers are perhaps more likely to see young Sharp-shinned and Coopers hawks in their mottled, streaky brown plumage. Indeed, the popularity of backyard bird feeding stations – along with a reforested landscape – has aided a comeback in accipiter numbers. The drama of their predation can be witnessed in both city and country.   

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Hello, we are students in the 4th grade at Kenston. We are studying rocks and fossils at this time. We are wondering what are the "rules" for if we are hiking or out and about and find interesting rocks and/or possible fossils. Are we allowed to bring them home with us? Where are good locations for "rock hounding"?

A: So ya want to collect rocks in the parks, eh? Well now, park regulations dictate that natural materials – both living and non-living – are not to be removed from the parks. However, a simple process is available for you, as an educator, to obtain a Geauga Park District collecting permit for such a purpose – assuming of course, that you mean a couple of rocks per student as opposed to bucketfuls.

Drop an email to Administrative Assistant Anna McDonald at to request a collecting permit for small rocks found in the parks. State your purpose for collecting (earth science curriculum, encouraging an interest in geology in students, etc.). The best sources of rocks is stream beds and, more readily, trail surface gravels; ask for a recommendation for collecting sites with your request, and Anna will direct your inquiry through the channels here at the Park District.

My advice: Have the kids look, as mentioned, along or in streams, particularly gravel bars where the best samples of locally occurring rocks occur.  The other source for finding rocks deposited by the glacier from both near and far would be the bare soil of farm fields, gardens, construction sites (if allowed onto) or yet-to-be landscaped areas.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I saw a recent eBird report by the Geauga County Naturalists. Some Snow Buntings were seen at Frohring Meadows. I was wondering where they were seen in the park. I was lucky enough to see some at the lakefront a couple of years ago. They were on the beach at Mentor Headlands. 

A: I saw the Snow Buntings off-trail where the new wetland was installed along the south-west-ish part of the park.

Happy bird-watching!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Reply on 11/25/13: I did not see any Snow Buntings this morning at Frohring Meadows. I did see a shrike in the southeast section of the meadows where there are three small trees in the middle of the meadow. It also perched on a bluebird box on the east end of the wetlands loop. Nice to see that bird!

Reply on 11/27/13: I took a quick walk there again yesterday. I searched the southwest area for the Snow Buntings. I did not see any. I totally forgot to go in that area on Monday. After seeing the shrike in that little island of trees and bushes to the southeast, and again near the east end of the wetlands loop, I guess I was just easily distracted. 

I wanted to ask you about something else. Yesterday I saw something peculiar. I was scanning the new/future wetlands in the southwest field for the buntings. There was a dead vole on top of a dead forked plant that could have been a thick goldenrod or ironwood. I did not have my camera yesterday. I could clearly see the limp vole from the trail on the plant. Could this have been something the shrike did? I know they stick dead prey on thorns in trees. But do they also put them on top of plants like this? Or did the vole climb the plant to search for seeds and die? I did see the shrike fly out of the southwest wetlands area towards the wetlands loop trail yesterday. 

I'll bet the shrike has already been identified as a Northern Shrike as opposed to a Loggerhead. But, just in case...I saw it flying from behind. It  had a white rump. And, the one decent photo I was able to get (attached) showed that the black mask of the bird I saw was not covering the eye and extending up onto the forehead. If you zoom in on the photo you can see this. Here is the web page I used to read about the differences in the two shrikes.

A: The dead vole in the crook of the plant is indeed the work of the Northern Shrike. Here's what Cornell University's Birds of North America On-line says about shrike behavior: "Impaling prey on thorns and sharp objects or wedging prey in narrow V-shaped forks of branches is a well-developed behavior summer and winter; involves mainly larger arthropod and vertebrate prey. Shrike may then start tearing off bites to eat or leave prey in storage (further details in Cramp and Perrins 1993). May spend considerable time (up to 45 minutes) wedging vertebrate prey, then removing and re-wedging in different locations within same shrub (ECA)." 

Please let us know if you see the shrike on one of our perching posts! Thanks again for the report from the field.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We recently moved to Geauga County from Cuyahoga County. We were shocked about some things we've noticed. We have not seen one squirrel, chipmunk, birds (other than geese) since we moved here in September. We came from Lakewood and these are all normal animals we saw in the city. The only wildlife we have seen around basically are frogs! Is this normal for farm country? We live on 608 between 322 and Middlefield.

A: Welcome to Geauga County, neighbor! I actually live not too far from you near 608 and 322. I too, do not see squirrels or chipmunks around my neighborhood. I live on a street that is pretty much farmland and a spattering of houses, as is probably the case where you live. This type of habitat is not very inviting for these mammals and many type of birds that rely on trees (in large stands) for food and shelter. will be amazed at the amount of wildlife you can see with just a little bit of effort.

I myself have two bluebird boxes I put up every spring and they have been used every year. Many times the bluebirds stay all winter near my yard (not utilizing the nest box in the winter). I also have some trees in my yard near the house and get nesting robins.

A bird feeder will attract many more songbirds for you to see, such as various sparrows, Mourning Doves and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on the ground in the winter. Just be sure to have the feeders near bushes or some type of cover in case the birds need to hide from a visiting hawk. Putting a large pile of sticks and leaves (a brush pile) near the feeders will help provide a place to hide if needed. Also, a bird bath with fresh water (especially in the winter when most water is frozen) will also attract many birds.

You may not get to see the animals you became familiar with in the city, but you will find some new ones to admire in Geauga. The killdeer (an interesting bird) in the summer are fun to watch and listen to, and many types of amphibians (including frogs, as you mentioned) will entertain in the spring, along with Eastern Cottontail Rabbits throughout the year.

And if you are missing your squirrels and chipmunks, Geauga Park District's Headwaters Park is in your area and is a perfect habitat for these critters, so you will be sure to see some there (along with other wildlife) while you are enjoying the trails. Enjoy Geauga County for all it has to offer! I look forward to seeing you in the parks!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: What exactly are these "bugs" and what are they doing? Out of the sun they were almost invisible; in the sun they looked like fuzzy dots...but stopped by the camera they look unusual!!!

A: These look like midges to me. These pictures aren’t quite clear enough to get a specific ID, and the ID often comes down to looking at pieces-parts under a microscope. Check out the BugGuide page on midges; maybe you can find a picture that matches yours.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: One of the students in my school group at Holden Arboretum found something that looked like small eggs under a rotting log. They were whitish, and about 1/8" in diameter. I thought they were salamander eggs, and my student said she had found some on a hike with Geauga Park District (maybe with John?) and was also told they were salamander eggs.

As I discussed it with my colleagues, we had a question. We thought salamanders laid their eggs in water and the larvae lived in water, then they moved onto land as an adult. Is there a salamander that lays its eggs on land? If so, what happens to the larvae? What kind of salamander would it be? If they aren't salamander eggs, what could they be? Sorry I didn't get a picture. Thanks for your help.

A: They could very well be salamander eggs, as both the Red-backed Salamander and Dusky Salamander lay their clutches of eggs on land. The parent salamander often curls around the eggs to guard them from invertebrate predators. Such parental care is rare among amphibians.

If the eggs were more translucent or opaque, they were probably slug eggs which may look like, but probably don’t taste like, caviar.

Red-backed Salamander photo by Mike Benard
Left to right: Red-backed Salamander (photo by Mike Benard), Dusky Salamander, slug eggs

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I saw your website and wanted to ask what type of bug this is? It's after my peach-plum and apple trees. Thank you for any help.

A: It's a Japanese Beetle.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant, and Dan Best, Senior Naturalist


Q: One of my students took some photographs of a snake she found and is wondering what kind it is. I saw one like this in my yard a few years ago and it took exception to my efforts to shoo it out of the way of my lawn mower. 

A: Eastern Garter Snake!

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant, and John Kolar, Naturalist Supervisor



Q: I spotted these two just off 322 near Taylor Wells Road. I noticed the band and radio transmitter on the left one's leg. Is this guy one of your resident birds or migrating? Who is tracking him? (from Debbie Schuster)

A: Great picture! This bird was actually part of a migration study conducted by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The bird with the transmitter is a female. She was captured and fitted with the device in 2008. Unfortunately, the transmitter only worked for ninemonths, but she has returned to nest in the Aquilla watershed every year since. Make sure you check out this site for details of the study. I appreciate the sighting. I was out during the snow hoping to photograph the cranes but was not as lucky as you!

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist


Q: I was wondering if there are any plans to change the name for "Headwaters Park" since it seems like it's being drained?!

A: The City of Akron usually lowers the level of the reservoir in the late summer through fall. This is for water quality and water level control in the reservoirs downstream and also may have something to do with algal blooms. From winter to late summer the reservoir is allowed to fill up, and the cycle repeats every year.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Please ID this big guy I met in Parkman Twp. on October 12!

A: Marbled Orbweaver, Araneus marmoreus.

They are sometimes called Halloween spiders because we see them around this time of year, and they are orange like pumpkins!

They feed at night and are usually hidden during the day.

The females are searching now for a good place to put their egg case to overwinter. 


– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: I was listening to the recording you listed of the Screech Owl that indicated the gurgle at the end of their call. Very interesting because I have just started hearing that call in my back yard within the past two weeks. I was confused though because I thought I was hearing a Screech Owl every night for the past few years calling but with an actual screech noise. When I listened to call with the “gurgle” sound at the end through a site I found on Google, it pointed to a Spotted Owl.

A: The interesting thing about Screech Owls is that they don’t really make a screeching sound. Their call is a fairly soft trill on one pitch and also a “whinny” call — not unlike that of a horse. The sound clip of the Screech Owl above is the “whinny” part of its call. More Screech Owl sounds may be found at this link. If you are hearing an actual screech or scream, I would suggest you check out the various calls of the Barred Owl at this link as well as the Great Horned Owl at this link. Scroll down the respective pages and listen to some of the other calls these owls make. Screeches and screams can often indicate the begging calls of young owls, but owls, generally, can make all sorts of weird noises.  Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology's All About Birds website is a great reference.

Regarding the Spotted Owl song — portions of the hooting pattern of Barred Owls and Spotted Owls are kind of similar (and a similar screech as well), but Spotted Owls are a west coast species that need old-growth, coniferous habitat found in areas of southern British Columbia as well as Washington State and parts of California. Our area does not have the appropriate habitat to support Spotted Owls.

I hope this has been helpful, and I hope you can narrow down which owl is living near you.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: What kind of bird is this? It was at Big Creek-Tupelo Pond with lots of more recognizable others: catbirds, goldfinches and woodpeckers. 

A: That would be a Yellow-rumped Warbler! They are usually the last of the warblers to pass through our area on their journey south.

– John Kolar, Naturalist

A: Yes on yellow-rumps. And the only warbler – other than accidentals – that linger or visit after October. Some are found around here in the winter feeding on wild fruit, poison ivy berries being a favorite.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: We have always had chipmunks around our house, so I'm used to the sight of them and the sound of them. A couple of weeks ago, though, a new phenomenon began where one (or two) chipmunk(s) started chirping at first light and continued to chirp incessantly, almost non-stop until late in the day (before dark).

Has anyone else experienced this? What does this behavior indicate?

A: Thanks for your observations. Most people think the chirp of this active rodent is a bird or insect. It seems the sound we hear are a warning that a predator (cat, hawk, person, dog etc.) is nearby, and sometimes other chipmunks pick up on the call and begin to echo the sound. Here are some specifics concerning the various sounds from Lang Elloitt:

The ground predator alarm is a loud, high-pitched, staccato “chip,” given in a measured series. (As you might guess, the chipmunk is named for this call.) In contrast, the aerial predator alarm call is characterized by a loud, hollow "cluck."

Here is a link to his informative blog:

Although I have not spent years in research as Lang Elloitt has, my thought on the non-stop chirping might be the young chipmunks that are part of the population now. They may be responding to each other and not necessarily to a predator; therefore the sound continues during all of their waking hours.

– Dottie Drockton, Naturalist

Reply: Thanks for following up with that information, very helpful! I also found someone on the internet that surmised that the incessant 'chirping' at this time of year might have to do with females calling males to mate. Have a great day!

Q: I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of spider this is?

A: I am glad you asked, which means you are interested in spiders or fear that this one might be dangerous. No worries, this is a Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus), a type of orbweaver spider (the kind that make the familiar hanging webs) that was introduced from Europe more than 100 years ago. Note the white markings on the back of the abdomen that form a cross.

Cross Spiders are commonly found around houses. I will admit they are pretty intimidating to look at, but they are not harmful to people and actually will help catch some of those other pests like flies that may be "bugging" you. Of course, it may not be a visitor you would like to hang out in your living room, but they will benefit you even on an outside porch.   

Thanks for inquiring!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist


Found a patch of violets in bloom in Medina today.

Isn't it unusual to have a spring wildflower bloom in fall?

A: This seemed pretty unusual to us as well. I deferred to Judy Bradt-Barnhart, our nature education coordinator with a MS in botany. She in turn put out an inquiry to botanist Tom Sampliner, also a past president of the Northeast Ohio Native Plant Society, who had this to offer: "Violets do have the capability of blooming during any appropriate temperature, humidity, moisture repeat of their normal bloom time. Therefore, September, October, even November in a year that presents proper circumstances does result in an occasional bloom for typical spring ephemeral. It also is a prerequisite that no killing major frosts occurred prior to the seemingly out of season bloom."

Your penchant for uncovering nature's mysteries brings welcomed inquiries that expand our horizons, too! Thank you.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What kind of snake is this?

A: Northern Water Snake. Their resemblance to the venomous Water Moccasin/Cottonmouth of southern swamps perpetuates the stubborn insistence that these poisonous pit vipers are found in Ohio. Not.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Hi. I'm a bit concerned. I found a bug in my bathroom. It was not scorpion, but it had a scorpion tail and 2 wings. It stings because I poked it with a piece of paper and it kept moving the tail back and forth, trying to string me! What type of bug is it? I'm sorry I don't have a picture. Thank you.

A: Stay tuned...

Q: I know that the Monarchs are in decline this year. It would be a  shame if these butterflies became extinct. What is being done to protect them? I would like to purchase milkweed plants if that would help; we should contact mainstream landscape companies (Lowe's and Home Depot) to sell these plants and encourage homeowners to let some of their properties go wild.

A: Really, just planting them in one’s butterfly garden is the best way…as the other flowers will draw them in. This is being achieved by creating official “Monarch Waystations” through Monarch Watch! The more we can establish, the better.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: We decided to move a bed of lilies to another spot in our yard recently and with them went several very large stones that ringed the bed. When we unearthed the stones we noticed red spiders crawling around underneath. They were so terribly RED that they worried us. Their entire body was red. I’m so sorry I didn’t take a photo to send to you. Can you tell anything by just this scanty description? They weren’t very large, about the side of your thumb’s first knuckle and they were rounded in shape. Any idea?

A: Here is a photo of a bright red "spider-looking" mite. Is this what you saw? You can find them living under stones and logs.

There a many different species of these. Click here for a website.

These mites are in the same class (arachnida) as spiders and have eight legs as spiders do. Please let me know if that is indeed what you saw, and I can get you more information about them.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Reply: Unfortunately when I showed my husband the photo he didn’t think it looked like what we saw either. When I checked the website indicated in Nora’s answer, then I also could confirm it didn’t seem to be the same creature because the back of the insect did not have those indentations that appear on the mite. Next time I will be sure to take a photo…

A: I went ahead and did some additional research on these red "spiders." Sometimes it is extremely difficult to compare a photo of an animal to one you have seen, especially when we are talking about a small invertebrate. The pictures I sent you before were close-ups when you could really see details of the animal which you may not have noticed in person. Going back to your initial email, your description as "rounded in shape" still has me leaning towards the mite. If you can recall, did the specimen have two distinct body parts or one? If it looked like one main body part, I would go with a type of mite. I also consulted Richard Bradley from the Ohio State University to see if there are any spiders that it would likely be. See his email below.

The description and situation you describe certainly make a velvet mite the most logical choice (lacking any photo or other detailed information). There aren't too many red spiders, and none that fit your description (size, shape). We have a few orange or red-orange ones that are ground dwellers; Dysdera crocata is an example. If the animal was uniformly red, including the legs, I still think the velvet mite is most likely. 

Do you remember about whether it looked fuzzy or soft-velvety in texture rather than shiny?


Richard Bradley, PhD
Associate Professor, Emeritus
Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
The Ohio State University

Please let me know if this helps. I am very curious to know. So, should you be worried, if this indeed is what you, they do not feed on humans or pets. The young stage of this mite is a parasite on grasshoppers, beetles and other small insects. The adult eats small invertebrates (like ants) and their eggs. Perhaps if you see them again you can send a picture. Thank you for inquiring.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Hi, could you please let me know what kind of snake this is? Taken in Newbury; the snake acted aggressively.

A: It is a Northern Water Snake.

As their name implies, they live in and around bodies of water.

They are generally shy but will act aggressive if approached by people. After all, we are huge compared to them.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant, and Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I live in Mentor, Ohio. For the last five years or so I have raised and released Monarch butterflies. I collect the eggs from the milkweed plants I have growing in my yard. Usually I end up releasing 15 to 25. This year (2013) I saw a total of three monarchs the entire summer...and not one egg or caterpillar. What happened to the Monarchs this year? How did your tagging go? Did you have a good number migrating from Canada? I appreciate any answers you can give.

A: Sadly Monarch numbers are down nationwide, and Mexico saw its smallest overwintering population ever counted.

Why? Lots of good details can be found on the Monarch Watch website (, but the short answer is: loss of habitat, aka fewer milkweed plants due to herbicide spraying and GMO's.

This year's Monarch tagging programs saw a total of 22 over the course of three days this month (September) - so, so much lower than usual. But I'm also told it's been a gradual decline. The solution, naturalists say, is to help the milkweed recover by planting some of your own!

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: What is this, and how did it get on my roof?!

A: You're looking at Cottontail Rabbit remains left behind by a rooftop dining predator, probably a Red-tailed Hawk, maybe a Great Horned Owl.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist




Q: Can you tell me what sort of beetle this is? It's about 1/2" long. Probably the brown color is more accurate

A: It's a stink bug. Never saw a gold one; usually they are green or brown.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator

A: Good find!

Naturalist Judy Bradt-Barnhart is correct, it is one of the stink bugs - one of over 500 species of stink bugs in the country alone. Stink bugs belong to the order Hemiptera, also known as "true bugs." We tend to call all insects "bugs," but there is only one group of insects that can correctly be called bugs. Stink bugs are so named for a general trait of having chemical defenses which render them distasteful to predators. 

To be more specific, it looks to be, after consulting the online insect reference, a Podisus serieventris. This appears to beone of the predatory stink bugs. By predatory, I mean that they use their sharp, needle-like beak to pierce the bodies of other kinds of insects, into which they inject digestive enzymes which further liquefy the insides of their prey. They then use their beaks like a straw to suck out the "soup."

Although predatory stink bugs are non-discriminating in diet, much of their prey might be considered "bad" to humans as crop pests. Therefore the gnarly predatory stink bugs should be regarded as "good bugs."

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I was hiking in Frohring Meadows this morning doing an eBird survey. I saw what appeared to be a platform on a cell tower. The tower was on the western end of the meadows area near the power line corridor. Was this put up by the park to be an osprey nest platform?

According to my eBird records, I saw an osprey on July 30 of this year (2013).
I remember seeing it soaring low over the meadows area. It eventually flew off to the south.

A: Well I could be a wise guy and say that this platform is for bungee-jumping, but I wouldn’t want to encourage you.

I’m not a cell tower engineer, so I can’t say what the apparatus is as pictured mounted on the cell tower below the “business end” at the top. It doesn’t appear to be a solar cell grid.  I’m wondering if it isn’t intended to be a nest platform aimed at enticing osprey (which are currently nesting on at least five cell towers in Geauga County) away from the horizontal platforms at the top where all the instruments are located. To find out, an inquiry with the owning cell tower firm would be the way to find out. Regardless of what it really is, I can picture a Red-tailed Hawk using it for a perch as it surveys its domain.

By the way, we’d be interested in your Frohring Meadow bird survey results. Thank you very much!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I found this bug in my car and I'm a bit concerned.

A:  What is it?
B:  Should I be concerned that my baby and my dog ride in the vehicle?
C:  Should I get my car sprayed on the inside

A: Sure looks like a beetle larva to me. Harmless, nothing to be concerned about for baby or dog. Spraying your auto interior with insecticide may likely pose a greater health risk than this baby beetle.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Found this little guy today (9/3/13). Looked all over in my books and online without success.

A: This moth is the Pale Beauty, one of the geometer moths. Geometer moths are the second largest group of moths in North America, numbering over 1,400 species.

Geometer moths get their name from their caterpillars, the inchworms. Inchworms are named for their movement, which looks like they are measuring the surface they are walking on as they arch their bodies to bring their hind gripping pads (not really feet) forward to meet their upfront feet.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I'm writing about a Cedar Waxwing caught by my cat. I brought the bird inside, assuming it was injured and that it would not make it. After an hour inside, it seemed lively. My four cats finally inside, I tried to put the bird outside, but it did not move even as I stayed with and then left. t just lay quietly in the grass. Then it started to pour, so I brought it back inside.

Long story short, it can't fly and has a 'lame' foot, that is, a deformed stump without claws. It is eating bits of worms and peaches. Thought it was a juvenile/fledgling, but it has slight red tips to wings. With just one working leg, and now injured wings, I shall try to take it to a wildlife rehab place, if they will take it.

My question for you is whether it is common for birds with one working leg to survive into adulthood? Thanks in advance for your response.

A: A trip to a rehab facility seems to be the only recourse to attempt any real help. It may be able to manage as it has been thus far. But, as the cats demonstrated, birds with compromised anatomy may be more prone to predation. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Thanks for your response. I did take it to the wildlife/avian rehab center. The bird was truly compromised. Turned out it had extensive necrotic tissue under the old injury perhaps. It was euthanized. But I am grateful for the opportunity to have been so close to such a beautiful creature. Thanks again, and thanks for such a great blog/website.

Q: I live on Overlook Road in Munson Township in sight of Bass Lake and haven’t heard morning songbirds (5-6 a.m.) for several weeks. Why is that? Today, however, I did hear owls.

A: It is not unusual this time of year to have the morning bird chorus taper off. Most birds are done breeding this late in the summer and are not defending territories as much, thus the lack of bird song this time of year. You will hear the calls of birds throughout the year, as these are more for general bird communication; the songs are generally heard late winter through early summer. During the late summer, there is an abundance of natural foods, so many birds that are usually utilizing your bird feeders are feasting on the natural buffet that nature provides. This is another reason you might not be seeing or hearing as many birds near your home.

Happy to hear that you are hearing owls! Owls tend to be a little more territorial throughout the year, so it is quite normal to hear them virtually any time of year. Happy birding!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: Is this some sort of cricket? Taken today (August 27) here in Newbury Township.

A: Cool cricket. We immediately ID’d it as a Handsome Trig. As its name implies, it is one of the most colorful crickets in our area, which is in the northern reaches of this insect’s range. Its song is a jerky trill that Linda describes as sounding like an electrical short-out; click on its picture at this link for a listen.

Good find, great photo!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist, and Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We recently moved into a home that has a rather large woodsy area in the backyard. We have five young children who have explored every inch of it over the past few weeks since we moved in. This last week three of the five have broken out in a rash on their legs. The doctor mentioned poison ivy and gave us some cream to use as needed.  

How do I identify the culprit in our backyard? All of the plants look the same to me. There is no way to prevent our kids from exploring the woods. Are we doomed to have this rash forever? Or will their little bodies become immune to it?

The previous owners of the home had small children also and never had a reaction of any kind in the three years they lived here. This is such a mystery to me. 

A: The first photo you sent us (above) is of poison ivy. Notice the set of three leaves whereas the others have more leaves. The old saying is, "Leaves of three, leave them be." There are lots of other sayings to help with poison ivy identification here on Wikipedia.

It’s really great that the children are so interested in the outdoors. The best thing to do is to teach them how to identify this plant so they can avoid it. Also have them wear long pants when going into the woods to keep it off their legs. If you think they’ve gotten into it, have them wash thoroughly with soap and water. There are some over the counter products at pharmacies that help wash off the poison ivy.

The poison ivy plant contains an oil that causes an allergic reaction. Some people are more sensitive than others and that could be why the previous residents didn’t have a reaction. In terms of becoming immune to it, I don’t know. That’s a good question for the doctor.

Best advice is identify and avoid and keep on exploring!

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: We just discovered a small colony of bats in behind the stone trim on our house. Will they leave in the fall? Also we had a skunk that seemed to be having trouble. It was dead the next morning near the road. We don't think our dogs were near it. Have you heard of other sick skunks in this area? Thank you.

A: The bats that are roosting behind the trim of your house will likely leave in the fall. Consider yourself fortunate to have this vital bug zapper on your property! As for the skunk, it is hard to say with certainty what killed the skunk; disease, automobile, wild animal, dog, it's hard to say for sure. I contacted Lake Metropark's Wildlife Center to inquire about rabies cases in skunks this year, and they said that there have been no reported rabies cases for animal mammal in Lake County this year! Likely it is a similar situation in Geauga County. Hope this has been helpful to you!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: My friend found this flower while kayaking at LaDue Reservoir. I have two questions! One is, what type of flower is it, and two, what's wrong with the flower that doesn't really look like a flower? Is it a bud?

A: It’s a member of the sunflower family, but there are so many that I would need to see a better picture of the leaves to know for sure what it is. If there are leafy ridges on the stem, it is wingstem, which is blooming now all around wetlands. As for your other question, the ball-like structure on the one flower is caused by a gall, an insect laying its egg in the flower.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator

Q: I found these feathers in my driveway. Most of the rest of this birds' feathers are on the peak of my roof. I looked at the FWS website and the best I can tell they belong to a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. It makes sense since they did nest in my yard this year, but what would eat a Cooper's Hawk? Red Tail? My other best guess would be juvenile turkey, since I counted 19 of them with three females at one time last week, but there were no juvenile turkey feathers on the site.

As a size reference, the longest was just under 17 cm. I know that puts it more in line with a Sharp-shinned Hawk. More feathers keep blowing off the roof each day. I have about 2/3 of the primary/secondaries now.

Any opinion on who may have eaten it? I'm not sure of time of day. Dawn or dusk may have been an owl. I've seen both Great Horned and Barred owls on my property. Daytime I'd say Red-tail Hawk. Thanks.

A: Good call on the hawk! Based on the feather length, it looks like you do indeed have Sharp-shinned Hawk feathers (likely female). Although it is hard to say with absolute certainty, it is more than likely that this bird was killed by a Great Horned Owl who used your rooftop as a feeding platform. Great Horned Owls eat a wide variety of animals such as mice, rabbits, skunks (believe it or not), hawks and even other owls.

We have an educational permit through the Ohio Division of Wildlife to keep bird of prey feathers, so if you would like to donate them we will put them to good use!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

A: The feathers are indeed hawk feathers, and I don't disagree with your ID about the Cooper's. A Great Horned Owl will take out a hawk with no problem. Since you have had Great Horneds in the vicinity, it is the most likely predator. Great Horned Owls aren't called "tigers of the forest" for nothing!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: What's this bird song, recorded at Bass Lake at dusk? (Click here to listen.)

A: That’s a catbird’s song. Catbirds, along with thrashers and mockingbirds, are mimics. Their songs are random medleys of "sound bytes" borrowed from other bird songs and even frogs and machinery. The catbird’s call is a mewing sound that accounts for the catbird’s name. The birds themselves are more often heard than seen, as they inhabit dense thickets. When they venture out of cover, you can see that they are slender, long-tailed birds of an overall charcoal gray color with a black crown and rusty underside patch at the base of the tail.

Catbirds winter in the south, arrive in April and depart in October. Though they probably won’t visit the bird feeder for seed, they will benefit from native shrubs that provide fruit and berries. Sorry, but I don’t think they go for catfood.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reader's Reply: Catbirds are not likely to come to feeders for seed, it's true, but they sure liked the grape jelly I put out for the Baltimore Orioles. We had them every day in Montville; when the feeder was empty, they would sit in the bushes next to the yard and ‘mew’ for their dinner. There is nothing like being serenaded by the Catbird at the end of the day.

Q: No crickets at night (7-17-13)...where are they?

A: The insect orchestra is just beginning to tune up, so unless something has changed in the habitat (like pesticide?) where you normally hear them, just be patient and keep your ears open. So  far, the Carolina and Striped Ground Crickets — common yard crickets — have just begun callings. On my property I’ve heard Sword-bearing Coneheads, and the Pine Tree Crickets just started singing last night (7-18-13). I heard a Broad-winged Bush Katydid and Gladiator Meadow Katydids at Frohring Meadows last week. 

Click here for the songs of the above mentioned insects.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I recently ran across several of these rocks at Edgewater Park in Cleveland. The rocks are large, and obviously are from somewhere else. I'm curious about a few things:

1. Do you think they were quarried in Ohio?
2. What type of rocks are they?
3. What would have caused the patterns I see on them?
4. In what period were they formed? How old are they?

I've tried looking for answers on my own, but so far have found nothing. I'd appreciate it if you can help.

A: Indeed those rocks are intriguing! I consulted with Dr. Joseph Hannibal, geologist/invertebrate paleontologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who stated that many sources of regional bedrock were quarried for breakwall structures along the Lake Erie shoreline. He identified the rocks in your photos as weathered Euclid Bluestone – a hard, durable siltstone that was quarried extensively in the Cleveland region and used for sidewalk slabs, steps, foundations, laundry sinks, horse troughs, etc. The most notable bluestone quarries were located in South Euclid.  However, Joe recognized the stones as ones that were quarried years ago from Boyas Quarry in Garfield Heights along what is now I-480, which he and his cohorts studied a few years ago.

His response identified these strange, “puffy”-looking features as “ball and pillow” structures. Ball and pillow structures occur among layers of sedimentary rock such as sandstone, siltstone, limestone and shale. Two processes lead to their formation. While the sediments were still soft, not yet turned to rock (lithified), they were disturbed and became “slumping clumps” of mud – rounded as they rolled downhill. Gentle deposition of overlying sediments protected the rounded shape of the sediments, preserving them as the unusual structures that you so duly made note of.

The Euclid bluestone is assigned to the Upper Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era, making it about 350 million years old. Click here for an article written by Joe Hannibal all about the Euclid bluestone.

Geology is regional, so your inquiry was not at all out of our natural history range. Thank you so much!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Fascinating stuff. I moved here from Connecticut last September, and have been exploring reserves ever since. The geology of this area intrigues me. Evidence of how time and natural forces shaped our world are very visible. The problem is that I don't even know enough about the subject to be able to ask the right questions. You've helped greatly in this, and I'm off to explore prehistoric Ohio. Thanks again.

Q: Can you help me ID this?

A: This is a male Eastern Dobsonfly. The male has long mandibles and the females do not. The larva  is called a hellgrammite and is used for fishing.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant




Q: My son and I went fishing today (June 2) at Orchard Hills Park and we started to see some dead fish. Then my son decided to count how many were dead and he counted over 80 - andhe only went half way around the pond. Why are there so many dead fish? What is causing all of them to die?

A: Here are some of my thoughts mixed with information from the internet...

Most species of fish are relatively short-lived and have a high rate of mortality.  Many fishes may experience death rates of approximately 50% per year.  Fortunately, the deaths are usually spread-out over the year and are rarely observed by Park patrons.  Only a fraction of dead fish are ever observed because many decompose on the bottom or are eaten by scavengers such as turtles, crayfish, etc.

Most of the time, fish kills are due to natural causes over which we have no control, such as weather. Only rarely is death directly related to pollution. Natural fish kills are of three basic seasonal types: winterkill, which occurs in late winter but may not be seen until early spring; spring kill, which is occurs in late May to early June (which may have happened at Orchard Hills); and summer kill, which occurs on the hottest days of mid summer.
Here is a nice summary of each:

Spring Kill
Spring kill occurs in lakes and rivers when fish survive the winter but die as the water warms rapidly in May and June. It rarely claims many fish and is usually over in a couple of weeks. Spring kill is almost always due to natural causes beyond our influence. The usual victims are large bluegills and crappies, and other fish which spawn in the spring such as perch, bass, pike and suckers.

A combination of stresses is usually responsible. Fish come through the winter in a weakened condition because they've been eating at a reduced rate. As the water warms, their metabolism increases and they divert much energy to strenuous spawning activities. In lakes, additional stress may be added during "turnover", which is when wave action stirs up bottom water low in oxygen and high in noxious gases. Diseases and parasites also become more active and on a few occasions have been implicated in fish kills.

Summer Kill
Summer kill occasionally occurs in lakes and streams during extremely hot summer weather. High temperature and low dissolved oxygen combine to stress the fish. Most prone to summer kills are pike, perch, suckers, bass, and bluegill living in shallow, productive lakes or bays with excessive amounts of algae or rooted aquatic vegetation. The plants consume large amounts of oxygen at night, causing a temporary shortage of the vital gas just before dawn. A cloudy, calm day extends the critical period by reducing re-oxygenation from photosynthesis and wave action. Apparently, fish in the oxygen-depleted areas do not sense the danger and swim to safety in time.

In conclusion, the risk of some types of fish kills can be reduced by keeping as many nutrients out of the water as possible. Sources of nutrients include septic fields, fertilized lawns and farm fields, and wastes from livestock and waterfowl (including geese). Reducing nutrient input starts the following favorable chain reaction: production by aquatic plants is reduced, less decomposition is required, and oxygen will not become depressed to critical levels.
Natural fish kills are obnoxious, and may affect fishing and predator-prey "balance" for years. However, they are often not serious in the long run because lakes contain thousands of fish per acre. They may be thought of as nature's way of thinning out fish populations.

Infrequently, fish kills indicate habitat or pollution problems we may be able to correct. And sometimes, fish kills beneficially reduce over-populated, slow-growing panfish and actually increase growth rates and improve fishing.

Winter Kill
Winterkill is the most common type of fish kill. When severe, it has devastating effects on fish populations and fishing quality. Winterkill occurs during especially long, harsh winters.  Shallow lakes with excess amounts of aquatic vegetation and mucky bottoms are prone to this problem. Fish actually die in late winter, but may not be noticed until a month after the ice leaves the lake because the dead fish are temporarily preserved by the cold water. Winterkill begins with distressed fish gasping for air at holes in the ice and ends with large numbers of dead fish which bloat as the water warms in early spring. Dead fish may appear fuzzy because of secondary infection by fungus, but the fungus was not the cause of death.

Actually, the fish suffocated from lack of dissolved oxygen. Trace amounts of dissolved oxygen (measured in parts per million, ppm) are required by fish and all other forms of aquatic life. Even living plants and the bacteria that decompose organic materials on the bottom of the lake require oxygen. As a rule of thumb, the critical level of oxygen is about 2 ppm for most game fish native to warmwater lakes, and levels below 1 ppm for extended periods of time are lethal.
But species of fish vary in their tolerance of low oxygen. Trout are most sensitive; walleye, bass, and bluegill have intermediate sensitivity; and northern pike, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed are relatively tolerant. Bullheads and certain minnows are very tolerant. Lakes prone to periodic winterkill can often be detected from the composition of their fish populations - tolerant species predominate, sensitive species are rare, and prey greatly outnumber predators. Fortunately, usually enough fish survive, either in the lake or in connecting waters, to repopulate the lake in a couple of years. Only for extreme die-offs is fish restocking necessary.

The dissolved oxygen content of water depends primarily on three variables. These are the amount of mixing with the air above the lake, the rate of oxygen production by plants, and the rate of oxygen consumption (respiration) by living aquatic organisms. During periods of prolonged ice cover, the lake is sealed off from the atmosphere and cannot be recharged with oxygenated air. Furthermore, ice and snow reduce the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants, thereby reducing photosynthesis and oxygen production. (During photosynthesis, living plants use sunlight energy and carbon dioxide to make plant tissue and dissolved oxygen). Meanwhile, on-going consumption of oxygen depletes the supply of oxygen stored in the lake when the lake froze over. Shallow, productive lakes are at a disadvantage because they have a low storage capacity and high rates of oxygen-consuming decomposition.

February is usually a critical period and is the best time to check the oxygen content of lakes prone to winterkill. A good midwinter thaw about then often recharges the lake's oxygen supply by means of photosynthesis and melt water. Conversely, a prolonged winter, with continuous snow cover and late ice-out, increases the chance of winterkill.

The only long-term solution for winterkill lakes is to reverse the natural process of filling and enrichment (eutrophication). Dredging or sucking bottom sediments can increase the volume of water, reduce the nutrient-rich sediment, and reduce the growth of nuisance plants. However, such projects are extremely costly, require a site for disposing of the bottom material, and require permits. Lake residents can help slow down the rate of eutrophication by keeping all types of plant fertilizers out of the lake.

Lot's to think about...

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: The other day I saw these four Blue Jays on top of my pile of leaves in the backyard. Some of them were spreading their wings like they were fanning themselves. Does anyone have an idea the purpose?

A: What you observed and photographed was a well-known, but not well understood, behavior known as “anting” in which birds crouch down and spread their wings over an ant colony to trigger the ants to swarm on them.

The birds then pick up an ant, or a beakful of ants, and rub the ant bodies on their feathers. Ants secrete, as a chemical defense, formic acid which may serve as an insect and mite repellent, fungicide and/or anti-bacterial "ointment." There may also be a correlation between anting activity and periods of high humidity – which we are now emerging from after a record 16 rainy days from late June through early July – giving support to the idea or theory that ant “juice” has fungicidal properties. 

There also is evidence that anting just plain feels good to birds as related in this National Public Radio piece. I appreciate your inquiry. Excuse me while I go lay out on an anthill.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I'm just checking in to let you know of something that made me so happy today. I sent you a photo last summer of what I thought to be a leucistic hummingbird. You verified that indeed, that's what it was. We enjoyed the little lady all summer, then she was on her way. I did a little reading about them, and decided we would likely not see her again. There are theories that the lack of pigmentation weakens the feather shaft and they don't have a good survival rate.

Fast forward to this summer, and our total disappointment in the low number of hummer sightings. Most people I talk to are experiencing the same low numbers. Even the feed store I go to says her customers are not seeing their usual number of hummers.

We went to Alaska for a couple of weeks, and got back on Sunday. I didn't even ask the housesitter to fill the sugar water, as it was getting so little activity. We filled it with fresh syrup Sunday, and on Monday I was happy to see a lone female. I think it's the sister of last year's leucistic, because she is colored slightly different; her mid section is much paler than a normal female. Then, this morning, there is my little leucistic lady, healthy and whiter than ever. She made it! I was so happy, I quite literally cried (I did that at a wolf sighting in Alaska also).'s a very happy follow-up indeed.

A: What wonderful news, Gloria! What a great “Welcome Home” present! As you can see, we still have your fine photo of Pale Miss from last year. So good to hear your good news. I appreciate your sharing it with me. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Thought I’d give Ask a Naturalist a try. Tried researching this flower in all the guides I have and online wildflowers in Ohio and was unsuccessful. Found these in abundance along the path near bluebird boxes at The Rookery today, July 2.

A: Birdsfoot trefoil. It’s a legume, meaning it has pea-like flowers, and is a ground cover.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Reply: Thanks a lot! They are very pretty and quite fascinating to look at!


Q: I am wondering what parks are best to spot River Otters and owls.

A: Best bet for both would be Eldon Russell Park. Barred Owls frequent Eldon Russell Park, but never a guarantee that one will be seen or even heard. Even more elusive are River Otters. You might have better chance to see them there in the winter when their tracks and scat (splaints) can be found. Good luck.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

We also had a Barred Owl calling from across the reservoir during the Headwaters Campout, and I’ve also heard them along the Eagle Point Trail there, as well as on the highland section of the Tupelo Pond Trail at Big Creek. River Otter have been reported at Eldon Russell and at The West Woods a few winters' past, but I have never seen one in Geauga.

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director

Q: You were such a help to me last summer with some nature questions I had, so I thought I would impose upon you again with another! This not so great photo was taken through my living room window a few evenings ago. At first glance I thought it was a young robin, but the distinct white eye ring and brow makes me think it’s something else…perhaps a Carolina wren??? My books are no help, and my internet research has failed. I would certainly appreciate any assistance you may be able to provide in identifying this cute little flyer! Many thanks.

A: It is, in fact, a juvenile American Robin –- just out of its baby feathers and into its big kid clothes.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Yesterday (6-5-13) I walked around the field in South Russell Village park where people walk their dogs just off of Washington Street and Savage Road. I was amazed to see all the bobolinks that were there. I walked through the paths cut in the tall plants. It was really enjoyable. There were males and females. They were doing their bubbly song. I also saw a meadowlark, an indigo bunting and a Savannah sparrow. 

I then walked across Washington Street and went to Frohring Meadows. I was very surprised when I walked in the fields near the wetlands. I didn't see or hear any bobolinks. I have seen them in those fields in the past couple of years. I also noticed that there didn't seem to be the variety of plants in the fields compared to the South Russell park.

I do know that you cut/burn parts of Frohring Meadows. Did this have some effect on the bobolinks this spring? Or, are these birds there and just not as active as the ones in the South Russell park? 

I also walked around the wetlands in Frohring Meadows. There wasn't much water. Maybe today's rains will help. I only saw two spotted sandpipers. I was hoping to see or hear more wetlands birds. I got all excited when I saw something brown moving in the cattails when I was standing near the blind. But, it turned out to be a female mallard. Have there been many shorebirds in the wetlands this year?

A: South Russell Village Park is being maintained as a grassland, and Bobolinks prefer large tracts of grassland habitat for breeding. Frohring Meadows has prairie plantings which include some grasses mixed in with other flowering prairie plants. Some Bobolinks may tolerate that type of vegetation, but they really like tall grass/hayfields.

That said, I was out at Frohring Meadows a few weeks ago and saw/heard numerous bobolinks. We have not burned any part of Frohring Meadows yet (it has been discussed as a management option and is certainly a real possibility in the future), and we do not mow during bird nestin season. We have mowed the meadow on several occasions, however, and are currently experimenting with re-seeding various small areas with native meadow. Some of these areas only have annual rye grass growing in them right now; this would explain the lack of plant diversity you observed.

Yes, lack of rain has definitely affected the wetlands there this year. We purposely raise and lower the water levels for shorebird/wading bird habitat management at Frohring Meadows. We currently have it drawn down.

And yes, there have been a fair number of shorbirds in the wetlands this year; we have several researchers studying them out there this year. Soras and Virginial Rails have been common in the wetland. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were prominent for a period of time this spring. Park staff and other birders also noted Solitary Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers as well. None of them were in great numbers, however; we had a better variety of shorebirds at Frohring when the park was just new with bare dirt/mud and before all the tall vegetation took over.

Thanks for your interest and question!

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist, and Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We took these photos the other day. What are they? We think they might be horsehair worms.

A: Great pictures, and indeed they are horsehair worms. I’ve never seen horsehair worms out of water. They are aquatic as adults, but apparently they will venture onto wet vegetation. They do not harm plants, nor are they parasitic to humans, as you’ll read in this entry taken from the Iowa State University Department of Entomology.

Thank you very much for sharing such a fascinating find with us!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I found a small tree with large leaves and each leaf had this thing growing on or out of them. I've never seen this before. Is it harmful to the tree? Thank you.

A: This is the Elm Cockscomb gall caused by an aphid specific to elm trees. It does not harm the tree. More info can be found at this link.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist




Q: I am having a real problem with voles and hope you can help me. They are eating the roots of our arbor vitaes and all the bushes/shrubs in our yard. So far we have lost two blue spruce trees and four arbor vitaes. I can see they are attacking three more arbor vitaes and four more bushes. We would like to get rid of them in a natural way if possible. Are there any plants or anything they don't like? Thank you!

A: Sorry to hear that the voles are being real trolls in your yard. Most of their root and trunk browsing takes place in winter, especially under snow cover. 

Short of using lethal poison pellets which may end up killing non-target wildlife, I found these suggestions for repellents taken from the sources below. Since browsing tends to take place in the winter, unless damage is currently taking place, repellents may make more sense to use them during the colder months. However the moist conditions of wet snow may dilute their effectiveness. No easy answer I guess.

Little data are available on effectiveness of repellents to deter vole damage. There are a variety of commercial repellents labeled for protecting tree seedlings, shrubs, ornamental plantings, nursery stock and fruit trees from voles. Check with nursery supply stores. Capsaicin (Hot Sauce Animal Repellent, Miller Chemical and Fertilizer Corp.) is labeled to protect various woody plantings from voles. The following homemade repellents have also proven to be quite effective in keeping most animals away from given areas and plants. They must be reapplied after three to five days.

Hot Pepper Repellent Recipe
• One chopped yellow onion
• One chopped jalapeno pepper
• One tablespoon cayenne pepper
Boil ingredients for 20 minutes in two quarts of water. Let the solution cool and then strain through cheesecloth. You can apply this with a tank-type sprayer or a spray bottle.
Another home made repellent that has been shown to be effective in reducing deer and elk browsing and may reduce vole damage.

20% Chicken Egg Repellent
A spray of 20% whole eggs and 80% water is effective, but to keep the sprayer from clogging, remove the chalaza or white membrane attached to the yolk before mixing the eggs. The egg mixture is weather resistant but must be reapplied in about 30 days.

Also, habitat management can help deter voles during the warmer months. The elimination of ground cover including weeds and tall grasses by frequent close mowing, tilling or herbicide application is the most successful and longest-lasting method to reduce vole damage.

Other methods include:

  • Plant short grasses that do not mat or lodge such as buffalograss or blue grama. These will provide little protective cover and may reduce vole numbers.
  • Summer removal of vegetation around fruit trees provides some protection because voles avoid exposed areas.
  • Remove tall grassy cover near plantings voles may damage.
  • Plant crown vetch (a legume unpalatable to voles) in areas bordering orchards and field boundaries to limit vole populations.
  • Important predators of voles include Short-tailed Shrews, weasels, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, hawks, Screech Owls, and Black Rat Snakes. Predators can help significantly reduce vole populations. Landowners should protect and encourage predators if they do not constitute a pest problem.

Here are a couple other sources to look at:

Let me know if any of these suggestions work for you.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Wow, thanks for all the suggestions. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about the fact that we haven't seen hardly any hawks. Your information on natural predators makes sense - less hawks, more voles. Maybe we will try to attract hawks and that will solve the problem.

I think the boom in construction has really changed things around here. We aren't seeing the wildlife we use to see. We use to have all the predators of the voles but now there are very few and they aren't around like they use to be. I'll let you know what works; hopefully something will!

Q: I was waiting for a dragonfly to land on this twig; but, when that flying critter flew near it, to my surprise then that stick turned in a half circle ton catch the dragonfly. This is one I've never seen before. Can you help with the ID? Thank you.

A: It looks like one of the Geometrid Moth caterpillars, one of the loopers or spanworms that bear an uncanny resemblance to twigs in their form down to the most intricate details as well as color and behavior when they elongate themselves at an angle. Mimicry at its best.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Reply: Now I'm excited!!! Thank you very much for the news. You folks are doing a great job and service. :-}

Q: We have lived here in Mantua for 17 years and have always had lots of the "regular" birds hanging around. Every year doves build their nests right outside our kitchen window, robins at the side of the garage, house sparrow in the pine trees. This year for the first time we have Cedar Waxwing. I have never seen one around us before, and lo and behold they are building a nest in the same tree as the doves. It is an ornamental maple and not very tall. The dove is nested close to the ground, and the Waxwing is in the high rent district. Of course the male keeps fighting off his reflection in the window.

I am curious if they always build so close to houses, since this tree is right off our deck and we are in and out a lot I am so happy that I am so lucky to have them nest right where we can all watch their progress. 

A: No, they don’t always nest so close to humans, but lucky are the humans when they do!

Green with envy,

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Well, the female waxwing disappeared. But it appears the male comes every evening and sits at the top of our medium sized maple tree, looking around.

And then today I noticed that the mourning dove is sitting on the waxwing nest. I didn't know that doves would use other birds nests. The dove was nesting below the waxwing, but apparently and animal dumped that nest. Do doves normally take over other bird's nests? Just wondered. Thank you.

A: Among our backyard birds, mourning doves do not make the top 10, or even top 20, list of great avian architects. Their nests tend to be flimsy structures of skinny sticks and straw prone to collapse with severe weather or other disturbance. On the positive side, mourning doves tend to nest in tall dense shrubs where the foliage provides support or build their nests on firm foundations such as an eave, gutter or hanging flower basket. According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, mourning doves are indeed known to reuse other bird’s nests after they are vacated. Sounds like a good idea to me.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Is this a Yellow Rail♀? It went into the grass at Orchard Hills Park and scared away a green frog but did not re-emerge.

A: The bird is a Virginia Rail — not a Yellow Rail. It is nice to know that they are in the wetland at Orchard Hills Park as well as Frohring Meadows. Field Naturalist Tami Gingrich will be pleased to know of another location, as am I.

Rails are (usually) secretive wetland birds. The saying “thin as a rail” was based on the fact that rails are laterally compressed which makes it very easy for them to dart in and out of or between thick wetland vegetation. Thanks for the picture.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: This dragonfly was on my screen 5/11/13. I have tried to identify it but to no avail. I have identified 17 different types of dragonflies and damselflies in our pond last year. I am not sure if it is a clubtail or spiketail. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

A: The photographs are of a Lancet Clubtail. It appears to be recently emerged from a pond — its wings are still shiny and soft-looking and it does not have its full adult coloration. Identification can be challenging at this stage of life. This dragon belongs to the clubtail family because of the arrangement of the compound eyeballs. In the second picture, you can see that the eyeballs do not touch each other — they are located on each side of the head and separated by a space. All other dragonfly families have eyeballs that meet together at the top of the head.

This is my picture of a Lancet Clubtail showing the separated eyeballs (blue when mature). Thanks for asking about them.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you tell me what these bugs are in the picture?

By the way, the scat in the picture is that of an American Mastif. So, it is a bit bigger than most piles.

A: The flies pictured are Scathophagidae, or Common Yellow Dung-fly. (Thanks to co-worker Joe Slepko for the initial ID.)

Yeah, sometimes wildlife ID is a crappy job, but somebody's got to do it...

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist


Q: Click here for a recording of a bird call from Swine Creek Reservation...what bird?

Here's a not-so-good shot of a black wasp dragging a brown cricket...what's going on?

And here's a shot of a plant with chevroned leaves...what plant?

A: The bird call is a Pileated Woodpecker.

From what I can see of your second picture, the wasp is an Organ-pipe Mud-dauber Wasp. They are the ones that build those organ pipe-style mud cylindrical nests that one often sees on the sides of buildings, picnic shelters, out-houses etc. Mud-dauber Wasp larva eat spiders, and I think you have captured an image of a female wasp hunting a spider (those look like spider legs to me), NOT a cricket. The female wasp will sting the spider, then take it to the nest and stuff it in. When the mud cylinder is filled up with spiders, she lays an egg and seals the tube. When the larva hatch, they eat the spiders. Adult wasps normally feed on flower pollen. Click here to learn more about these wasps.

As for the plant, I'll toss it to Judy...

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

That plant is a lady’s thumb, one of the smart weeds, Polygonum persicaria. It's kind of weedy, and was coming up in my garden from the manure we put down.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator

Q: I have a pair of birds nesting under the outcrop of my house.

I have had a hard time catching a good glimpse of the parents, but have a good shot of the nest, some eggs and two chicks that just hatched.

Are you able to identify these for me? Eggs are not bigger than a nickel. Thanks so much!

A: You're looking at a young House Finch family.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: We just moved to Russell from Mayfield. I noticed when working outside that there are very small flying bugs that are very hard to even see and they bite. They go for the ears and ankles, and when they bite it draws blood. They are not mosquitos and are a little more round and black in color. Wondered if you knew what they were and if there is any type of remedy to keep them away. My neighbor and I were talking for a few minutes in the “sun down” and she got bitten so bad on the ankles that she actually had blood running down her leg. The bites hurt and itch. Any information would be helpful. Thanks.

A: These are the infamous black flies. They are so bad that in Canada they write songs about them. Click here for The Ohio State University's website on them.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: We have a Red-winged blackbird who has returned to our house. He was here most of last summer and came back last Friday! He sits in a tree right outside our dining room window, chirps, then throws himself against the glass! We have tried numerous "antics" to get him to leave – all to no avail.
We would appreciate any help you can give us.

A: It’s the annual breeding season “sparring with itself” male bird phenomenon most commonly associated with cardinals and robins. The explanation is that territorial males see their reflection as a rival male and thus attack it.

I don’t know of any reflectors, deflectors, ejectors, rejectors or anything else that can be hung in front or on the window that really work to scare off or otherwise dissuade this male aggression. 

So depending on how much it bothers you, either can contend with it until the testosterone levels drop (months from now) or do something to eliminate the the window’s reflective properties. This could be mounting something like a screen or cloth or opaque plastic sheeting or coating covering the outside of the glass. Admittedly, none of these are particularly aesthetically attractive solutions. Again, it boils down to how much it bothers you.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What are these garter snakes doing all twisted up?

A: I ain’t saying. Go ask your mother.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist



Q: I was at Big Creek last Friday and just wondered where the water that cascades down the steps to bathe Linton Pond's goldfish bowl come from?

A: The water in Big Creek Park's Linton Cascade initially comes a small stream that headwaters across Robinson Road from east of Big Creek Park. The overflow from the cascade pond continues on to merge with other small streams that join Big Creek.

The cascade itself functions with a re-circulating pump that draws water from the cascade pond and spills it back down the cascade into the pond.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What kind of rodent would come up from around my well where I plant flowers, boar holes in the mud, and go on to make map-like roads in our grass, killing the grass? Never noticed it until today. We have had field mice to make holes in the area around the well where I have flowers to come up this spring. We didn't have them last year, but we did two and three years ago. I put d-CON out in the past and it killed them, but they never killed the grass like this thing is doing.

A: Three possibilities.

  1. If soil mounds with golf ball-sized holes in the top + raised ridges: Mole
  2. If shallow horizontal tunnels + 1” wide pathways in the turf: Short-tailed Shrew
  3. If mostly 1.5”-wide pathways through the grass, minimal tunneling in the soil: Meadow Vole

Sounds like voles are the most likely culprit. Use of rodenticides such as d-CON is not recommended due to the likelihood of non-target animals (wildlife and pets) being harmed or killed by scavenging the poisoned voles. (See this link.) Frankly, I think it’s next to impossible to prevent such dinky diggers as moles and voles from inhabiting yards, especially in winters where persistent snow cover offers them protection from predators. Your most realistic solution might be to plan on annually spading or tilling the flowerbed before planting.

In general, our naturalist staff tries to encourage a more relaxed "live and let live" approach to wildlife conflicts when issues don’t necessarily involve a clear and present danger to humans, pets or livestock or major economic damage.  When it comes to home landscaping, gardening and minor structural damage, we try to offer as much as possible the most simple and practical solutions – strategies for exclusion or minimizing the attraction versus dispensing lethal solutions.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I have seen these seeds in the wooded areas in the Clinton/Warren county areas of southwest Ohio. Can you identify them?

I think the picture of green seed are immature stage, but can't seem to come across plant with leaves. Thank you.




A: Naturalist Judy Bradt-Barnhart says those are the seed heads of wild leek, also known as ramps. They are widespread and grow in rich, moist deciduous forests. In the spring they send up long broad leaves; then, in summer, the leaves die back and they send up flower stalks with an umbel-shaped flower head with white flowers.

Ramps are held in high esteem by many, and there are ramp festivals hosted all over the Appalachians. You can look online for ramp festivals, ramp recipes and ramp dinners; they taste like a mild onion with a hint of garlic. I think they are delicious. Just remember to have breath mints on hand!

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: This tree, I forgot the name of it, has been getting this growth on it since the fall. What can I do? I also lost four white pines last year to something similar. They are all on the north side of my property.

A: These lovely things are lichens. They are primitive plants that are more like moss. Not many people study these interesting looking plants, so to find out exactly what species they are, contact the Ohio Moss & Lichen Association. (Did you know that they are actually considered fungi? Click here for Lichenology 101. And here's another website with pictures, courtesy of park friend Jim Marquardt.)

This a really lovely picture of lichens. You should take more pictures of it; it can lend itself to some very artistic-looking photos.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

P.S. See below for scientific information on lichens from the Ohio Moss & Lichen Association. I Like Lichens – yes, I am a botany geek!

Lichens are symbiotic organisms composed of a fungus (the mycobiont) and a photosynthesizing partner (the photobiont). The photosynthesizing partner can be a green alga (around 85% of all lichen species), a cyanobacterium (around 10%), or both (about 5% of lichens). Biologists consider lichens to be fungi and the scientific name of the lichen is also the name of the mycobiont. The photobiont has a different name. A symbiotic relationship is beneficial to both partners. There are many symbiotic associations in nature – mycorhizal fungi and tree roots, ants and aphids, bacteria in cow’s stomachs, etc, etc. But lichens are unique because each partner loses its own identity and a new, different, dual organism is formed.

Q: Was wondering what the heck this thing is? Thanks!

A: This beetle is named for the oily substance it exudes from its leg joints if disturbed. Within the oily substance is a chemical known as “cantharidin.” It is a blistering agent that causes a blistering reaction on the skin. Blister Beetles have an interesting life cycle, the larval part of which involves a predatory/parasitic association with a species of bee. Adult Blister Beetles feed on plant flowers and leaves. 

The beetle in the pictures appears to be a female. Males have a noticeable kink in their antenna.

More information on the Blister Beetle can be found at this link.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I have a feeder right near my house and of course get jays, cardinals, nuthatch, tufted titmouse, doves etc. In the past few days I have had what I think is a dove, but it's much lighter in color, light gray wings and white breast. It also appears a little smaller than the Mourning Doves.

Here is a picture of him/her solo, as well as a picture of him/her on the feeder with a Mourning Dove on the rail. I guess it much be some sort of pigeon, but I have never seen one at my feeder before. Can you explain?

A: I was happy to see the picture and therefore can say that the bird in question is, in fact, a Mourning Dove. The color and size difference could be due to gender, age, genetics or all of the above.

I’ve discovered over the years that birds do not read the birdbook — they sometimes don’t quite fit the descriptions of plumage or behavior given to us in the field guides.

So thank you for inquiring about your bird — that’s why we’re here! Did I mention that I love my job?  Happy bird-feeding!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist


Q: Last Friday a Red-winged Blackbird was at my bird feeder. I was surprised, since they usually are gone way before this time. I always believed that when the red-winged comes, they are the true harbinger of spring. Does this mean spring is here? Oh, how I hope so...LOL. Thank you.

A: Well…granted, the late February/early March return of red-wings and grackles make blackbirds better harbingers of spring than bluebirds or robins that overwinter in significant numbers. However, we sometimes have a small number of blackbirds, particularly red-wings and cowbirds, occurring here in the winter.

I’d put my money on the phoebe, with its unfailing mid-March arrival, as the bird that brings spring in on its wings.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

har·bin·ger  /ˈhärbənjər/

1.    A person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another.
2.    A forerunner of something.

While the majority of Red-winged Blackbirds migrate farther south in Ohio, sometimes a few will stay in our area all winter and make use of available food and water. How nice that you had the "harbinger of spring" at your feeder bearing the news that spring will come again (but probably not quite yet).

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I found these insects on our siding in the autumn, and they have moved into the warmth of our home for the winter. What are they?

A: The insects you found are boxelder bugs. Since you were able to bring a few of the insects in to The West Woods, it made the identification much easier. The good news is that these insects are not harmful to humans. It is possible that last year's mild winter and the warm, dry summer of 2012 may have contributed to larger numbers of these bugs surviving. Click here and here for photos and some additional information about the critters. Thanks for sharing your find!

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: What are these on the snow?

I also saw another bug, slightly larger which resembled a tiny, slender cricket ... is this a kind of springtail or maybe a snow scorpion?

A: Great photographs of a tiny subject! I have provided a couple additional internet images of even greater magnification than your talented camera work captured there at Burton Wetlands Preserve.

The “specks” on the snow are snow fleas. They are insects, but not fleas. They belong to an order of insects known as springtails. Springtails have a springboard-like appendage that is “locked and loaded” by hooks. When released, the springtail is launched into the air. Snow fleas are present in forest leaf litter year-round feeding on decaying organic matter. Tiny as they are (a quarter inch max), they are seldom noticed until winter when they venture out on thaw days to feed on organic detritus on top of the snow. Snow fleas produce a protein “anti-freeze” which allows them to function in the cold of winter.

The other insect you have photographed is one of the winter stoneflies. As immature insects (nymphs), stoneflies are aquatic living in clean, coldwater streams where they function as “shredders” eating bits of autumn leaves that accumulate in the water. Their presence is an indication of good water quality. Some varieties of stoneflies - the winter stoneflies as you have photographed - emerge from streams as adults in winter.  Like snow fleas, they produce a protein “anti-freeze” that allows them to scamper about and engage in mating with a lowered risk of predation in the absence of spiders, carnivorous insects and amphibian predators.

Pretty “cool”, no? 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I saw this tree at Big Creek and wondered, what's going on with the bark?

A: This is quite a nice photo of  red maple bark. This rosette pattern is one of the identifying features of red maple. This pattern becomes obscured by other lines and ridges in the bark as the tree gets older and larger. So, no worries, the tree is doing what it’s supposed to do.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant







Q: I see a beaver lodge in a water area near Mosquito Lake – should I keep throwing apples to feed them or some other food or do they hibernate in the winter? They appear to be very active cutting small trees and twigs – they are absolutely miraculous creatures! Thank you for your shared information regarding these animals.

A: Beavers do not hibernate; they remain active all winter. They will continue to feed on the inner bark of twigs, branches and tree bases. They do eat apples, but you won’t need to feed them to get them through the winter. As you’ve noted, during autumn beavers are busy chewing down trees and gnawing off the branches and dragging them into in the water outside of their lodges. They swim under the ice to access their food cache. Yes, they are indeed amazing animals!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Paging Dr. Scat...the ash seeds are about an inch long. What do you think?

A: Based on the ash seeds being about an inch long, I would assume that this scat is about 4 inches long. If that is the case, I would guess that this is coyote or even dog. It is not a very typical scat sample, and based on the photo and the lack of information that I have on it (location, habitat, etc.), this is just my best guess.

– John Kolar, Naturalist


Q: Orchard Hills Park has a new resident, or maybe one that's expanding...a muskrat? If you look through the kiosh to the highest tuft of weeds, you'll see this mound and a few mossy stones on the roof. Ask a naturalist!

A: Yes, your photo is a muskrat lodge. Muskrats typically use cattails, other herbaceous plants and mud to build their lodges. They can also can burrow dens in the muddy banks of ponds or streams. The beaver is the only other mammal to build a lodge in the water and their homes are made of sticks and mud. Thanks for your beautiful photos and your observations from Orchard Hills!

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: Could we check out this bird with the naturalists? Seen at Lake Eire Bluffs park at lunchtime today, November 9, 2012.

A: Yep, young bald eagle, but not real young. Its head appears mostly white, but still some mottling in the body and wing plumage. I’m thinking it’s a 4-year-old. It takes five years for bald eagles to attain the all-brown body, all-white head and tail adult plumage.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Brigitte was visited by Nora the Explorer recently and has been reading about night animals at school. Last evening she asked me if bats hibernate...?

A: What a great question, Brigitte! The answer is yes and no. There are many different kinds (or species) of bats, just like there are many different kinds of dogs.

Some bats, like fruit bats, live in places like the rainforest. The temperature stays about the same all year there, so they can find food and places to live any time of the year.

In Ohio, where we live, our weather can be very cold in the winter, which makes it hard for bats to find insects to eat, so some species hibernate and some migrate (or fly to better places to live for the winter).

Can you think of some other animals that hibernate in the winter?
Hint: There is one kind that has a shell on its back!

Keep exploring!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: I like to spend time on the river near Bass Lake. Lately I've been seeing this kind of bird in the river. It is completely silent and never flies away. It only dives and comes back up. I looked through an Ohio guide but could not make a determination on species. Any ideas?

A: This football-sized water bird is a Pied-billed Grebe. It gets its name from the dark-banded bill that adults have during the breeding season, "pied" being an old-fashioned word for "two-colored." Pied-billed Grebes are common spring and fall migrants to local lakes and large ponds and occasional local breeders in deep water marshes. Grebes have a breeding season plumage and a winter plumage from autumn to spring. Your excellent Pied-billed photos show the bird in winter plumage with barely a hint of summer bill bands.

Grebes are not ducks and therefore not technically waterfowl (geese and ducks), but are fully aquatic birds that are very adept at underwater swimming and diving for their food, which includes fish, tadpoles, crayfish and aquatic insect larva.  Like loons, grebes' feet are located very far back on their bodies at the base of their tails. This makes them Olympic swimmers, but so front-heavy that they are virtually immobile on land. They avoid small bodies of water, as they need to scramble for a distance on the surface to get airborne.

Pied-billed Grebes are the most commonly occurring of the grebes in Geauga County. Horned Grebes regularly migrate through our area in late autumn and early spring, and occasionally a Red-necked Grebe appears briefly on our local waters, to the excitement of area birders. Just recently, on November 3, 2012, LaDue Reservoir hosted what may be the first occurrence of a Western Grebe in Geauga County.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Just wanted to let you know of something I found October 25, 2012. I was looking under a wind turbine to see if any songbirds had perished (found none) when I noticed what looked like a lump of fur on the ground under the turbine. On further examination, I saw it was a bat! It was resting on the ground but alive. Right away I wondered what kind it was, as it was very dark, almost black, and I didn't think the little brown bat is that dark.

This bat was pretty small, at least huddled up the way it was. Would fit in the palm of a woman's hand. (No, I didn't pick it up!) When I returned later, after dark, it was gone. Looking it up later at home, I am pretty sure it was a Silver-haired Bat! It was very dark, but had lighter color on the surface along it's back. Also, it's snout was pretty blunt compared to what I've seen in photos of some other bats.

A: Yep, looks like a Silver-haired Bat, which does migrate through our area. Very little is known about this species as it occurs in Ohio, so such documentation would be good. Also, it is quite likely that the bat was a victim of barotrauma, the rupturing of lungs caused by the sudden drop in air pressure encountered near a passing windmill blade.

Thanks for so dutifully recording and reporting your find.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

A: Yes...Silver-haired. They are a very late migrant, and I have had them in Ohio into December.

– Tim Krynak, Cleveland Metroparks Naturalist

Q: We returned from a trip to New Mexico. While our car was in for servicing, the tech told us the under-carriage was covered with spider webs. Unfortunately; they swept the webs out. I found 3 different spiders and one bug in the spare tire well.

The car was parked in a under ground garage with a serious black widow population. There were also brown  recluses in the same area. Can you please ID these two spiders and the one bug? My wife may never drive her car again.

A: Wow! What a story!

To help me with this identification, I sent these pictures to Richard Bradley, a professor at Ohio State University who specializes in spiders. He has identified spider #1 as a type of cobweb spider, in the family theridiidae, perhaps a Checkered Cobweb Spider (Steatoda triangulosa) or Common House Spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum). Spider #2 appears to be immature Cheiracanthium; this is a sac spider in the family Miturgidae. These are all common spiders in buildings throughout North America, so aren't regional specialties.

I'm unsure what sort of earwig is in the "bug" picture, but by looking at the straight pinchers on the abdomen, it appears to be female. Male earwigs have pinchers that are a much more curved, question-mark shape. 

Thank you for your question.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: These two birds flew into my picture window this morning, October 18. I have tried to identify them but haven't had any luck. I thought they were finches but I haven't been able to find anything about the yellow and yellow and orange stripe. What are they? Thanks!

A: These are male and female Golden-crowned Kinglets. The male has the orange on the top of his head. The one I’m calling a female could be an immature male. They are very tiny active birds that always seem to be jumping around from branch to branch. This is a fabulous picture of them. Hopefully neither of them was hurt when they hit the window. At this time of year they are migrating south from their breeding grounds in boreal and pine forests in Canada. I believe that they overwinter in our area.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

A: These tiny feathered friends often flock with chickadees, woodpeckers and creepers at this time of year. Some overwinter here; others migrate south of here. Males have the reddish feathers, bordered with yellow, but sometimes the red is hard to see. They are insectivores and are very adept at finding hibernating insects in bark, buds and twigs.

Some other fun kinglet trivia, while we're at it, courtesy of the Toledo Blade (February 28, 2010):

  • Kinglets weigh about as much as two pennies (5-6 grams) – about ½ as much as a chickadee.
  • Their body temperature is 111 degrees Fahrenheit – 5-7 degrees warmer than most birds.
  • They are nonstop foragers who can’t survive for more than a couple daytime hours without eating in winter.
  • On a body-weight basis, their brains are massive, accounting for 6.8% or their weight. (Humans' brains weigh in at only 1.9% of their weight.)
  • Holding a kinglet has been described as akin to holding a ping pong ball in terms of relative size and weight.
  • Kinglet flocks maintain close contact so they can huddle together for warmth at night.

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director

A: To that I would add that they are a "short distance migrant," one that peaks here in October and April. They winter on the continent, and milder winters will see a number of them around here throughout winter, especially in conifer groves. Looks like a male and female here. They look stunned - hope they snapped out of it and flew off OK. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: Thank you for the ID! Yes, they both were able to fly away, though the 'female' did seem a bit worse for the wear by her experience. I will be keeping my eyes open in hopes of seeing them again! You all are such a great resource and we are very lucky to have you! Again ~ Thank you!

Q: I'm sorry I didn't take a photo but I don't have a camera or a camera phone. I'm up in Cleveland, situated in North Collinwood, and my old beach cottage sits on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie. This past weekend it was quite windy (from the south) and I noticed these flying insects gathering on the south side of my house. They were the size of lightning bugs and looked very much the same when they flew around (except no fluorescent light area on their underside). They were black with very thin red line markings. When they'd fly I could see more red under their wings.

There was another one on the garage door this morning. On closer inspection, and discussion with my husband, the wing area was graphite gray with very thin, red markings and outline. The back portion of the bug (and the part that stuck out under the closed wings) was more of a solid black. Also, it's small like a firefly - but some of the wing and body shape is looking a bit more "weevil-ish" to us. My husband, Ben, is doing a little sketch of it... wait for it (posted at right)...

All kinds of strange insects and birds show up in our yard, but usually they blow in from the north, not the south. I've been searching online and will continue - because I'm nosy like that. A few hours after our weekend sighting, when the wind died down, they were gone! Do you know of this curious insect?

A: I can’t be totally sure about the identity of this insect based on the sketch, but it most certainly belongs to the insect order “hemiptera,” which are true bugs. (Sometimes I tell folks that all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs; only insects belonging to the order hemiptera should be called “bugs”, but I digress.)  A characteristic of true bugs is that they have a wing configuration that reminds the observer of an  x-shaped or chevron pattern. These insects have piercing-sucking mouthparts adapted for inserting into plant stems, and feed on plant fluids.

Anyway, here are some links from BugGuide which seem to be similar to the sketch. Initially, my first impression of the sketch reminded me of a small milkweed bug. Another possibility is the false milkweed bug. Yet another possibility might be the box elder bug.

I just can’t be sure without seeing an actual photograph of the critter, but I hope this is somewhat helpful.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Response: HUZZAH! It is, indeed, the small milkweed bug! Ben's post-it sketch looks so sad in comparison with all the actual photos of flora and fauna. I guess we should invest in a camera one of these days. Artists, schmartists! Thank you for all your help. You guys are awesome.

Response: Please don't diminish the importance of your husband's sketch. I much prefer a visual image to a verbal or written description. It was exactly his sketch which gave me the idea for where to begin looking for your mystery insect. Pictures are worth a thousand words – that includes artwork as well. Before cameras were invented, how did naturalists manage to identify wildlife? – they made field sketches of their subjects along with hand-written notes. It is a skill that required careful observation. Anyway, cheers to you and your husband for being interested enough to ask for an insect ID. – Linda

Q: I'm from out of the area so am not familiar with some of the reptiles around here. Would you mind identifying the snake in the attached photo for me, out of curiosity? Thanks.

A: Welcome to Ohio! Home of the Northern Brown Snake, or DeKay's Snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi).  Geauga is one of the counties where this snake is found. As you may have noticed when you found this animal, this snake is pretty calm and generally never bites when handled. Its only real defense are its musk glands, which omit a strong odor when it is feeling threatened. Something people may not realize, when looking at this picture, just how small they are. At first glance, you may think they are a large earthworm! The length of an adult Northern Brown Snake ranges from 8 to 12 inches. Thank you for the inquiry, and enjoy exploring the area.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: I know the buzzards return to Hinckley around March 15; do you know about when they leave our area? Today, October 12, there are a few still soaring around. I thought they would be gone by now.

A: We looked in Larry Rosche's book "Birds of the Cleveland Region" to see when Turkey Vultures leave our area. According to the records, they are fairly common through October but then diminish in November and are usually scarce by December. However, winter reports of this species do occasionally occur. So anyway, the vultures are pretty much on schedule - though one cannot really predict what Mother Nature will do.

– Linda Gilbert, John Kolar and Nora Sindelar, Naturalists

Q: We were visiting the Holden Arboretum and saw these very large bees/wasps while we were walking around the lake. They were approximately 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches long and about a big around as a child's little finger. I asked some of the staff onsite but they were unable to identify them. The insect looks like a yellow jacket but I've never seen anything near this size. I wish I had something for size comparison but obviously we weren't getting anywhere close to these monsters! Any idea?

A: The insects you photographed are called European Hornets and, as you said, they are much larger than most other stinging insects. In your photo they appear to be chewing on a birch tree, probably to get to the cellulose as construction material for the cells of paper nests they usually locate in hollow trees. Workers may also collect sugars from the tree sap for food.

These hornets control other insects as the workers of the colony collect flies, caterpillars, grasshoppers and even yellowjackets to feed young larval European hornets. You got close enough to be able to take such a great photo, so you probably noticed that these hornets have the potential to sting, but are not normally aggressive unless the colony is threatened. In the fall, this year's colony usually dies with freezing temperatures and the fertile females survive by moving to a protected spot under bark or in buildings. Those females become the queen that will establish next year's colony.

Click here for a good source for more information.

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: Can you identify this fungus (I assume) in the mulch in my garden? I've never seen anything like it. Weird! I thought someone from upstairs had dropped their Halloween decorations from their deck.

A: This (yes) fungus is known as the Elegant Stinkhorn. Tell me that name isn't an oxymoron! The Elegant also has an indelicate nickname earned by its resemblance to a certain part of a male dog's anatomy. 'Nuff said there. Anyway, it gives off a fetid odor that smells like carrion or dung that attracts flies. The spores stick to the flies' legs and off they go to propagate new stinkhorns. They grow in our mulch bedding, too.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist



Q: This week I found a turtle upside down on the shoulder of Bass Lake Road where ponds were on properties across the road from each other. It didn’t look like a snapping turtle or a painted turtle; what kind is it?

A: From your account I would surmise it had been "tiddlywinked" by a passing vehicle as it was crossing the road. Rainy spells provide the opportunity for aquatic reptiles to relocate under damp conditions that trigger travel.

Seems to me you saw a Common Musk Turtle (pictured at right). These turtles are
our smallest in size. Almost entirely aquatic, Musk Turtles are seldom seen, due in part to underwater respiration ability provided by tongue tissue that transfers oxygen from water into their blood. A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a full-time scuba turtle does grow algae on its shell, providing further camouflage than its natural dark color. Staying underwater most of the time, Musk Turtles are also rarely seen basking like the ubiquitous painted turtle, which belies how common they are in our county. I know of them in Best Lake and Lake Kelso, but they are no doubt found in other park waters as well, plying the bottom in search of most any kind of animal matter to eat. Despite their submerged lifestyle, they are darn good climbers, too. Years ago, I came upon one several feet above water in the branches of a downed tree in the Upper Cuyahoga River. This arboreal ability makes them escape artists in captivity.

Despite their small size, Musk Turtles are well-armored and equipped with a formidable arsenal that includes a chemical weapon. When threatened, as when first handled, they emit a strong skunk-like odor from glandular secretions exiting the all-purpose orifice in their tail. Might remind one of roofing tar, hence their Latin name and the nickname "stinkpot." If their stink bomb offensive isn't effective, they also have a tremendously long neck for their size, which not only provides great snorkeling ability but gives them considerable striking range for sharp-jawed biting. I don't find them to be particularly ill-tempered, though - much more apt to retreat into the protective enclosure of their shells. Their message: "I don't want trouble, but just don't mess with me."

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Are mayflies active in the fall? My backyard in Macedonia is covered in what appear to be mayflies. Thank you!

A: The critter pictured looks like a monster mosquito and actually is in the same (Diptera) family. However, not to worry, most adults do not eat at al, while those that do exist on a nectar diet.

These are often found near ponds or attracted to lights. Adults mate in flight; females lay eggs amidst algae and other plant material in quiet water ponds and lakes. The eyeless, aquatic larva are an important food source for fish and other animals.  Hope this helps!

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director

A: Craneflies look like giant mosquitoes – but, again, are harmless: non-biting, non-pesky. You may see some brief, small mating swarms these warm autumn days.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Another wasp we haven't been able to ID. Are they aggressive, how do they nest, and what do they feed on? My main concern is for our grandchildren. Whatever these wasps are, they seem to gather on the northwest corner of their house. Thank you.

A: I spent some time tracking this down and I'm pretty sure this is a Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus),

I base this ID on the facial pattern of this insect, which is very similar to the insect pictured here on BugGuide.  More information on this wasp (size, range, food, life cycle etc.) may be found at this link. I didn't see anything regarding this species' aggressiveness, but Paper Wasps do belong to the "stinging wasps" family and would certainly defend themselves if threatened.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Since you are my wildlife specialist, is the attached a hawk? My husband took the pictures yesterday in our yard. Looks sort of like the Broad-winged Hawk? In flight it is dead quiet.

A: Great pictures of an immature Red-tailed Hawk. I’ve seen quite a few of these youngsters engaging in late summer wire-sitting. Still honing hunting skills that will have them swooping down on prey from a distance, they find it easier to pounce on mice, grasshoppers, snakes, etc., from a perch. That’s OK for now, but they’ll need to get their stalk-n-strike skills as sharp as their talons if they are to survive the oncoming winter. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist




Q: I saw a mink at Eldon Russell Park this evening (mid-September). It was on the old road trail along the little creek/swamp. I hadn't noticed its trail until I saw where it crossed the people path. It has a very faint trail, not too far from the apple trees. Kind of neat.

I have only seen a couple of mink in Geauga County the last 30+ years. Are mink common in our area? 

A: Great sighting! Eldon Russell Park has recently held good prospects for seeing a mink - usually along the river banks. Seeing one swim is kind of funny: a long body with a short tail that sticks up like a little flag on its back end. Mink are aquatic weasels. As mink are not familiar to many people, they are often mistaken for otter, a much larger member of the weasel family which, true enough, are found in our area, but are less likely to be seen than a mink.

Though seldom far from water, your seeing a mink away from the river indicates how their relentless appetites have them venturing away from big water into drainage ditches, small ponds and even backyard goldfish pools!  In addition to fish, they eat frogs, snakes, birds, mice, voles and young muskrats.  Muskrats are prolific rodents whose burrowing into the earthen dikes of man-made ponds can cause seepage. As muskrat predators, mink ought to be welcomed by pond owners.

My impression from mink sighting reported to me, as well as my own, is that mink are more common than they used to be.  I would attribute this to some extent on the decline of fur trapping, but more so on local populations - like red fox and coyote - becoming more "suburbanized," that is, more adapted to human environments: an ecological secret to success shared among our most familiar wildlife.

To the right is a photo local nature photographer Bruce Bennett snapped of a (the?) mink at Eldon Russell Park late last winter.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Can you tell me what this spider is? It was photographed in Vermont.

A: What a beautiful critter. Yes, I know not everyone thinks of spiders as beautiful, but the fact that you found this one interesting enough to get its name is great. The picture of its web led me right to the spider family, Araneidae or orb weavers, which make that distinct geometric shaped web. Then it goes to the group of marble orbweavers, which have that colorful pattern on their abdomen. From there, I think the exact species is Araneus nordmanni. I am not sure of a common name for it, but long story is a type of marbled orbweaver spider!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: What type of caterpillar eats catalpa leaves? The caterpiller my daughter and I saw on the leaves was basically green with a white strip down the sides, horn on the tail. They have now been infected with a white parasite. Actually they are completely covered with rice-size things. Maybe eggs?

A: To answer your question regarding the caterpillar feeding on this plant, I went to a book that I would highly recommend. It is called The Book of Field and Roadside by John Eastman. Mr. Eastman has written a series of books detailing plants of different habitats and the animals and other organisms associated with them. This book described in detail the critter you saw, the Catalpa Sphinx Moth caterpillar (easy name to remember). These ravenous caterpillars may defoliate entire trees, so how does the tree survive? This leads to your next question...bring in mother nature! Those white things sticking out of the caterpillar are indeed eggs. They were laid by a type of  parasitic wasp that inserts its eggs inside the young caterpillars. (There are many different species of this type of wasp.) Eventually the eggs hatch inside the caterpillar, and the larvae (immature insects) literally eat the caterpillar alive. This parasitism leads to caterpillar irruptions only being at yearly staggered intervals, which then allows the catalpas to recuperate. Does this photo look like what you saw?

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Interesting migration visitors! Just saw what appears to be a pair or cormorants on the pond behind little Punderson. What else could this large black goose shaped bird with some red on the beak and looks like a goose when flying be? They made no sound when flying.

A: Yep, sounds like ‘rants…Double-crested Cormorants to be exact. Their numbers have grown on Lake Erie from next-to-none to very numerous in the
last 30+ years. A small number do frequent Geauga’s inland lakes and reservoirs from spring through autumn, which I regard as young and/or non-breeding birds. 

They can be seen gathered in dead trees near the water, sometimes with wings open to dry their feathers and as a group, they will fly in geese-like V-formations. Young birds are have brownish heads and undersides. Cormorants are fish-eaters and dive for their prey. Easy to identify now, but they will get double-takes from birders once the autumn migration brings in loons, mergansers, ducks and grebes.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I was just visiting Frohring Meadows this morning (September 5) and wanted to ask about some questions about bird behavior. First, I noticed at least 10 Cedar Waxwings in the fields of goldenrod. They seemed to be going down the plant stalks. The only thing I could see from the paths on these plants were grasshoppers. Were the waxwings eating the grasshoppers? I also saw them doing their usual circling in the air from tree branches.

A: Cedar Waxwings, known for their berry-eating habits, do take advantage of insect food sources in summer. When you see them launching from trees and circling, they are hawking slower-flying insects from the air. As for your observation of them working the goldenrod stalks, I suspect that they are gleaning aphids and/or ants from the stems.

Q: I also saw that the wetlands area was finally wet. A lot of it is covered in a low yellow flowering plant. I was hoping to see some migrating shorebirds. But it didn't seem like there were many open area that were muddy and flat for them to poke around for food. I did see one killdeer circle the wetlands a number of times, but it didn't land. Is there still a chance to see some migrating shorebirds, or have they pretty much passed through? I know this park is managed. Is the park going to clear out these yellow flowers to open up the wetlands?

A: While we’ve had migratory shorebirds utilizing the shallow wetland at Frohring Meadows, this late summer/early autumn season has been poor for shorebirds due to droughty conditions. The return of rain will recharge the wetland, but it may be too late for sandpipers and plovers this season as their migration is currently peaking. Killdeer, however, will be with us into November and later this season, and Wilson’s Snipe are likely to be found there as well. Glad that you got to LaDue Reservoir. In its current low water state, it has a lot of exposed mudflats and sand bars; shorebirding has indeed been good there in early September.

The yellow flowers growing in the dry wetland basin, be they moneywort or tickseed sunflower or whatever, are temporary. Seeds lying dormant in the soil remain viable for long periods of time poised to germinate when conditions are right. When rains re-flood the wetland, they will disappear until conditions are once again in their favor.

Q: I also saw at least 25 Turkey Vultures. I am wondering if they are migrants. They seemed to have trouble getting any lift. A lot of them were flying low over the fields. Some were perching on the cell tower nearby.

A: If you were out early in the morning for your walk, you may have indeed seen Turkey Vultures with labored flight. In spite of their huge wings, they are actually weak fliers that depend on a sun-warmed land surface to generate thermal updrafts to keep them effortlessly aloft. Seeing that many vultures indicates that they have a nearby roost which they had just departed for a day of foraging before things have warmed up. There has been a noticeable increase in Turkey Vulture populations in recent years. I attribute this to the proliferation of suburbanized mammal populations (deer, raccoon, opossum, woodchuck, etc.) whose nighttime roving results in a high incidence of roadkill and, therefore, generous portions of vulture vittles.

Q: There were also goldfinches visiting the tall yellow flowering plants. One juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was soaring above the fields. I only walked around the fields near the wetlands.

A: I've seen many young Red-tailed Hawks in recent weeks perched on roadside wires looking for voles, snakes, grasshoppers, etc. Not yet adept at hunting on the wing, they pounce from a perch. The coming winter presents a ruthless survival test for young raptors, only those top-flight birds that soon hone their hunting skills will have a hope making it through their first winter.

Q: This is a really nice park. I wish we would have had some summer rains so the late summer migrating shorebirds could have stopped by. But things like that happen. Last year we had tons of rain. I did go to LaDue Reservoir a few times in the late summer to see some shorebirds. There were a lot of mudflats there because of the lack of rain.

A: Thanks for your questions and observations! Enjoyed hearing from you.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: Thank you for your answers. I do like to learn about the birds and other creatures I see out in the parks. That wetlands area is really nice to visit, and I would really like to see some snipes again. I got to see some in the spring, but they were quick views because the birds were going in and out of the plants along the water. The sandpipers were more cooperative for viewing in the spring.

Q: I have a covered veranda attached to my outdoor shed. Once in a while there are patches of what appear to be some sort of eggs. They are brown in color and wipe off easily with a tissue. They are tiny in size and lately I am finding dozens of patches instead of a few as in the past. Any idea what these could be? Thank you.

A: This photo may be too difficult to use for identification, but this is none-the-less beyond my expertise. I'm forwarding it on to the invertebrate zoologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

A: Looks like chewing gum, but probably moth eggs.

– Gavin J Svenson, Ph.D., Curator and Head of Invertebrate Zoology, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Q: I think my son has found a Tersa Sphinx Moth in the garden. We worried if it was safe to start with; it is currently in a tupperware! Can you please confirm it is safe and what we should do with it? Just release it, or is their someone we can bring it?

A: Indeed it looks like a Tersa Sphinx. Do you have any pensa flowers (its favorite food) that you could release it on? Catalpa tree?

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist



Q: This was on my hammock at a Camp Stigwnadish in Madison this past June and I have been unable to identify it. It was about an inch in length and, to my surprise, it suddenly flew away and, in doing so, appeared to be a very generic looking moth.

This is an awesome site, by the way. Thank you for offering this service.

A: Tell me you didn’t think this was bird poop at first glance! It’s a Pearly Wood-nymph Moth that apparently preferred to sleep on the outside of your hammock. Quite beautiful when you get past its bird-dropping disguise. I refer to this type of camouflage as “manure mimickry” that conceals it from, or is avoided by, predators.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: Thank you so much, and Dan is exactly right, I thought it was bird poop at first … until I saw the front claw like features. And thank you for the much better picture than I was able to take with my cell phone.

Q: Hey Ask-a-Nats! I photographed this unusual moth at The West Woods at the end of August. Can you identify it?

A: Wow! I looked this up and found it to be a Tersa Sphinx Moth – first one I’ve ever seen. (That’s one of the great rewards of being a nature fan: nature keeps introducing us to a lifetime of wonderful new discoveries.)

Ahem, yes, Tersa Sphinx. This is more of a southern tropical moth, but its range does extend into the Great Lakes and New England. As a caterpillar it has a protective snake-mimicking appearance to dissuade predators.

Generally, sphinx (aka: hawk moths) do not have cocoons, but naked pupae buried in the soil for protection.

As adults, many sphinx/hawk moths feed on flower nectar at night using their very long proboscis to reach nectar at the far end of tubular flowers – the kind bees can’t access, but hummingbirds can during the day. Hence results a “job-sharing” dayshift/nightshift feeding niche that avoids direct competition. (FYI: The night flower garden at Observatory Park features flowers attractive to night-nectaring sphinx moths.) Tersa Sphinx Moths entertain their preference for honeysuckle and four o’clock flowers at dusk.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Hi from The Pines at Brooks House Assisted Living!

A few of us were sitting out on the deck at The Pines last week and spied something interesting on a large oak tree in the backyard. This "growth" is about a foot tall, 8" wide, and stands out about 1 1/2" from the tree. It looks almost like ribbon candy, how it is folded back and forth on itself. I've never seen anything exactly like it before! I snapped a picture of it with my cell phone and told a number of folks that I would try to send it to you for identification. We can't wait to hear!

A: I checked several mushroom/fungi guides, and they all point to the Northern tooth fungus. From the description, sound like it’s uncommon to find on trees other than maple, so good find on an oak tree!

Here's a more detailed description from this website:

Northern tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale): an interesting parasite of trees, predominantly maple trees, and especially sugar maple, Acer saccharum. The fungus causes a heartrot of the tree (growing in the central heartwood) often weakening the tree enough so that strong winds can snap the trunk and blow it over. The only outward signs of the fungus are the shelf-like fruiting bodies that are produced in large overlapping clusters. The mushroom is not known to be poisonous, but it is bitter and too tough to eat.

… So I guess it’s best not to serve it up to the Brooks House residents!


– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I found these on a fallen tree during my ride along the Towpath Trail. The tree was located lying in the Cuyahoga River. I was wondering, are they some type of slug or bacterial growth? They were surrounded by this slimy substance, the same sticky type that a slug leaves behind. They also had long red hairs with white furry-like edges.

A: Appears to be Stemonitis fusca, a slime mold. It fruits in clusters on dead wood, forming a single mass of tall brown sporangia on slender stalks on dead wood about an inch high.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: My husband and I found this pile of what looks like long rabbit fur hair balls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near our home in Richfield. Can you please ask a naturalist what they think made them?

A: This is very likely coyote, but could be fox too, depending on the size. It is always good to put something in the picture for size reference. I usually put a coin or part of my shoe for reference.

Both coyote and fox often tend to have scat that are twisted on the end like a Dairy Queen sundae. This is the result of all the fur contained in the scat from the dinner that they consumed (i.e. rabbit, mouse, etc). Their scat varies depending on what they are eating (mice, rabbit, berries, etc.), but mostly will have at least a slight twist to it.

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Response: Most of the pieces are about 3 inches long, some being connected a little, and 1 1/2 inches wide. So weird it's scat - it's totally made of hair! Thanks, Naturalist John!

A: Based on your size description, I am now 100 percent certain it is coyote scat. Thanks for your questions!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: Can you tell what kind of snake this is? When my mom went out the door, it raised its head like it was going to strike at her.

A: The pattern is a little hard to see in the photo, but this snake is probably an Eastern Garter Snake, which is one of Ohio's most common snakes. They are usually marked with three light stripes on a darker background with spots making a checkerboard pattern on the dark bands.

Garter snakes feed on insects, earthworms, slugs, salamanders, toads and mice. They are non-venomous and non-aggressive snakes that will release a smelly musk from the vent near their tail to defend themselves if picked up. Since they can be eaten by many predators (hawks, raccoons, skunks etc.), they do sometimes raise their heads and remain still to blend in with surrounding leaves and soil. In your photo, the light-colored limestone gravel makes the snake vulnerable to danger in this posture.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: I came across this snake in my garage today and it looks similar to a copperhead or Milk Snake. Can you identify, please? I live in Portage County, Ravenna area.

A: Got milk? You guessed right: it's a Milk Snake. Very beneficial eater of rodents.

– Denise Wolfe, Administrative Assistant

Q: I enjoy reading your "ask the naturalist" section, and decided to finally ask a question of my own. I have about a zillion questions since starting upon learning local plant life!

I found several of these plants today in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Reaching for my guidebooks, I initially thought it was catnip, but then found wood-mints (both hairy and downy) to look fairly similar (especially the hairy).  Can you identify the plant?

A: This is a hairy wood-mint (Blephilia hirsuta). The distinguishing characteristics are that the leaves are on little stems called petioles. Also, the hairs on the stem are really thick (the ones on downy wood-mint are much finer), and the leaves are serrated (toothed). The habitat favored by this plant is a rich moist forest areas. In fact, when trying to identify a plant, habitat can be a very important factor in correctly identifying a plant. Using a good field guide is also important; I use the Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Last summer we noticed rodent droppings at the center front of our garage — directly outside the garage door. We thought it was caused my mice. This summer we noticed the droppings again — only more. To make a long story short, we discovered that bats are living behind the aluminum trim at the gable end of the garage. We checked and they are not in the garage attic. We have seen the bats leave the garage at dusk. There seems to be about 50 and they appear to be small, brown bats. My first question is if we should expect the bats to leave and migrate south? If so, when? At that time, we plan to secure the trim so that the bats cannot get in next year. However, something unusual occurred about three days ago. The droppings seem to have stopped. We watched at dusk for the last few days and have not seen any bats leaving. The only difference is that at the time the droppings seemed to end, in preparation for a new lawn, we removed a group of very large weeds that surrounded our house. These weeds harbored many insects. Is it possible that the bats have left?  By the way, we live almost directly across the street from the main entrance to Big Creek Park and our seven-acre lot is primarily woods. The only cleared area is around the house.

A: It sounds like you've been fortunate enough to attract a colony of Little Brown Bats to your homestead (we have several here at Big Creek Park, too). From May to June, adult females form maternity colonies (a place where they give birth to and raise young bats called a "pups"). These maternity colonies are usually found in manmade structures, although some will roost in tree cavities or under the peeling bark of dead trees. I suspect that one of these colonies is probably what was in your garage during the early summer. Some colonies can consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. It sounds like you had a small one of about 50 individuals.

After about 3 weeks, the young can fly. They will leave the colony site, along with the adult females, at about 4 weeks of age; this is probably when you noticed them leaving your yard. Yes, you are correct in saying that many bats around here will leave for warmer southern areas to hibernate the winter away. Hibernation occurs in September and October.

I would be more than happy to come take a look at your garage and answer any other questions. Just let me know when a good time would be to stop by and talk.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: Greetings, park naturalists. This hummer, which I think is a leucistic Ruby-throated Hummingbird, has been at my feeder for some weeks now.  I've only been able to get photos through the window, so I've sent along the best. As well, yesterday a grackle appeared at another feeder with white tail feathers, so I've sent that pic, too. I was wondering if leucistic birds are a common occurrence.

A: Great photographs! You are most correct, these are indeed examples of leucistic birds.

Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents the development of pigment in feathers, fur or scales. It is not the same as albinism, which is a total lack of pigment in the entire body of an animal or plant. Birds may be entirely leucistic with an overall “bleached” look, or partially leucistic with pigment lacking in some but not all feathers, producing a patchy appearance.

Your photographs provide excellent examples of the wide range of partial leucism: the hummingbird’s body is almost entirely washed out, while the grackle’s missing pigment is limited to the inner tail feathers. 

Leucism is a relatively rare condition, albinism even moreso. It is thought that the condition, which makes the birds stand out more, leaves them more prone to predation or, to the extent that color patterns aid species and gender recognition, more difficult to find mates - in either case, contributing to the rarity of this condition by removing them from the gene pool. Based on occurrences reported to me over the years by our local public, leucism rarely but somewhat regularly occurs among birds in our area, as you can see from these other photos folks have shared.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: The cool green bioluminescence of this larva caught my eye in Burton. Is it a firefly species? I looked on the web, and only fireflies from Jakarta or some crazy place lile that have larva similar. Maybe there is more than one larval stage for fireflies?

A: Although firefly larva are bioluminescent, this critter is actually an insect known as, get this: a glow-worm beetle! Glow-worm beetles are pretty interesting, and can be found throughout the northern U.S. all the way to Chile. Here's some excellent information from the University of Florida's website:

The family Phengodidae are uncommonly encountered beetles that have bioluminescent females that appear to be larvaiform (or larger versions of the immature stage.) These adult females are able to produce light from paired photic organs located on each body segment (one glowing spot on each side) and sometimes also from luminous bands that extend across the dorsal surface of the body between each body segment. Females appear to be more commonly encountered than larvae. Because these glowing spots along the females body resemble the windows of train cars internally illuminated in the night, they are often referred to as "railroad-worms." Males of these species are not larviform, but instead resemble other beetles, though their first pair of wings (elytra) are less then half as long as their hind wings and the males of most species have very elaborate, feather-like antennae. These fancy antennae are used to detect and follow pheromones produced by the female.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: I have heard that the first rule of mammology is: "under carefully controlled conditions, a wild animal will do exactly as it pleases." I see some bats have done that by using the message board at Eldon Russell Park for their sleeping place. I couldn't see how they could squeeze in at the bottom, but maybe the top has a wider crack near the glass.

A: Why yes, that would be our "living exhibit" on bat roosting. So nice of those little boogers to volunteer, isn't it?  After they've left for the fall, we plan to "bat-proof" the info station, as they are somewhat messy guests. Another rule of wildlife habitat is: "build it and they will come."

Otherwise we're very happy to see that the nearby roosting box is well occupied in this day of White-nose Syndrome which, as you are probably aware, has been detected elsewhere in Geauga County. Hopefully we'll have the bats around to be a very minor annoyance for years to come. For one thing, they sure do make a dusk canoe float memorable as they dart all about the boat just over the water.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I don't have a picture but my husband saw a snake - looked all black, about 3 feet long in our backyard next to the pond. When the snake saw him, it went in the water and swam across. My husband didn't see any other colors, but could've been some. What snakes are located in Auburn Township?

A: It was either a Black Rat Snake or Northern Water Snake. Both are very common around here.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: These cocoons are killing three of our trees and wonder if you know what they are.

A: These are built by bagworms.There are a number of ways to combat them; click here and here for a couple good websites with information and suggestions.

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: Yesterday morning I believe that I may have seen a Rough-legged Hawk (file photo at right) at the intersection of Route 700 and Patch Road in Troy Township. I pass through that area nearly every day and I've never noticed this bird before. It caught my eye because it's bigger than the hawks I normally see and had feathered legs.

It was perched on a telephone pole and I got a good long look at it. The only difference I see in the bird books is that the bird I saw perched seems to have had a bigger beak than what I see pictured in the Sibley Guide to Birds.

I wondered if the bird was an immature Bald Eagle, but the bird that I saw was smaller than a bald eagle. The biggest factor is the feathered legs. The bird that I saw had feathers going all way down to its feet, like a pair of pants.

Dan, you have often set me right when I've been wrong with my identification. What do you think? Is there another bird that looks like a Rough-legged Hawk? With feathered legs? Very curious and looking forward to your reply.

A: I'm thinking it is an immature Bald Eagle (file photo at right). The feathered legs (tarsi) and the mottled appearance of the plumage including tail feathers that are white at the base and dark-tipped does indeed suggests some of the varied plumages of the Rough-legged Hawk. However, rough-legs summer in Northern Canada and occur here between November and March winter as winter visitors/residents only. The feathered legs and big bill point to Bald Eagle as well as the size, which you report to be bigger than the familiar hawks (Red-tailed and/or Red-shouldered as well as rough-legs).  Being on the small side for eagle may be due to its being a male bird vs. a youngster. 

So, I'd put my money on a young bald eagle.

With regards from an old bald naturalist...

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: My husband and I live in Munson. My husband found a dead snake on our property, and he has never seen one colored that way before. It looked like a garder snake, but the top of it was black and its belly was sky blue or slightly darker (very brilliant colored). Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to get a picture to you - our cell phones aren’t that advanced! Length is approximately 18 inches and the width at the widest point is about ¾ to an inch. Do you have any idea what kind of snake this was? Thanks for your help.

A: Sure would have liked to have seen the carcass or a picture of it. Oh well. Possibly a black racer or blue racer, or an intergrade between the two. In either case, a good find for Geauga County!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: How's your knowledge on snakes? This type is commonly found in my yard, garage, house, you name it! Is it just a very colorful version of a garter snake? Whatever it is, I think it has beautiful coloring and pattern. This one resides under my garage slab. Picture doesn't do it the best justice.

A: Milk snake. Non-venomous. A harmless constrictor. Like any snake, will coil and strike if taunted or grabbed. Or maybe not. They will vibrate their tail like a rattler and, combined with their color pattern that will register as a copperhead or rattlesnake in minds of the panic-stricken and get a lot of them killed. Deemed beneficial as they can reach mice nests where the cat can't. My experience is that the smaller they are, the more pugnacious. Figures. The smaller you are, the greater the range of predators that can eat you.  

Name comes from being found in barns where traditional belief holds that they drink milk from unsuspecting bovines. Udderly preposterous true, but folklore is a powerful cultural force.  

Retreating from hot weather in garages with cool cement floors or old cellars is pretty common as the many nervous inquiries have shown me over the years. Also will winter in gaps in the foundation stones. You may find them out sunning on the pavement on sunny spring and fall days following cold nights.  

And yes, they are about the most beautiful snake we have around. Rich brown (chestnut on the young ones) blocky markings on a pearly gray background. Their belly scales look like a checkerboard. Very cool.  

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Every spring I get these red things on the leaves of my River Birch trees. They're on top of the leaves, protruding, but they don't go through to the other side of the leaf. They start out pink, but as they get older they get darker. I sprayed them with dormant oil spray this year and they didn't spread like previous years.

Is there anything else I can do?

A: It looks like a rust. From this website:

Birch leaf rust is a common fungal infection. It appears later in the growing season as small red or yellow bubbles on the bottom surface of the leaves. The leaves will turn yellow and drop off and in the worse-case scenario, the tree will loose most of its leaves. Spraying with a liquid copper fungicide early in the spring can help prevent rust.

I would recommend you take a sample to the Ohio State University Extension Office in Burton, as they deal with tree diseases.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator

Q: We spotted this "furry" little critter crawling on a leaf during our July 24 hike with the Geauga Walkers at Whitlam Woods. What is it?

A: What you found was a wooly aphid! They attack a variety of vegetation, including the red maple where this one was found. Click here for a good reference article.

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director

Q: This frog was at the covered bridge in The Rookery - and, yes, it really was the lovely golden color. I'm having trouble settling on an ID for it...

A: Your finely-rendered phrog photograph is of green frog.

I mean a Green Frog (Rana clamitans) as opposed to a red frog or blue frog, etc. In fact, it appears to be a female. Note the white throat (as opposed to a male’s yellow throat) with dark dappling that extends across the jaw to the foreleg.

Another female trait in the Rana clan: the tympanum (external ear drum) is about the same size as the eyeball, as opposed to its larger-than-eyeball size in males. I don’t know why that is, but my wife would tell me that males need bigger ears to better hear what their mates are saying. Then again, except for "eeps" (green frogs) or "urps" (bullfrogs) emitted during fleeing leaps, female frogs don’t call or "croak." Ah, the mysteries of nature…

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Is this a true hornet? They are pulling mulch away from shrubs and making their way underground. They would come close to me and then back away as though not worried much about people. This is not the typical response for any bee that I get too close to.

A: Great find! My first impression was that your big buzzer was one of those large European Hornets.

Nope, too much yellow on the abdomen.

So then I looked up American hornet.

Wrong again. Stripes not right.

Then I entertained another suspicion: Cicada Killer.

Bingo! These big honkin’ hornets are – as the name implies – hunters of cicadas, those tree-top sirens that put the soundtrack to the dog days of summer.

The CK'ers' sting doesn’t kill their prey, but paralyzes it (as shown below) You saw it heading down its underground burrow where it stores the cicada or cicadas. The CK’er lays an egg on the cicada, which remains alive in its sting-induced coma. Then the larva CK’er feeds on the cicada. Pretty gnarly stuff – another insect inspiration for the science-fiction movie industry. 

Despite their large size and fearsome feeding tactics, these hornets are not short-fused stingers like their smaller relatives, the yellowjacket hornets, which become an issue in the second half of summer, especially when a hapless human blunders into their hidden hive zone.

For more information on Cicada Killers, visit this Wikipedia page or this Michigan State University page.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Please identify these grasses for me.

A: The first one is the very bad invasive grass Phalaris arundinacea (reed canary grass) and the other is the common cultivated field grass called Phleum pratense (Timothy grass).

Reed canary grass is an invasive that many agencies (including Geauga Park District) spends time and money managing. If it gets into wetlands it will soon take over and can absolutely destroy the native biodiversity.

The other is perfectly harmless to plant.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: I thought you should get a gander at the size of this spider I found in our woodpile at our residence adjacent from Bass Lake Preserve. I hope no one was around to hear my little girl scream!

A: You found a Dolomedes tenebrosus, which translates to “one hairy scary biggie wiggie spider.” Often mistaken for a wolf spider, it’s one of the nursery webs spiders and a fairly common spider of woodlands. Being large, it is capable of inflicting a painful defensive bite if handled, but is not aggressive nor poisonous. Its near-relative is the another large 8-legger: the six-spotted fishing, which can be seen doing the “Jesus walk-on-water” scramble across the surface of our park ponds.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Identify this bird, please, as seen at an Akron swamp.

A: Green Herons are fairly common in Ohio, though they tend to be secretive. They eat mostly small fish but will also eat frogs tadpoles, crayfish, aquatic and terrestrial insects, small rodents, snakes, snails and worms. It is fun to watch them slowly stalk and then stab at their prey.

These birds have also been known to use "tools" to improve their fishing success. They sometimes drop small sticks or feathers on the water's surface in an attempt to attract curious small fish.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Any guesses? You can see from the photo it was pretty large. Taken at Chardon Board of Education, where it fell onto my shirt from an overhang.

A: ARRRGH!!! I would give anything to see a real live moth of this species! I wish one would fall onto my shirt! This is the Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis). It is one of the giant silkworm moths. They are nocturnal but are attracted by lights that are left on at night (which was probably the case with this one). What a great find! Not many folks get to see this species. The adults do not feed after they emerge from their underground chamber. Their main job is to find a mate and lay eggs. The caterpillars eat a variety of vegetation including basswood, honey locust, maple and birch, to name a few.

Anyone who has read Gene Stratton Porter's book, "Girl of the Limberlost" will also know that the Imperial Moth plays an important role in the story. If you haven't ever read the book, you should!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Response: Cool, thanks, and I wish I would have kept it for Linda to see.

Q: Please tell us what this strange little guy is. First I've ever seen.

A: I believe this is what is referred to as a house centipede. I took this excerpt from a Penn State info sheet that is quite interesting: "House centipedes feed on silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, spiders and other small arthropods. If house centipedes are seen frequently, this indicates that some prey arthropod is in abundance, and may signify a greater problem then the presence of the centipedes."

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Response: Thank you. Also, thought your follwers might like to see a tick up close. This is one of three that bit me last year, so be careful out there.

Q: I spotted this lovely skipper breakfasting on this wild bergamot plant this morning. None of my books nor my internet research have provided me with an ID. I'd love to be able to give this little critter a name. Can you and your gang please help?

A: This is not a skipper butterfly; it's actually the Bi-lobed Looper Moth. The way to tell the difference between butterflies and moths is to take a look at the antenna. Moths have feathery antenna, though sometimes this characteristic may not be obvious if only using the naked eye  Butterflies, on the other hand, have antenna that are clubbed at the ends. Click here for the information page at page for the Bi-lobed Looper Moth.

Thanks for sending the picture. It is a beautiful moth on a beautiful flower!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Response: Please thank Naturalist Linda for the ID on this most attractive moth. Also thanks for the clarification about butterfly/skipper vs. moth antennae. I neglected to take that into consideration when I was trying to identify this beauty myself. It's always a great day when I learn something new that I can apply to the hobby I love! You folks are great!

Q: This has slightly different coloration than the usual Leopard Frog I see, so I thought I might check for sure...photographed in my back yard this morning...

A: Great observation of the difference in color from your usual frog visitors. The brown color, as opposed to green, is just one of the differences between the Leopard Frog (Lithobates melpipiens) and this species, the Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris). Pickerel frogs also possess two rows of squarish rather than roundish spots running down their backs, along with the characteristic bright yellowish-orange coloration on the inside surfaces of their hind legs (which is very apparent in this picture). They live throughout the eastern half of Ohio and all of the counties that border the Ohio River. Wonderful picture!

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: We have a nest with four baby birds in it, and we don’t see the mother bird anywhere, so we think these four birds were abandoned. All four of them were just laying there in the nest, not looking too energetic. Is there anything we can do? 

A: The mother bird does not stay at the nest all the time. She will make many quick trips to feed and remove fecal sacs. These visits are very quick, and if you aren’t watching continuously you may miss her going to the nest. The young may look lethargic because of the heat. It’s tough on everybody!

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

True, the heat may have the chicks lethargic or even with bills open. Hopefully, the parents are finding enough food with the dry conditions.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: Thanks for getting back to me. We saw a baby bird just learning to walk this afternoon, and the nest was empty - empty, but not disturbed. Thank you again.

Q: We got this picture on our trail cam in the woods on Ravenna Road. We are not sure of what it is, but think it could be a wild pig. Are we right? Thanks.

A: Thank you for sharing your discovery with Geauga Park District.

Trail cameras are a great way to discover what is in your own backyard! In this instance, however, I and other naturalist staff can't tell for sure what this could be.  We are seeing long, flowing hair, which is not indicative of a wild pig.

The Ohio Division of Natural Resources has this great link about this animal in Ohio, which includes a map with locations of where the pigs have been noted. The pictures on that website show the pig having course, short hair similar to that of a domestic pig.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Please tell us who this pretty one is? Found on the NW side of Warren, Ohio.

A: The pictured moth is a Promethea Moth — a female, and full of eggs! It belongs to the silk-worm group of moths. Most moths in this group are very large (sometimes as big as a human hand) and beautifully marked. They emerge and fly mostly in June.

The adult moths don’t feed after they emerge from their cocoons; they live just long enough to find a mate and lay eggs — maybe only a few days before they perish.  How special that you got to see one!

– Linda Gilbert and Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalists

P.S. The larva or caterpillars feed on spicebush, sassafras, tulip tree and wild cherry leaves.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant, and Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist


Q: Can you please tell me who this mother and child are?

A: Appears to be Larinioides cornutus – the furrow spider, one of the orb-weavers. A real beauty, too! Below is a reference photo. Great pictures! 

Says Wikipedia, "These spiders are most often found in moist areas, especially near water. The web is built between grass or in low shrubbery. They hide during the day in a silken retreat that opens at the bottom, masked with plant and animal matter and leave it during the night. The web is remade in the evening. The male lives with the female during mating time, which is in autumn, and again in spring. The female produces three to five yellow egg sacs during the summer."

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I live in Medina County and have noiced that the snake population has increased significantly. We have seen more black snakes this year then ever before. We do have a large pond behind the house which has always attracted tbe black snakes in the past, but never to this extreme. I have been noticing black snakes in my flower beds right by my house. Help, I am freaking out. I hate snakes. Is this happening because of the mild winter? 

A: The snakes that you are seeing are likely Northern Water Snakes. They resemble Black Rat snakes; however, they are more likely to be found in ponds throughout the State of Ohio.

Your guess may be correct about the mild winter increasing snake populations, however it is hard to say for sure. The extremely dry conditions that we have had lately might be bringing them out to find rodents and other food sources (frogs, etc.), which may be harder to find.

Being an important part of the food web, snakes are a top predator, which help to regulate smaller animal populations; snakes that we find outside our homes are efficient, free mouse traps which keep the rodent populations in balance. In turn, snakes are also a food source for larger animals such as herons, hawks and owls. Whether you love them or you don't, I hope that you can appreciate the important role that they play in nature. And don't worry: over time, the natural balance will likely be restored on your property and the snake population will decrease a bit. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions/concerns that you may still have.

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: When I visit the parks, sometimes I see raccoons at the feeders during broad daylight. This one was taken at The West Woods Nature Center.

Why are they out during the day - are they sick?

A: I looked into this question as we here at The West Woods Nature Center, too, began to wonder once the masked marauder gang gathering under the bird feeders reached five and more.

Although raccoons are chiefly nocturnal, it is apparently not uncommon for raccoons to be out foraging in the daytime, especially nursing mothers (sows) that need the extra food. The drought conditions of this summer may have also made wild foods more difficult to come by. 

No behavior indicating illness or disease was noted among the furry faction picking through sunflower hulls on the ground in search of an intact seed. And as of mid-July, the daily raccoon rendezvous appear to have ceased; whatever food-craving phase they were in seems to have passed.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I live in South Russell, just outside of Chagrin Falls, and I'm hoping that you can play 'naturalist detective' for me. This afternoon we found these two small bodies on the sidewalk in front of our home, about three feet apart from each other. Some kind of rodents, obviously - the remains in the shot with the pooling yellow liquid were about three inches long. The question is, what killed them?

Each of them were cut cleanly in half, with the back halves left on the sidewalk. We didn't find any other blood or body parts, just the two back halves laying there.

Any ideas?

A: Judging by your pictures it appears that these are baby bunnies which were likely eaten by a bird of prey such as a hawk. Although it is hard to tell for sure the identity of the predator, hawks are known to eat the vital organs of tiny creatures leaving behind only the hind quarters. In this season of abundance, hawks can afford to be a little finicky about what they eat. Later in the year, when times are tough and food is scarce, I would think that they wouldn't leave anything behind. Thanks for sharing this interesting discovery!

– John Kolar, Naturalist


Q: What's insect am I hearing now that is rather loud? The sound comes in "waves." Thank you!!

A: There are two (noticeable) species of insects singing. The loudest of the two is the Gladiator Meadow Katydid. Roesel’s Katydid has a softer more sublte song. Lang Elliot and Wil Herschberger’s website has insect songs at this link. Hope this is helpful.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Would one of your naturalists be able to explain this reallyl strange bird behavior? I must admit that the pics were not taken in your state, but I don't know who else to ask.

The adult and juvenile grackles and the sparrow photos were taken on the same day, May 12, in my yard in southwest FL. The Blue Jay photo was taken today in southeast MI.

In all four pictures, the birds have their faces inclined in generally the same direction...northwest. They all appeared to be in some kind of trance for a brief time...almost as if they were being contacted?  I do believe that animals are more "in tune" with the natural world and can sense things far better than we can.

Thanks again, in advance, for any light you may be able to shed on this mystery!

A: Looks like images of anting (especially the Blue Jay, a dedicated anter) and sunbathing. An American Robin and House Finches were all doing this in my yard this morning, complete with a full-body lean and with their heads cocked sideways. Trance-like is a good description of this behavior. 

– Andy Jones, Ph.D., William A. and Nancy R. Klamm Endowed Chair of Ornithology and Head of the Department of Ornothology, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Q: This moth was on the Burton Post Office outside wall. It looks as if this moth has been painted by an artist. Do you know what kind it might be?

A: It's a Giant Leopard Moth! (Another interesting entry on this cool critter can be found at this link.)

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist, and Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Response: Thank you for being so prompt in answering! I enjoy moths. Once on our back door years ago was a moth that was white and pink and had feathery parts that made it look fancy. My husband called it the "strawberry shortcake" moth, but I don't know what we were seeing. Another time we saw one at the Metzenbaum Park along the trail and with its wings folded back; it looked like a cloaked monk with a cross. I have never seen another of those, either. We tried looking in books, to no avail. I love it when mysterious insects thrill us with their beauty or their song. Summer is magical.

A: From the description of the Metzenbaum mystery moth, sounds like a Clymene moth. – Dan

Response: That's it! Isn't it beautiful?



Q: I spotted this at The Rookery's lodge Thursday.

What kind of moth is it?

A: It's a Rosy Maple Moth!

– Wayne Kriynovich, Observatory Park Naturalist






Q: I was impressed with your website and thought you might know what species of butterfly or moth this pupa is housing. I found it and others hanging from the porch soffit just the other day. None of my reference books was of any help with identification, and I couldn't find a clue on the Internet. I am passionate about butterflies/moths and have raised a number of different species from the egg and larva stages. This one is a mystery I hope you can solve! Many thanks in advance.

A: The cocoon is from a bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). From the ODNR Division of Forestry's website:

Beginning in late May through mid-June, larvae of this native moth feed on arborvitae, junipers, pines, spruces and many deciduous trees. Larvae build loose silken bags which cover their entire bodies and provide protection. Bags are camouflaged with pieces of plant material, and may be mistaken for natural parts of the tree.

Females do not look like moths (no wings, legs, antennae, eyes or mouthparts) and remain in silken bags throughout their entire lives. When larvae are fully grown, their protective bag is 1.0 to 1.5 inch long. In late summer, male moths (black, with nearly clear wings approximately 1 inch across), emerge from their bags after pupation. One generation occurs per year. In large numbers, bagworms can be serious pests.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: Thank you for your answer! While a bagworm moth sounds somewhat dull, I am delighted to know what I have here, and I will look forward to seeing what emerges - providing I have a male -  later this summer. All of these little critters - plain or dazzling -  are amazing, each in their own way! What fun to observe them!

Q: This is probably not the type of question you usually get but I’m concerned about two of my maple trees (one worse than the other). They’ve developed, for the 1st time, dark spots on their leaves. I’ve searched on the internet and haven’t found anything that really resembles these spots. I’ve attached a picture and would be very appreciative of any help you might be able to offer. Thank you.

A: It’s a leaf gall caused by a mite. Doesn’t hurt the tree. Check our this website about galls.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator


Q: What kind of fly is this?

A: It is a Gold-backed Snipe Fly. Beautiful insect.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist



Q: This cute little frog spent the day with us yesterday just hanging out on our deck. He was happy to hang out and eat all the ants I could round up for him. Didn't seem to be a bit afraid of me. He had little suction-cup feet and was about 2 inches long. What is he...treefrog? Thanks!

A: Yes, it is a Gray Treefrog, which is the largest treefrog in the northern states. This is breeding time for the Gray Treefrog, so currently they are moving from their forest homes to breed and lay eggs in ponds and wetlands. They have excellent camouflage which allows them to blend in so well with a tree that even a careful observer has trouble spotting it. They also have a loud trill call which can be heard throughout the summer, especially on rainy evenings.

To experience the springtime chorus of the Gray Treefrog, head to The West Woods in the evening and walk down the Discovery Trail. In late May and early June, Gray Treefrogs congregate in large numbers in the wetlands along the trail. It is a spectacle of spring that should not be missed! Happy Froggin'!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Response: Thanks for your quick reply. That explaies why he seemed to change color depending on where her was on the deck. We'll have to head over to The West Woods in the evening. We've been doing our morning jogs there lately.  Thanks again!

Q: What bug is this? It's about 1½ inches in length.

Here's some tiny mushrooms (?) from one of the up-trails at Swine Creek, or are they something else?

Is this plant a creeper? It doesn't seem to match the descriptions in Newcomb or the plant database at USDA.

And here are some shots of a plant in flower in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park on old Stanford Road below Brandywine Falls on May 5. Is it a Valerianella sp.? The butterfly is a Pearl Crescent...what's the plant it's on?

A: The beetle is a Short-winged Blister beetle, the beautiful gun-metal blue insect we see annually in spring. A nice summary from a newspaper column by Claire Stuart, "the Bug Lady":

The most unusual blister beetle is the short-winged blister beetle, Meloe angusticollis, which could easily be mistaken for a gigantic blue ant. It is dark metallic blue, wingless and close to an inch long, with a bulbous ant-like abdomen. Its very short elytra (wing covers) do not cover the end of its abdomen, and you can easily see the abdominal sections. If the abdomen is immense and swollen, it is a female full of eggs. On rare occasions, I have encountered these beetles walking along paths in woods in autumn. Blister beetles, also called oil beetles, earned their name by the fact that they defend themselves by producing an oily, toxic substance called cantharidin. This substance remains stable even after the beetles are killed. It produces blisters on the skin if handled, and if ingested it causes inflammation of the stomach lining, small intestine and urinary tract. Cantharidin was used in folk medicine for centuries and in relatively modern times for some skin conditions until its clinical use was strictly limited by the FDA. Topical use is considered dangerous without proper medical supervision. Ingestion can cause serious gastrointestinal problems and kidney damage, often fatal.

… So don’t go eat ‘em.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

The fungus looks like a slime mold, and the flower is one of the snakeroots: sanicula odorara, probably clustered snakeroot.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator

Stay tuned for a response to the butterfly-flower question...

Q: Any idea what kind of snake ate lunch in my back yard today? :-)

A: The snake is an Eastern garter snake that recently ate. From the size of the bulge, I would venture a guess that its recent meal was a frog or toad or a fish.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist





Q: Can anyone identify this plant?

A: Indeed, the plant is a post-bloom, leafed-out bloodroot.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist






Q: Last night my Dad (who lives in Auburn) is convinced he saw a coati mundi on his bird feeder. He normally sees 3-4 racoons at the feeder, but last night there were no coons, but there was what he thought was a coati. It was thinner and longer than a racoon, and the tail was longer and of course had ring tails. I don't think it could be one, but I told him I would ask. Thanks again. I love all the info and the questions and are good! 

A: An escaped or released coati mundi would not be impossible, but sight unseen, can’t comment further.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I found this interesting looking guy outside my home in Champaign County, OH. He/she was a little bigger than a praying mantis. I was wondering if you could tell me any about it? Thanks.

A: This is a wheel bug.

You may recognize its resemblance to those brown leaf-footed bugs (I like to call them bell-bottom pants bugs) that have a flaired “fin” on their back legs and that many people call “stink bugs,” the ones that come inside buildings for the winter.

Anyway, as true bugs – as opposed to beetles, flies, bees, etc. – the wheel bug has piercing mouthparts, sort of a hyperdermic needle-like beak. Some of the true bugs feed on plant juices, tapping into stems or other fleshy plant parts.

Wheel bugs – like assassin bugs, ambush bugs, water scorpion (bugs), water striders and giant water bugs – are predators of other insects. They seize their prey with a single-clawed foreleg and pierce the outer body covering to inject enzymes that dissolve the insides of their prey. Their needle-like mouthpart is then put in reverse gear and becomes a straw to draw out the fluid.

Gnarly, yes. Beneficial to humans as natural pest control: yep – they’re the “wheel deal”!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: We were dissecting Sea Lamprey today in our Zoology class at Kenston High School, and we came across these, what look to be small tracking devices. I have been doing this lab for nearly 18 years and I have never seen them, and neither have either of the other two biology teachers. Do you know anything about them? Any help is appreciated!

A: Yes, those are PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags. They are inserted into animals to monitor movements and track individuals and also for ecological studies such as mark-recapture (population estimates, etc.).  I have helped with these on fishes and rattlesnakes. They can be used on many kinds of animals.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: Here are some spring beauties with a bee (note: pollen sacks on rear legs) and a "fuzzy, skinny legged, long proboscis-ed" whatever on the right??? What is that?

A: Bee ID is very difficult. The insect in the upper left is a small bee, but I can't ID it beyond that. However, the insect in the lower right is not a bee, but rather a bee mimic. It is the Greater Bee Fly; often seen nectaring on early spring wildflowers. More information can be found at this link.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q:  I was at The Rookery yesterday and saw two normal deer and one deer that looked a heck of a lot like this (attached) running away from my car, then across the roadway and into the woods. The different deer was running behind the other two, so at first I thought it might be a completely different animal chasing them! LOL Anyhow, I wondered if there's a name for that type of deer - is it albino, part-albino, or something else? And also what might cause an animal to look this way. I believe I've seen a squirrel like this, too. Is it the same cause across species?

A: I, too, saw this deer with about four of its pals crossing Rockhaven Road from The Rookery to Fowlers Mill Golf Course back in February. It appeared to be mostly white.

This type of hair covering (pelage) is known as “piebald”: an old term for “two colored.” It is not the result of disease or parasites, nor a form of albinism, but a genetic defect that produces the patchy white and brown “pinto pony” look. Piebaldness is a recessive genetic trait that shows up more as a deer population becomes overpopulated. Other characteristics of this genetic condition that some piebald deer exhibit are a bowing of the snout, shorter legs, deformed feet, a “swayback” arching spine and shorter lower jaws. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: This snake was found in my shrubs in Chardon; my neighbor killed it, but we're worried there are more around. Please let me know.

A: The unfortunate victim of your neighbor’s aggressive reaction is a milk snake, a non-venomous variety often killed for its vague resemblance (bold color pattern) to such venomous snakes as a  rattlesnake (none in Geauga County) or copperhead (none in Northeast Ohio). Our snakes are defensive biters only – in their world of many predators, a reasonable reaction.  Milk snakes are especially beneficial in that they can access pesky mice where a cat can’t fit. 

In my work as a naturalist, I find myself advocating for wildlife that suffers the fatal consequences of  deeply rooted, culturally-cultivated, irrational fears. As such an animal ambassador, I'd like people to recognize that the wildlife diversity that still exists here is a part of the quality of life to be enjoyed in Geauga County. As far as snakes go, please, leave ‘em be. But if you can’t abide them, at least call me before you call your neighbor; I live in Chardon, too.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: Thank you .. now I feel horrible.. I really am horrified of snakes but don't have the heart to kill them, in fact I can't kill any critters. I would love to call you should I find more, I usually feel like when there is one there is more. I don't want them dead, just not crawling where the little ones play. I tried calling the police department, but I think they thought I was crazy! Anyway, thank you again.

Q: What sort of plant has two kinds of flowers?

A: These are my thoughts: It looks like a chickweed which has divided petals. The green parts are the sepals, part of the flower. Not actually sure why one flower’s petals are not divided; they usually all are.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Nature Education Coordinator









Q: Can a snake this small swallow a frog this big?

A: Yes, a Garter Snake like the one in this photograph can swallow a frog or toad (in this case) with some work. This is possible because snakes can unhinge their jaws. Jaw muscles and elastic tendons, connecting the lower jaw halves in front, allow snakes to stretch their mouths remarkably wide to envelope prey. This makes it possible to consume prey larger than their heads.  

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist


Q: Here is the red frog we saw on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Towpath Trail. Can you tell us about it?

A: Thank you for obtaining and forwarding the photo.
What we have here is a Wood Frog. As coppery red as it appears, it is within the normal color range for this species, which ranges from pinkish tan to copper to dark brown. This one is probably female; they tend to have the copper hue during the breeding season which, this spring with its warm March temperatures, was the second week of March. Its presence on the towpath may be attributed to its heading into or, having completed breeding, heading away from the woodland pool with egg-laying duties completed.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I found your site while trying to identify some tracks and a strange squirrel we saw yesterday while hiking at the Champoeg State Park in Oregon. The river had flooded and left silt all over the asphalt pathways, perfect for footprints, and we found these sets of tracks next to what looked like a beaver or otter run. I've narrowed it down to beaver, or otter, or raccoon, but since there were no tail drags I couldn't decide. (I attached a picture of the "run," too, in case that helps.)

There was also this squirrel running around, but the black patch on his shoulders threw me for a loop as to what kind he was.

A: A quick look at my Petersen Guide to Mammals of North America and googling Champoeg State Park’s location in Oregon renders my answer to both inquiries as California Ground Squirrel.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Have our spring bird migrations been affected by the unseasonably warm spring?

A: Yes and no...

March was the warmest in memory. Birds such as waterfowl that move north as weather improves did occur early to some extent. Hawks and vultures that rely on thermal updrafts generated on warm, sunny days did occur early as well. 

Songbirds generally take their migratory clues from lengthening daylight hours as the season progresses. They traditionally arrive fairly close to schedule within a range of early to late dates. Thus far, songbirds we’ve seen so far are “short-distant migrants” that winter on the continent, that is, in the southern US. Without great distances to go, they can respond to favorable weather conditions to move north. Northeast Ohio has seen mid-to-late March arrival dates for birds that normally arrive in April. These include Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Chipping Sparrow and Field Sparrow.

The neo-tropical migrants – those birds that winter in Latin America (Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America) – are currently anticipated to arrive on schedule in late April and early-mid May. These include Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, hummingbirds, vireos, flycatchers, cuckoos and warblers. How well these predictions bear out remains to be seen. The concern for these migrants is that in meeting their traditional arrival dates, they may find the flight-fueling insect food not as available to them. This is due to insect hatch-out that is synchronized to the insect attracting bud openings of tree leaves and flowers. An early leaf-out will also make it more difficult to observe the arriving migrants. Advice to birders is to bone up on their bird songs in order to rely on auditory rather than visual cues as a means of identification.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: At Beartown Lakes Reservation March 29 and saw this strange bird. What kinda buzzard is this?

A: Do I detect some facetiousness on your part? Why it’s a snowy-headed white-tailed buzzard (aka: Bald Eagle). 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What kind of snake is this (photo by Jim Marquardt)? I have pictures of snakes from the bike path here that have the same color body but the heads are copper and there's a stripe right below the head...any ideas?

A: This is a Northern Brown Snake. We often see them at Swine Creek sunning themselves on the asphalt. It is a small (8-12") harmless snake. It doesn’t bite, but it does have a defense strategy of emptying its musk glands on a predator (or a human if you try to handle one — a smelly experience — ask me how I know). They live under logs, rocks and debris on the forest floor and feed on snails, slugs, worms and other soft-bodied invertebrates.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: Can you tell me if you can see the Milky Way at Observatory Park? I have told my grandkids how dark the skies were when I was their age, and how beautiful the Milky Way looked. I haven't been to the park yet, but looking forward to it.

A: Yes, you can! That is one of the many features that make Observatory Park, a Silver Tier International Dark Sky Park, so unique.

– Ian Cooper, Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society

Q: For three days now I have had bluebirds flying at my windows. It started Monday, March 26. This morning he was at my bedroom window at 7:10 a.m.! Usually it seems it is the male hitting the window while the female looks on. They sit on my bird feeders and fly in from there  We do live in a wooded area  I'm thinking it has something to do with reflections, though he continued this morning even after I turned the light on in my room. The windows are on both the north and south sides of my house. No other birds seem to be doing this. I do have six bluebird houses which have been well used in past seasons. I have not noticed the bluebirds nesting in them yet this season.

This is my fourth spring in this house and this is the first time I've had them doing this. Any thoughts or suggestions?

A: This is always a tricky situation in the spring. Birds are looking to set up a home territory to nest and raise young. They will attack windows, I’m assuming, to chase off the bird they see there, which in fact is their own reflection. Sometimes placing silhouettes of predators on the windows can work. But sometimes they just can’t be discouraged and you have to wait it out until they no longer feel threatened. You may want to check out the North American Bluebird Society website for more suggestions; it has great information and resources for people interested in bluebirds

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Are black squirrels and gray squirrels still considered Fox Squirrels? And why do black squirrels outnumber brown ones by so much at Beartown Lakes Reservation – are they more prevalent in the southern part of the county?

A: Black and gray squirrels are the same species, just different color phases. Fox Squirrels are a different species all together. The difference in population is dependent on the habitat. Black and gray squirrels are more prominent in more developed areas; Fox Squirrels are more prominent in rural areas.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: The supersonic-looking hoppers pictured here flew into my house near Lake Burton last summer. Any idea what they are?

A: They're Two-spotted Tree Crickets.

– Lisa Rainsong, Cricket/Katydid Specialist,

Response: Thanks for the identification. I found a recording of the cricket's song on the web - fun to tie the song to the creature.

Q: Last summer I saw a snake while heading north on the bike trail a mile or so from Burton Station. It was sunny that day, and the asphalt was black. The snake was crossing and struck at the air in front of my front bike tire as I was riding past. It scared me when it struck, raising about 10  inches off the asphalt when it did so, elevating maybe a third of its body length from the asphalt. I stopped and looked as it skedaddled into the grass along the trail, leaving no time to get a photo.

It was maybe 24 inches long and had the head shape that pit vipers have. I am sure of that head shape. The snake was basically a very dark color, just about black or dark brown, with bronze colored patches on it. Some of the patches sort of formed saddle shapes on its back. I thought it would be easy to identify when I got home, but it doesn't look like what I see when I look at Ohio snake guides. What do you think?

A: We often see snakes on our bike trails which are taking advantage of the warm asphalt. Sorry that this little guy wasn’t so well behaved! It’s hard to say with 100-percent certainty what species of snake that you encountered. Based on your description, however, it sounds like a Northern Water Snake to me. Another possibility could be a Black Rat Snake. Snakes' color patterns can be quite variable, so they are often difficult to identify based on pictures in field guides. The behavior you witnessed is possible for many snake species, however; I have most often witnessed this with Northern Water Snakes. Regardless of which species it is, both are non-venomous.

Although we do have three venomous snake species in Ohio (all of which aren’t very common), currently there are no records of them in Geauga County. The closest venomous snake to our area is the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, which lives in pristine wetlands in Ashtabula  County.

Thanks for your inquiry; if you have any further questions please let us know!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: We're neighbors of Big Creek Park in Chardon and found this guy in our sink. Can you please identify him?

A: I'd certainly love to have that specimen. This is one of a group of confusing male wolf spiders, probably in the genus Hogna, however it is also possible it is in another  related genus. I can't identify it with certainty from a photograph.

– Dr. Richard Alan Bradley, Associate Professor, Entomology Administration, The Ohio State University
(Check out Dr. Bradley's spider website at this link, and learn about his Ohio Spider Survey at this link.)

Q: I was out for a walk today (1/31/12) and found a caterpillar and was wondering what kind it is and what I should do with it. It is yellow and black. The yellow is on the sides and has what I call a black mohawk down the middle of its back.

I felt bad leaving it outside so I have it in a container with grass, twigs and some leaves. I have two boys, so I am more than happy to try and keep it but if it is not the best thing for the caterpillar, I will let it go. I tried to get a picture but it is pretty small, maybe an inch or so long. It does also curl up when you touch it and it's scared. Hopefully you can give me an idea what kind it is and what I should do.

A: I love a good challenge! This is a tough one, there are many, many species of caterpillars (larvae of moths and butterflies) in Ohio. The description you gave of this one did not jump out at me, and looking at a field guide of caterpillars didn’t bring any answers either. I know you said it was difficult to get a good picture, but anything would help. Also, if you happen to live near West Woods Nature Center in Russell township, you could drop it by for the naturalist staff to try to identify up close.

As far as taking care of it, it is likely it is overwintering as a caterpillar - they usually remain under ground cover or in trees or crevices during the cold months. As you know, this winter hasn’t been very cold. I would recommend not keeping it in your house, if it gets too warm it will need to eat, and seeing as though we don’t know what species it is, we can’t be sure as to what it’s food source is. Each type of caterpillar will only eat certain host plants.

Unless you really wanted to know what species it is, I think the best thing would be to release it back where you found it so it has a chance of going back to dormancy and if needed, finding it’s own food.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: Here's a picture taken from The Rookery's observation platform including some footprints (tracks) of an animal with rather small paws which placed its rear feet almost perfectly atop its front prints ... I have always thought such tracks were from a fox?

These tracks crossed the platform, stepped down and continued across the frozen wet area (unleashed).

A: It was a fox – most likely Red Fox with the tracks in a line, prints registering almost perfectly right on top of another to look like it was a one-legged animal hopping.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I am not sure if you can answer this or not, since it is a mushroom that my cousin found in Louisiana. It is pretty strange-looking so I told her I would ask my park district because you have always answered my questions, and I appreciate it. Thanks so much.

A: A few seconds on Google Images under “red fungus" produced the below picture and ID from this site as red cage or red basket fungus.

The stubby white fungus looks like a mushroom nibbled at an early stage of its growth and thus is unidentifiable, to me anyway.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: How fast can a skein of geese fly - could they make it from New York to Chardon in a day's time?

A: Generally thought to fly 40-55 miles per hour at high altitude cruising speed. Airline pilots have seen them at 9,000 feet. Some estimate up to 70 miles per hour with a tailwind. Wind direction can make a big difference as in flying with the wind at their backs vs. a headwind. Then there is the whole issue of the V formation as a aerodynamic aid: maybe yes, maybe not.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist


A: I am 100% confident that this is a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: This picture is of some sort of water plant in the creek near my daughter's house in southeast South Dakota. I'm thinking that this is something that would grow here, too. She thinks it may be some sort of water cress, but is not sure. Thought it would be fun for you to see if you can figure it out. Thanks again.

A: She is right – it is watercress!

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

A: And yes, watercress can be found in local wet areas such as stream edges and wetlands. It normally grows in thick mats, just like in the picture.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Are there pawpaw trees in any of the Geauga parks? Although it may be too late to get any of the fruit by now.

A: Yes there are, at Orchard Hills. However, please do not harvest anything natural from the parks. "Take only pictures, leave only footprints," as they say.

– Paul Pira, Field Biologist

Q: I found this feather while hiking near a covered bridge in Ashtabula County. Could someone help identify it? My first guess was a hawk or turkey buzzard, but given where I found it (in the gorge under a bridge) I'm thinking it is from a wild turkey.

A: You are absolutely right, it is a feather from a Wild Turkey!

To be specific, it is a wing feather and can often be confused with a hawk feather. Turkey feathers tend to be larger than hawk feathers, so this is one way to tell the difference between them. Vulture feathers are usually very large, light brown on the top and creamy white on the bottom.

Check out this photo of each for comparison.

Left to right: Red-tailed Hawk, Wild Turkey, Turkey Vulture

– John Kolar, Naturalist

P.S. In response to concern about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, turkey feathers are legal to collect because they are a game bird. However, if you see them in the parks, let them (and all natural items) be where they are; take only pictures, leave only footprints, as they say.

Q: We have had this rock around the house for years. My granddaughter is very curious about it and wonders how the holes came about. This rock is about 3-4 inches long. Can you help?

A: It might be helpful to have more information about the rock. Could you tell us where the rock was found – habitat and geographic location? It is also hard to tell the texture of the stone. Is it gritty or smooth?

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: It was found in Bainbridge many years ago. My aunt in Bainbridge has a few of these, too. It is smooth, almost a sandstone look.

A: The rock is a limestone from the Michigan Basin. The holes are bored into the rock by mollusks getting the calcium they need.

– David Saja, Curator of Mineralogy, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Q: Hi, have seen this fungus or whatever on this same tree for the last few years. It is beautiful and I would love to know more about it. Thanks so much.  Love asking you questions.

A: Looks like a northern tooth fungus, a large fungus that grows in the wounds of deciduous trees such as sugar maples (which the pictured tree appears to be, from the bark) and attacks the heartwood. 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: Do you know why a particular type of red damselfly (I think it was a damsel) may have been so prevalent along the Walter C. Best Wildlife Preserve’s lake about a week ago? Possible hatching? Any idea what kind of damselfly I may be referring to? (I saw it again October 6 at Big Creek Park and took this picture; the little person is seen at right.)

A: These red dragonflies (I am sure they are dragons and not damsels) are most likely Autumn Meadowhawks. They are one or two of the latest flying dragon species, and some may persist into November if we don't have freezing or snow. They probably are still emerging from wetland areas and will do so until the weather does them in.

Geauga County has only one species of damselfly (Eastern Red Damsel) whose body is mostly red, and its flight period was finished in August. It is a very small damsel and very difficult to see because it usually flies low among sedges and rushes in pristine wetlands. It is also rare to uncommon, so it would not be one you would notice flying just anywhere. Hope this helps.

Also, the difference between dragons and damsels is that dragons fly and rest with their wings stretched out to their sides, and they have thick bodies. Damsels, on the other hand, rest with their wings above their abdomen. When damsels fly, you can hardly tell if they have wings - they look like colored flying straightpins. So the dragons are the B52 bombers and the damsels are the Cesnas.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I found this on my porch. Looks like a huge wooley bearcaterpillar, but it isn't. After some research I found it on theHilton Head SC web site. It is native to the southern states. But here it is in beautiful ohio.

A: Leopard moths are quite common around here. In fact, Linda and I found a young caterpillar on the Meyer Center walk about a month ago. This is the time they start showing up, as they leave their host plant to look for a sheltered spot to make a cocoon where they will remain until they hatch into a moth in the spring. Yep, their bristles can cause irritation (but I doubt death, unless a very allergic reaction results).

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: I'd like to know what environment does the chocolate tube slime mold live on?

A: This amazingly wet weather we’ve had has been great for fungus and slime molds. Slime molds belong to kingdom Protista, which also includes protozoans (microscopic, usually mobile, single-celled organisms) and algae. Slime molds have characteristics of protozoans because their microscopic cells are able to move (amoeba-like), but they also have characteristics of fungi because they produce visible, often colorful and oddly shaped fruiting bodies which produce spores. The tubes of the chocolate tube slime mold are a good example. Slime mold habitat includes cool, shady, moist areas on the forest floor under leaf litter and decaying logs. 

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We were seining yesterday during our Kenston High School Biology II class (McFarland's Creek / Chagrin River) and caught a huge catfish. We at first thought it was a yellow bullhead; looking closer at photos we are wondering whether it was a white catfish. We did release it. Can someone help us with identification? Is this rare for this area? Thanks for your help.

A: Wow, that is a real keeper. I’m sure it was a huge surprise to your class. What you have caught is not a yellow bullhead nor is it a white catfish. What you have successfully seined is a Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus).

This is one of Ohio’s most common native catfish.  I typically see these fish in larger/slower waters like big rivers, farm ponds, lakes and reservoirs. They are also found commonly in Lake Erie and are often stocked in ponds and lakes. (Geauga Park District stocks them occasionally in some of our ponds.) It is rather interesting that you caught it in a smaller tributary; my guess is that it washed down from an upstream farm pond not too long ago. Find more information on this species at this link, and here:

The channel catfish is a popular sport and food fish. It is active during the night, moving around and finding food after dusk. During the day it will most likely be found in deep water with little activity.

Common Name: Spotted cat, silver cat, river cat, squeaker cat.
Description: The channel catfish, like other catfish, has no scales, a single bony spine in each pectoral fin and the dorsal fin, and 8 barbels around the mouth. They have a deeply forked tail and the upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw. The dorsal and pectoral spines are sharp and deeply serrated, and the anal fin is curved and has between 24 and 30 rays. The body can be blue, gray, silver or almost black. Their belly is usually white or cream colored. Small individuals are usually more silver in color and often have many black spots on their sides. Some anglers mistakenly call large channel catfish with few or no spots blue catfish, but the blue catfish has an anal fin with a straight edge and greater than 30 rays.
Feeding Habits: They are omnivorous and will eat a wide variety of items including insect larvae, crayfish, mollusks, fish (dead or alive) and even some types of fruits and berries.
Habitat & Habits: Channel catfish are native to Ohio and are found throughout Ohio in large streams, rivers and lakes. They are also stocked in many farm ponds where they do well but rarely reproduce. Channel catfish prefer areas with deep water, clean gravel or boulder substrates and low to moderate current. However, they are tolerant of a wide range of conditions.
Reproduction: Channel catfish begin spawning when water temperatures reach 70 °F. They use natural cavities, undercut banks and muskrat burrows as nests. The female lays a gelatinous mass containing between 8,000 to 15,000 eggs. Parents remain over the nest to fan the eggs and guard the young after hatching.
Typical Size: Typically 15-25 inches, can reach over 40 inches. Usually weighs 2-10 pounds, can reach over 50 pounds.

Please feel free to send any other puzzling fish pictures to me, too. Nice catch.

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Response: Thank you SO MUCH! I will pass the word onto the crew tomorrow morning! It was something  I am SURE the students will remember forever, so very exciting! It was funny: we were just about to leave, and they were quite disappointed because the water was running so fast - none of the teams had done very well. Lo and behold, one team comes up with a trophy fish! :) If you want another view of the fish - I have them at the bottom of this school website.

Q: When I was a child, we used to call these Monkey Balls. What are they really?

Attached is a photo of Monkey Ball fruit growing in a tree, the bark from a Monkey Ball tree, and a green Monkey Ball laying on the ground. They are much bigger than a tennis ball. Thanks for identifying!


A: What you've photographed is an Osage-orange tree. Its strong wood is prized for making archery bows, and has also been used to make a natural yellow dye.

The fruits are thought by some to have an insect repellant quality; people have been known to place them around the foundation of their homes to keep insects out.

The fruits are also inedible, toxic and can cause vomiting and other adverse effects.

Like the Ginkgo, this tree is dioeceous, meaning there are separate male and female trees — and only the female tree produces the fruit.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: Could you please tell me what this “bug” is? I find it very intimidating. :O Was in a back yard in Middlefield/Burton area this weekend. Thank you in advance.

A: This is a very cool picture of a female Giant Ichneumon Wasp caught in the act of laying eggs. As you can see, the ovipositor (the long, threadlike structure) is very long (sometimes up to 4 inches) and is inserted in the tree trunk. Giant Ichneumons are predators of other wasps — particularly, the wood-boring Horntail Wasp. The ichneumon female searches for horntail tunnels in wood and then inserts her ovipositor into the wood and lays an egg next to the horntail larva. When the ichneumon larva hatches, it will then feed on the horntail larva.

This species is considered a beneficial insect, so hopefully its intimidating appearance has been somewhat dispelled. Type "Giant Ichneumon Wasp" in the search box of for more information. Thanks for the picture!

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: I assume this is a Garter snake. He is currently residing in the outer basement area of my garage. Assuming it is a Garter snake, should I be providing anything to help it survive the winter? Incidentally, I love that it seems to have taken up residence in my garage to help manage the field mice population. Thanks!

A: Yes, it’s a Garter snake, and he will more than likely take care of surviving the winter on his own. Many species of snakes overwinter inside burrows with other snakes.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Yes, snake’s choice of hibernacula, doubt it will be inside the garage. Foundation crevice, rock pile, mole or chipmunk tunnel, but somewhere subterranean. Not to rain on a snake-friendly person’s parade, but doubtful the garter snake is eating mammals, too.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: On Saturday evening, September 3, at about 7:00 p.m. we observed hundreds or maybe thousands of dragonflies in our yard and the neighboring orchard. What is happening? Mary Kay Simoni, Chesterland

A: Dragonfly swarms and dragonfly migrations are an amazing spectacle, so rare and difficult to predict that you may only have a chance to see one once in a lifetime. Lucky you, who were in the right place to observe the spectacle last week! Little research has been done, but we do know that dragonflies swarm as they begin to move south in late summer. Perhaps these groups of mostly Green Darner dragonflies gather in response to weather fronts and feed on gnats, mosquitoes and other flying insects they find on warm humid nights.

I did an informal survey at the Geauga County Fair on Sunday and found that people in Shaker Hts., Euclid, Munson, South Russell, Ashtabula County and Burton at the Fair also observed swarms of dragonflies Saturday evening! The majority of insects do not migrate and like the monarch butterfly, the dragonflies that move south do not return in the spring. I think it would be wonderful if someone would take on this phenomenon as a research study so we could learn more about this amazing migration!

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: Has the Monarch migration started yet?

A: Monarchs start moving south when the nights start to get cooler. They’ve already started their southern journey from Canada, so a few may come through this week (September 4-10), but the majority of them will come through mid-September – right in time for our Monarch Butterfly Tagging programs the next two Sundays, September 11 and 18. Start looking for them in greater numbers next week in your backyards and neighborhoods. They also like a north wind, which we’re getting right now, because they don’t like flying over Lake Erie against a south wind. The migration continues through roughly mid-October.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: What are these? Found them alive on the waterline at Headwaters Park.

A: OMG! Not again! Alien egg masses dropped by UFO's!

Seriously, they are freshwater bryozoans colonies. Here's a good definition of them:

Bryozoans are tiny colonial animals that are fairly common in lakes and streams with suitable habitat. Different species form colonies that range in appearance from delicate wispy moss-like growths to basketball-size gelatinous masses.

Each colony is made of many individual creatures called zooids. Zooids are microscopic cylindrical creatures with a mouth, digestive tract, muscles, and nerve centers. Different species are covered by a protective matrix which may be delicate, hard or gelatinous, and feed by filtering tiny algae and protozoa through a crown of tentacles.

Bryozoan colonies grow by budding from the adult zooids. New colonies will establish from a free-swimming, microscopic larval stage or by growth of dormant spore-like "statoblasts." Most Bryozoans live in salt water and, of the 20 or so freshwater species found in North America, most are found in warm-water regions attached to plants, logs, rocks and other firm substrates.

Or, as Park Biologist Paul Pira puts it, "This is not a fish at all but in fact a rather strange animal called a freshwater bryozoan (think freshwater sponge). They occur mostly in saltwater but occasionally are found in still, unpolluted, clear, silt-free freshwaters.  They are very gelatinous and contain thousands of tiny individuals..."

East Branch Reservoir in Headwaters Park and Bass Lake Preserve are good places to find these creatures in the quiet water coves in summer. They are often found formed around submerged branches.

They are harmless to touch, but lifting the colonial masses out of the water may be harmful to them as their suspended weight may cause the colonies to tear apart. Removing them from the lake would also be fatal.

Examine, marvel and leave 'em be!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

P.S. Here's a close-up of the zooids.

Q: Are you seeing Nighthawk migration?

A: Nighthawk migration is an annual but largely unnoticed natural phenomenon in our region.

Nighthawks are not hawks at all, but members of the “goatsucker” family (udderly preposterous, but the culturally persistent power of folklore has them using their wide mouths to suckle goats) that includes whip-poor-wills and nightjars. These long-winged birds share the evening skies with bats as predators of flying insects. One old name for them is the bullbat. They are among the most camouflaged of birds, nearly invisible when they hunker down length-wise to roost on a limb of a tree or nest on a gravel-top roof. In flight they show a distinct white patch at the wrist (or bend) in the wing.

Southbound migratory flights can be spectacular when hundreds of nighthawks move in swirling flocks at tree-top level foraging insects to fuel their travels, not at night like many songbirds but during the day. I remember watching one of these flights with my heart in my throat as these graceful but erratic (an oxymoron?) flyers careened in and out of high speed truck traffic along the I-71 interstate. The seemingly aimless nature of their travel – as opposed to straight line flight – belies the fact that the flocks are indeed moving south; south to South America, in fact.  

As the nighthawk population has declined in recent decades, migratory flocks tend to be smaller: dozens rather than hundreds, but a spectacle none-the-less. Prime time for these flights through NE Ohio is late August – early September; County Fair time! Watch for them in your neighborhood around Labor Day weekend.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: My question regards birds. Up until yesterday (August 27) we had a robin feeding her brood in our magnolia tree. I was so surprised to see her feeding this late in the year. And, now today I see a morning dove in an ornamental maple next to our dining room window, and she is sitting on a next from earlier in the summer. She had at least one brood this summer. I can't believe she would be nesting seems so late. What do you think? Thanks so much again. 

A: Thanks for your question about late-nesting birds. It is not uncommon for some of our native birds (e.g. robins, cardinals, bluebirds, doves) to nest more than once during the nesting season. The pair of bluebirds at our building at The Great Geauga County Fair just finished their third brood! For mourning doves, in particular, Peterjohn’s The Birds of Ohio book says, “Many pairs make four or more nesting attempts annually and may continue into autumn; recently fledged young have been noted through early November.” It is not unusual, either, for some birds to re-use an old nest, so your mourning dove is taking advantage of that. Also, the cold weather at the beginning of the breeding season may have caused some birds to get a later-than-normal start on their nests this year.

Hope this answers your question!  Let me know if I can provide further information or clarification.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist

Q: We were walking in Big Creek Park and wondered which direction (north to south or south to north) the creek flowed. We also were curious as to what river the creek’s water drains. Thanks.

A: Big Creek flows from south to north through Big Creek Park. Small tributary streams flow perpendicularly through ravines to join Big Creek throughout the park. Big Creek’s uppermost headwaters are on the east side of the City of Chardon, south of US 6 (GAR Highway). Big Creek is, in turn, a tributary of the Grand River. It flows into the Grand in Lake Metropark’s Helen Hazen Wyman Park on the south side of the city of Painesville. 

Hope this answers your question!  Let me know if I can provide further information or clarification.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: We live on Caves Road in Novelty. Friday evening around 9 PM I was watching the sunset as dusk set in. Suddenly a canine figure jetted across Caves and sprinted between our house and our neighbor's. He/she was sprintin,g but I could see a mottled coat and it was big! I think between 30 and 35 pounds. The creature dashed into the tree line and was gone. Are our five cats and cockapoo in danger? Any advice or information about coyotes in this area would be appreciated.

A: Based on your description, what you saw could be a coyote.  I have copied the description published by ODNR Division of Wildlife below:

The coyote is generally a slender animal, very similar in appearance to a medium-sized dog. Since the coyote and domesticated dog are from the same family, Canidae, the resemblance is more than a coincidence. Coyotes have a bushy tail which is usually tipped in black and is carried down at a 45 degree angle as the animal moves. The majority of coyotes are gray, though some show a rusty, brown or off-white coloration. The coyote stands about one and one half to two feet tall and is between 41 to 53 inches in length. Males of this species are larger than the females and weigh anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds.

Coyotes are common Geauga County and throughout Ohio. Some other helpful information and advice from ODNR:

The coyote is a nocturnal animal, active during the nighttime hours. However, when it is less threatened by man, it will hunt and move from place to place during the day. The coyote will hunt in unrelated (non-family) pairs or large groups. The coyote's strength is that it can adapt and exploit most any habitat to its advantage. While most wildlife species have avoided developed areas and often declined as a result of man's expansion, the coyote seems to have thrived.

The coyote is omnivorous, meaning it will eat what's available: small mammals (voles, shrews, rabbits, mice), vegetables, nuts and carrion. They may prey on livestock, particularly sheep and chickens. The following should answer your question about danger to your five cats and cockapoo:

If you do have a coyote on your property, remove all “attractants." This includes not leaving garbage and pet food out at night and cleaning up around the grill. Coyotes prey primarily on small mammals such as rabbits and mice. Small pets are no exception to this diet. Keep small dogs and cats inside or stay with them at night when coyotes are most active. Coyotes are usually afraid of humans and will run away at the sight of people.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: How many different species of moths and butterflies have been recorded in Ohio?

A: There were 144 species of butterflies and skippers on the Ohio list when Iftner etal's book was published in 1992. Since then we've added about a half dozen or so. As for moths, they generally outnumber butterflies by about 15 to 1, so a ballpark figure would be 2,250 moths and 150 butterflies and skippers, equaling 2,400 total. I think that's low. If I have an opportunity I'll plow through the Ohio Lepidopterists' database and get a precise figure for species documented the last time the database was updated. We are, of course, adding species regularly, especially among so called "Microlepidoptera" - the smaller moths. Some of these are not yet described and have no name, so a species list remains a moving target.

So there is one person's best guess.

– Dave Horn, leading Ohio entomologist and chair of the Ohio Lepidopterists Survey Committee

Q: I love that we can ask questions, and that you answer so quickly. The insect in the picture is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. I think it might be some sort of wasp, but that seems rather large. I can't find it in any of my books. Thank you.

A: What you have so photographed so well is a Giant Ichneumon Wasp. This is a large group of stingless wasps characterized by the females having a long (sometimes VERY long) hyperdermic needle-like egglaying tube called an ovipositor. Many of the ichneumons parasitize other insect or wasp larva by laying their egg in, on or near these larva, which are embedded well into the wood of dead or dying trees. These wasps with long ovipositors, especially the
very long ones, are pretty amazing as they drill (oil rig-like) into the wood to reach their targets. It is not certain whether the ovipositors actually “drill” the soft wood or follow cracks or the tunnels of the wood-boring prey larva. The eggs hatch and the ichneumon wasp larva lethally feed on the host larva, often from the inside out. In the case of giant ichneumon wasps, the prey is the wood-boring larva of another sting-less wasp, a horntail.

It appears as though your specimen lacks the long ovipositor, suggesting that it is a male. Click here for a website featuring a series of photos and a video showing the giant’s drilling operation in action.

Thank you for your inquiry, we appreciate your curiosity!

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Response: THANK YOU! My grandchildren, 10 and 6, both love that we get answers to our questions.

Q: We found this snake on a path in the park on our walk. Do you have any idea based on the markings what kind of snake this was?

A: It is definitely a Black Rat Snake! This is Ohio’s largest species of snake, reaching an average length of 4 to 6 feet. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, some individuals have been known to exceed 8 feet. It is essentially a forest-loving snake that is an excellent climber. They are not venomous but rather kill by constricting their prey. The Black Rat Snake is a very beneficial reptile, playing an essential role in controlling rodent populations. Nice sighting!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: At Beartown Lakes, was Minnow Pond developed at the time this was a fishing center as a hatchery pond?

A: Yes, Minnow Pond was there when we acquired Beartown Lakes, as were the other three Lakes. We just named them all. I vaguely remember an old lift net apparatus mounted on a long, see-saw-like levered handle at Minnow Pond that harkened back to Al Beiger’s fish hatchery operation..

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I saw this tall plant growing among (what I think are) some nettles and other woodland plants above the bank near a stream. I've included pictures of the whole plant as well as close-ups of its very unusual flowers and the foliage with stems arising from the leaf axils. The stem is interesting also as it has a square cross-section with rounded edges. Thank you for your help in ID-ing this plant!

A: It is Carpenter's Square, Scrophularia marilandica. I've seen it at Swine Creek Reservation before.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: Can someone identify this bird? It perched itself on my son's golf cart the other day.

A: It's a young female Baltimore Oriole. Naively tame?

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist



Q: My son, who lives in Munson, has a bird which I believe is a Junco which hung around his deck and would constantly go to one of the hanging flower baskets. She would get within two feet of them waiting while they watered the plants. He tried to look in the basket which was in full bloom, but couldn't see a nest. Lo and behold, his wife watered the plants this morning and, when she watered the basket, four or five little ones flew out. Scared her to death, but then she felt terrible and is worried that they will not survive. Momma bird came back, but they were gone. I am hoping that since they flew out of the basket and went into the woods, maybe they were about ready to "fly the coop" anyway. What do you think? I am hoping to make my daughter-in-law feel better about this. Thank you.

A: If the young birds are able to fly then they will be okay. The young will make little call notes that will help the parents locate them. The parents and young will hang out as a group for a while as the young learn how to get food on their own. So not to worry, sounds like everything is okay.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: How do you use your binoculars as a microscope, as mentioned on page 3 in " Up close with nature" in the new summer issue of Voices of Nature?

A: Turn your binoculars upside down and hold one of the ocular lenses (the lenses that you usually look through) very close (less than an inch) to the object that you'd like magnified.

With one eye, look through the large objective lens on the same side as the ocular lens you are using. You should be able to see a magnified view of the object.

You really need to get very close to the object, so if it doesn't seem to be magnifying then you need to move the ocular lens closer to the object until it appears to be magnified.

Good luck!

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: Should we clean our boxes out when our bluebird babies fledge? When is the best time to do that? Thanks!

A: Absolutely. As soon as the young leave the nest, the box should be thoroughly cleaned. Once the babies fledge, they do not return to the nest again. Bluebirds will next up to three times in a season. If the old nest remains in the box, they will find another cavity in which to nest. If it is cleaned out, they will build again in the same box.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist

Q: I am trying to find a good, complete plant identification book for the area.  One that would contain most ground level plants as well as trees (native, naturalized and invasive).  Im a college student (Ecology major) and am specifically looking for something with a good dichotomous key that's organized taxonomically.  Do you guys have any recommendations?

A: Not sure about a good “catch all” book, but I strongly recommend Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. It gets most herbaceous plants, with the exception of grasses, which are a whole world of their own. It also covers many flowering shrubs and vines. Newcomb’s is great in the field for amateurs on up. Voss and Gleason are two authors of much more technical books with keys, but they are pretty cumbersome for casual field use.

– Bob Lange, Land Steward

Unfortunately, there is no one all-inclusive good book. I use a number of books. To start, a general, all-around basic field guide for herbaceous plants is Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide…handy little guide in the field. Four more technical resources:

  1. Michigan Flora (all 3 volumes) by Edward Voss
  2. The Vascular Flora of Ohio (3 volumes) by L. Braun, etc.
  3. Plants of PA
  4. Manual of Vascular Plants of NE US and Canada by Gleason and Cronquist (2nd edition, also get the illustrated companion)

– Paul Pira, Park Biologist

Q: I was canoeing around East Branch and took note of all the conifers around a few areas of the shore. It looked to me like they were eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, and one other type of pine (with two needles per bundle). Are my ID's correct? And what is the other pine with two needles, likely? Are these trees native, planted or what? And if non-native, are they ecologically problematic at all?

A: The other two-needle/bunch pine is most likely red pine. Red pine, white pine and Norway spruce were planted at East Branch Reservoir at Headwaters Park no doubt as part of a reforestation effort by the City of Akron, perhaps with the assistance of the state forester for Geauga County in the 1950’s, maybe earlier. Reforestation with non-native conifers was a widespread practice in Geauga County in the last century.

Ecologically, they have not proven invasive, as they do not reproduce prolifically. The pine and spruce stands have, in fact, attracted the Pine Warbler (a southern bird species) to nest, as well as such northern birds as Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black-throated Green Warbler, which tend to favor coniferous forests.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I pass this tree every day on my way into work, and suddenly so many of its leaves are covered in these raised cortortions. Some are kind of reddish, others just a lighter shade of the leaf's green. Can you please tell me what causes them?

A: They are called Cockscomb galls and are caused by a species of aphid specific to Elm leaves.

You can read a little more on them at this link.

– Linda Gilbert, Naturalist





Q: Today we saw what appeared to look like a raccoon, however it was reddish brown and the ringed take was reddish brown and a lighter brown. Not like the black and white of raccoons. Can you identify what it could have been? Thank you.

A: You probably did see a raccoon, although without a photo it is hard to say for certain. Raccoon color is variable. They typically have a black mask around their eyes and the black rings around the tail, but raccoon fur is a mixture of various colored hairs ranging from brown and black to yellowish and reddish gray. Their back is usually darker than the underparts. Occasionally even white or very dark individuals are found, and I suspect what you saw was one of the variations that was lighter than the normal color. If you get another sighting, send us a photo so we can tell for sure, OK?

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: I found these tiny little frog / toads at Walter C. Best Wildlife Preserve on Saturday, June 11. They have grey bellies but a soft, white, looks-like-flexible area under chin like it could expand but just flickers as they breath. They are a brownish color with six to eight black spots on their backs that run from head to butt. It is hard to tell what they are because all the information I have found gives size descriptions of frogs and toads as adults, but these must be babies because you can see a little bump of a tail still left on them. They are tiny, could probably fit two of them on a dime. What are these cute little guys or girls and what do they eat? What is there typical habitat, and can they swim? I apologize for not having any pictures. I hope my description will be enough for you to identify them for me and my children. Thanks, Curious in Chardon

A: Sounds like you experienced a “Toadlet Invasion”!  Around this time of year, from late May through mid-summer, the American Toad (Bufo americanus) tadpoles are completing their transformation from eggs that were laid in the spring and are now trying out their new legs and hopping out of the water into forests, fields and backyards.

They go to the ponds to mate and are able to swim, however they do not prefer aquatic habitats. They no longer eat vegetation as they did as tadpoles, but dine on small critters such as earthworms, slugs and insects.

The best thing you can do to help them out is to leave them be to enjoy the adult stage as a toad. They can completely fend for themselves and are best left where they are. It is not advisable to keep them as pets, and actually requires a permit from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

So resist the urge to keep these cute little guys, because you can count on seeing them every year at this time as long as they have great places to live and grow.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: This snake was spotted on Brigadoon Drive on 5/22/11 at around 3:30 p.m. It moved back into the grass and appeared to be around 2 1/2 feet long. What type of snake is it?

A: It's a Milk Snake.

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant



Q: I am trying to combate the patches of garlic mustard along my road, and I have to ask – what should be done with it after it is pulled? Where can I take it? I want to be as responsible as possible with this, so please let me know! Thanks!

A: Depending how much there is, it can be bagged in black trash bags, tied tightly and left in a sunny location over the summer. I have found that it pretty much rots down to mush, which can then be added to a compost pile.

Or it can be composted directly by burying it deep in a good, hot existing compost heap. Or some agencies bury it in the ground a couple feet deep. Or it can be bagged and sent to a landfill.

If it has produced mature seed already (which usually is not until early June), it is especially important to make sure it is heated well to destroy the seeds.

– Bob Lange, Land Steward

Q: I attached a photo of a unique trillium I spotted today in my parents' woods. I have never seen a trillium like this. Would anyone have any further information? Thanks!

A: Good to hear from you. I sent your trillium picture to someone who knows trilliums well, and here is his response.

Yes, this is written about in Fred Case's book among other places. It is an infection called microplasia. It is well known. It manifests as various markings such as stripes, blotches, even multiple tepals - often with reduction and/or elimination of reproductive parts. Usually these specimens are not fertile. I knew of a woods in upper Michigan that was heavily infected. One could see up to 12 petaloid tepals often in various colors and patterns, even herringbone. I have some nice old slides of same.

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: Are dandelions native?

A: Dandelions are not native. They were brought over here from the Old World as a food source. They are also not on the invasive list, as they don’t get into natural areas. And while many people consider them invasive in their lawns, grass is not native either!

– Judy Bradt-Barnhart, Naturalist

Q: Would you happen to know how old Rocky Cellar is? It is located on Downing Drive in Chardon. The back is almost identical to that of Nelson Ledges State Park, and if formed in the same era, could it be 20,000 years old? How would one go about determining if, in fact, this could be deemed comparable to a State Park, thus providing protection? There are caves, and it is rumored that one cave was blocked off, but at one time it was a tunnel to the Chardon Courthouse. Is it possible that there could be sink holes? The basin of Rocky Cellar is massive. Could there be other caves connected? This is coupled with the fact that it is home to numerous animals. I have seen hawks, eagles, Pileated Woodpeckers, salamanders, owls, rabbits, fox, deer and box turtles. There are also Jack-in-the-Pulpit.The list is endless. I fear it is in grave danger with a city project.

A: Rocky Cellars is part of the rock exposures that run along the eastern slope of the bedrock knob Chardon sits atop. A popular misconception is that these sandstone ledges and gulleys/gulches were formed by the glaciers. Not so. It predates the Ice Age (and the Age of Dinosaurs for that matter) by hundreds of millions of years.

The rock is Sharon Conglomerate: a course-grained silica sandstone with water-rounded quartz pebbles embedded in it. The pebbles were tumbled smooth in the swift mountain streams of an ancient river system that existed some 300 million years ago. These streams hit a flatter terrain near sea level in this region and the streams spread out – or “braided” – across an extensive area depositing the sand and pebbles far and wide.

Over the eminent amount of time (tens of millions of years), these sediments were covered by other sands and muds as land subsided below sea level. Following that, the sediments lithified into sedimentary rock. Once again, geologic upheavels brought our region permanently above sea level and a long, long  period of erosion ensued. The erosion created stream systems that carved our “hill and dale” landscape in Geauga County leaving the uplands capped in Sharon Conglomerate. Many of our towns are found on these uplands or hilltops. Hence, the Chardon Hilltoppers!

Along the edges of these conglomerate knobs, rock broke along weaknesses called faults (we all have them, even rocks). Over time, the downhill portions of the rock separate and creep downhill leaving wide cliff-like corridors, wide cracks, narrow crevices and even “natural bridges) between them. Some deep crevices even form cave-like voids. In some areas, post glacial streams eroded away conglomerate too to create ravines among it. Rocky Cellars is one such place.

In fact other regional Sharon Conglomerate outcroppings/ledges include Thompson Ledges Township Park, Ansel’s Cave here at The West Woods, Little Mountain (Holden Arboretum), Nelson Ledges State Park, Virginia Kendall Ledges (Cuyahoga Valley National Park), Whipps Ledges (Hinckley Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks), etc. I have heard some of the legends and rumors regarding Rocky Ledges that you mention, such as the supposed tunnel from the courthouse, that important documents were hidden in Rocky Cellars, etc. Although crevices in the Sharon Conglomerate can be large, they shortly peter out and are not well connected like true cave systems and sink holes in limestone formations that are the result of chemical dissolving of the rock.

These Sharon Conglomerate outcroppings and ledges each have their own lore and legend, with names like “Devil’s Kitchen” or “Devil’s Ice Box” or “Robber’s Cave” that hint at the crevices leading to the gates of hell or as hideouts for hermits, outlaws, run-away slaves, etc. Such names as “bear caves” or “wolf den rocks” do have plausibility as one-time lairs for such large predators.

I would be extremely grateful if you shared whatever rumors or stories that you’ve come across regarding Rocky Cellars as, in adding color to our local natural history. I’d also be grateful for the opportunity to see Rocky Cellars again. It’s been many years. Thank you very much! 

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Another reader: Enjoyed your explanation of the geology in our county. I talked to an historian about Rocky Cellar some time ago and the stories of the connection to the courthouse and officials that used the connection to hide records during the Civil War. The rumors were that Capt. Edward Payne hid the records in either Rocky Cellar or the nearby Natural Bridge. But the historian said that was not possible since the courthouse wasn't at it's location on the square at that time. A sandstone fissure cave of that length is highly unlikely anyway. I do surveying for the Ohio Cave Survey and the longest cave of this type that we know of so far in northeast Ohio is only about 600 feet, and that's not one passage in a straight line but several passages going in different directions.

I might add that sandstone fissure caves are the only type of caves in northeast Ohio. To find limestone, one has to go west or south or out of state to the east.

Q: I live in Mentor-on-the-Lake and find a ton of neat bones and such on the beach, some of which I've been able to identify, but these teeth I found last year take the cake. The two pictured here (I make jewelry for a living and turned them into necklaces) are the longest I have.

My collection is home to 2-3 smaller/narrower teeth, but they appear to be the same variety. Any ideas what they might be? I've looked at so many animal and fish teeth the last few days trying to identify them! The closest I've come is to Northern Pike (though the big tooth, which measures 2.5 inches, would have had to come from a REALLY big fish!). Thanks for your help!

A: What you have there are fish bones, not teeth.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist


Q: Here is a picture I took in my backyard today. I believe it's a red squirrel?

It is quite small like a chipmunk but it has a bushy tail like a squirrel.

A: Yes, this is indeed a red squirrel. They are very cute and very active little mammals.

Red squirrels go by many nicknames, such as "boomer" (for their loud barking/chipping vocalizations), and my grandparents from the mountains of West Virginia called them "fairy diddles" (though I don’t have any idea what the significance of that name is).

– Denise Wolfe, Naturalist Administrative Assistant

Q: What kind of woodpecker is this?

There was actually a pair of them in our backyard in Bainbridge Township. I was very surprised by the size of this bird. Thanks!!

A: That's Woody Woodpecker's alter-ego – the Pileated Woodpecker.

Learn more about that species at this link, and make sure you listen to the call. Once you can identify it, you'll be hearing them all the time in the distance.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist


Q: What kind of woodpecker is this?

I saw it on my backyard feeder in Chagrin Falls.

A: You spotted a Northern Flicker.

Learn more about that species at this link.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist




Q: We have this squirrel in our yard that has these black patches all over his back. It looks like his fur is missing in these areas.

When I first saw it, I thought it might just be a mix between a black-colored squirrel and a brown-colored squirrel. But after looking closer, it actually looks like his fur is missing.

This is not in a park, but I was hoping you could tell me if it has some disease or what might be wrong with it.

A: Mmmm…looks like mange. We often see this in late winter. Mange is caused by mites and can be passed along to other wild mammals and pets through direct contact. Infected animals suffer itching and scabbing.

For wild animals like squirrels, raccoons, fox and coyote, winter mange is often fatal due to exposure with loss of insulating fur. But if the animal can make it through until the return of warm weather, it may survive to recover.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I was just down at the Meyer Center feeding station and noticed five black squirrels there at once, no brown squirrels in sight. Just the other day I saw a handful of brown squirrels there at once, no black squirrels in sight. Do squirrels travel together or have “family units”?

A: Squirrels are opportunists and will supplement their normal diet by visits to your feeder whenever given the opportunity. Family groups generally disperse in the fall before the females go back into breeding mode (which is December through February), but undoubtedly many stay nearby and may be reunited at your feeders.

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director

Q: I spotted this footprint (top picture) on a winter hike in Boyne Falls, Michigan. It's a little over an inch wide, maybe an inch and a half. Notice the wide sweep of snow around it, possibly from fur. All the prints had that exact formation, in a straight line. Can you tell me what it belongs to?

A: If this print were a little bigger, 2.5 inches maybe, this four-toed critter could also be either a canine (fox, dog) or a feline (bobcat). Weasels like pine martens and minks have a fifth toe that sometimes can be hidden, but in this case I don't see it at all, so I'm ready to rule that out.

If it was walking in a straight line then I suspect that it was something wild. A domestic animal’s tracks tend to wander all over the place, often because they have full bellies and can afford to wander.

Fox are very well known for walking in a straight line often. They are considered direct registers, which means that their hind foot lands in the same place that their front foot landed. This makes it appear sometimes that the animal is walking on two feet. Grey fox have tracks that are about 1 3/4 inches wide, and red fox have tracks that are about 2 inches wide (bottom picture).

Without seeing them or having an definite measurement, my guess would be some type of fox or feral cat. In fact, feline tracks tend to be as wide as they are long (round), while fox tracks are longer than they are wide (oval), so based on this one print, it might very well be a feral cat.

I would recommend getting a Track Finder book from our nature stores at Big Creek Park's Donald W. Meyer Center and The West Woods. It’s very compact (easily fits in your pocket) and, best of all, it’s cheap, only about $5. You'll probably be very surprised at the variety of wildlife living around you.

– John Kolar, Naturalist

Q: This unique partial skull with teeth covering the palate was found in the sand along the bank of Lake Erie.

Can anyone tell me what animal it belongs to? Thank you for your help!

A: They’ve landed! It’s an extra-terrestrial!

Must be from a wreck of one of those USO’s (unidentified submersible objects) reported from Lake Erie...

Actually, it’s a partial palate of a sheepshead fish, also known as the freshwater drum.

Check out these pictures from Google Images. Teeth look bizarrely human-like.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist








Q: These little red insects were found in the Grand River area. Can anyone tell us what they are?

A: Well, what we have here are immature milkweed bugs.  Being true bugs (not all insects are truly bugs – only members of the order hemiptera, suborder heteroptera), this group of insects is very diverse with aquatic and terrestrial varieties. They have piercing sucking mouthparts. Many kinds of true bugs are predatory with needle-like mouthpart that inject digestive enzymes before reversing its use into a straw to suck out the “soup” – pretty gnarly! Milkweed bugs are vegetarians, though, and their food is the juice they draw out of the milkweed seed pods and, eventually, the seeds themselves once the pods split open.

Now the other deal about true bugs is that, like some other orders of insects (dragonflies, mayflies, grasshoppers and crickets, etc.), their metamorphosis (development from young to adult) is gradual. The young resemble adults through a series of nymphal stages (instars) unlike, say, a moth that goes through the radically different stages of larvae (caterpillar), pupa (cocoon) and adult. Upon reaching the last instar, lo and behold: wings!  At rest with wings folded, a larger set of upper wings covers a smaller set of lower wings. The base of the outer wings are tough and shell-like, leaving the outer wing membrane exposed. The folded wings create an X-like pattern: the “across-the-board” characteristic of  the heteroptera, the mark of a true bug. 

Your buggy babies will gradually come to look like this (picture at right) as they continue to “nurse” on the milkweed pods. Incidentally, several kinds of insects including aphids, and the milkweed longhorn beetle share the bright red color. As insects that can tolerate the toxins in milkweed sap, they gain these toxins as predator protection. The red, therefore, is a warning color that acts as a “learning aid” for potential bird, amphibian and mammal predators.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: This little person died the day after I found her, but I thought his or her small pale green wings were lovely although the left one is sadly damaged, torn. Can you tell me anything about this person?

A: This awesome creature is a male luna moth, whose sole role as an adult is to mate and insure a new generation for next year. You can tell it's a male by its large feathery antenna, which are used to smell the pheromones (perfume) given off by the female, often from long distances away. Like other members of the giant silk moth family, adult lunas are short-lived and have no feeding mouthparts...and thus don't eat. Their large accordion-pleated green caterpillars feed mainly on sweet gum, hickory, walnut, birch or oak.

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director

Attached is a photo of a small amphibian person who has hung out most of the summer on the back porch after dark. He or she is about the size of a small woman's closed fist. This little person lets me rub his sides like a mini massage and seems to enjoy it, but on the two occasions I picked him up I interpreted his vocal sounds to be in distress so I refrained from doing that. But he doesn't mind me gently rubbing his fat little sides or the top of his back.

I've given him or her dead bugs, but he or she is not interested. I have named him or her Freddy. Will you tell me about this small person's habits, what he or she likes to eat and what type of housing he or she would like through the autumn and winter months? Is fat Freddy a female?

A: Your little buddy is an American toad. Toads like to hang out under outdoor lights at night for the insects they attract. Freddy won't eat dead insects - likes 'em alive and kickin'. In fact, it's the movement of the insects that allows Freddy to recognize them as food.

I can't tell if Freddy (or Freda, as the case may be) is a male or female. Males are usually 2 inches in body length, females bigger. Could be a young female, though.

Sounds like you experienced "toad cussing" when you picked up Freddy. The chirping is a protest, so if you want to stay friends with Freddy or Freda, best not to pick him/her up. Sounds like he/she doesn't mind the massage, though.

Freddy/Freda will dig down in the soil within the month to wait out winter in hibernation. No need to intervene.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: I just noticed that these little guys have made my bedroom ceiling their home. As if I didn't encounter them enough outside lately! What is their name and how long can I expect to be sharing my sleeping space?

A: It’s a midge. The “phenomenon of the week” seems to be a noticeably large midge hatch-out recently. In fact, this has been a big year for many types of insects due to apparently good weather conditions for reproduction. Not only is this year's midge hatchout more noticeable than usual, there has also been a greater abundance and variety of butterflies and other types of insects.

Midges are small insects in the large taxonomic order Diptera – which includes the familiar flies (house fly, bottle fly, blow fly, deer fly, horse fly, etc.) as well as mosquitos, crane flies, gnats, blackflies, fruit flies, etc. These tiny critters live the longer portion of their lives as immature aquatic larva that inhabit pond, lake and riverbottom mud. The greater midge hatchouts are experienced along Lake Erie when clouds of “muffleheads” – midges with feathery antennae – make landfall.

As for their stay in your room: a couple/few days. They don’t bite, sting, buzz or snore.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

A: Found this info online regarding midges from a 2005 hatch, courtesy of David O. Kelch, associate professor at the Ohio State University Extension in Elyria:

Yes, this fall's swarms of midges are unprecedented – at least in recent memory. The very warm autumn weather we're having probably is one factor. Also, Lake Erie has had increased levels of algae the past few years, due to higher phosphorus levels. As this algae settles to the bottom and decomposes, it enlarges the food base for midge larvae and other invertebrates.

Winds can push the midge swarms around, so they can be found well inland from the lake. Other bodies of water besides Lake Erie also produce midges, and there are some species that reproduce in moist soil and organic matter. On the bright side, the numbers seem to be dropping off rapidly now. And how lucky we are that the little buggers don't sting or bite.

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: What is this bright berry cluster growing along the path to the Meyer Center at Big Creek Park?

A: That would be the fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit, a spring flower in the arum family. Berries contain needle-like calcium oxalyic acid crystals that burn and inflame the soft tissues of tongue and mouth lining – like a five-alarm chili pepper. Wildlife, however, do eat the berries and thus distribute the seeds.

Native Americans put the bulb (actually a corm) through a multi-step preparation that rendered the plant “delicious, nutritious but not malicious.” Thus, it is also known as an "Indian turnip."

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

Q: What kind of spider is this? It is about the size of a half-dollar including legs. We see so many of these around in our garage, on our siding (brick and wood), and hiding in the door jams of cars and house. This one was on our barn door. Are they venomous?

Also, for some reason these are attracted to the entrance of our house (dark brown, wood siding) and leave large volumes of yellow poop (?) on the siding. I have to clean it every several weeks. How can I encourage them to move elsewhere? – A Newbury Resident

A: This is most likely a Dolomedes tenebrosus, or Common Fishing Spider. They go into buildings near woods and are neither venomous to humans nor aggressive, so don't worry about them being a problem. As for the droppings, you may use a urethane foam spray to seal openings where they may go to prevent them from being there. Adults may survive the winter, but they shouldn’t be as active.

– Bill Hickman and Richard Bradley, part of the Ohio Biological Survey for Spiders

A: I highly recommend calling the Ohio Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE and inquire about the free “Common Spiders of Ohio” field guide written by Richard Bradley from Ohio State University.

– Nora Sindelar, Naturalist

Q: I found this dead snake on the side of the road near my yard on September 3.  Is it possible for you to identify it from the attached picture? It appears to be a baby snake 7 to 8 inches long. Thank you. – A Newbury Resident

A: Milk snake…poor little booger.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist



Q: What critter left this behind? It's full of berries and smells like them, too.

A: Sure looks like a raccoon to me. Thanks for putting your fist in the picture, that helps with scale. Another suggestion would be to put a coin next to the scat for scale.

– John Kolar, aka "Dr. Scat," Naturalist

A: I second that - it does appear to be raccoon.

– Tami Gingrich, Field Naturalist



Q: Is this a wolf spider? Google Images showed lots of different colorations under “wolf spider,” but perhaps this is normal for tiny critters.

A: We think it's a funnel weaver, also known as a grass spider. You know in the morning when you look outside and there are those dewy cobweb-like webs in the grass? When you get up close to them, they funnel right down in, and that's the kind of web the funnel weavers make.

There are a lot of wolf spiders that look very similar to this photo, but it's hard to say for sure without seeing what kind of web this one spun.

It's fun that you send this picture as the seasons are changing, because now is the time of year for people to be watching for these. It can be awfully magical in the morning to look out and see all the dewy spider webs.

– Diane Valen and Dan Best, Naturalists

Q: We spotted these during a walk at Whitlam Woods in Chardon. Please help us impress our friends by naming them next time we're there.

A: The nut is bitternut hickory because of its thin outer husk. The green nut is this year’s fruit and the brown last year’s.

Regarding the fungi, there are more than 2,000 types in Ohio, and identification is easier with the actual fungus because you can see size, gills or pores and other characteristics. I received identifications on your photos from a few mycologists, but before I share them, I want to provide you with a quote showing some of the discussion involved in the ID of these fungi:

“It is hard to tell with all the scales on the young fruitings.  Even in person it can be difficult.  Wetting the cap cuticle would clinch it.  P. squarrosa is usually on birch, aspen or conifers.  P. squarrosoides usually is on hardwoods, often maple which is what the log looks like it might be.  Having seen them both I can usually tell by sight but other than saying P. squarrosa is more shaggy I can't tell you how.”

Photo identification of fungi is not necessarily definitive and should never be used to determine edibility since so many of the fungi are poisonous including some of these.

Now the ID's, courtesy of the Ohio Mushroom Society...

The orange cluster looks like Orange Mycena (Mycena leaiana).
The flat white fungus looks like either Coral Slime Mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa) or the earliest stages of Chocolate Tube Slime (Stemonitis splendens).
The stalked clusters look like Sharp-scaled Pholiota (Pholiota squarrosoides).

Two other sources for fungi photos would be The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms and

– Dottie Mathiott, Naturalist

Q: What would make the red color come out of my Japanese red maple? It starts out red in the spring and by summer it turns green. It's about 2 years old. I got in when it was very small.

A: Green pigment, Chlorophyll, makes the red "come out" of your Japanese maple. The green pigment masked the red pigment for the summer. Many trees have new foliage that is red or yellow until the tree produces the chlorophyll to make the leaf green. The reversing of the process will give us fall color in another two months.

– Alan Siewert, Urban Forester, ODNR Division of Forestry, Middlefield

Q: What is this organism (or at least I think it’s an organism!) found on the mulch at the Meyer Center and The West Woods Nature Center? To me it looks like a cross between a mound of dried-out bubbles and a pumice stone.

A: Click here for a website with information on the mulch slime mold.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist



Q: What is this? It came with some fill dirt. The leaves are soft…

A: That would be common mullien. It is a Eurasian or European plant long-established in North America. It's also a common pioneer plant of poor soil areas such as old vacant lots, railbeds, etc. I understand that back in the days of old when rouge wasn’t available, young ladies would rub their cheeks with the leaves. The slight irritation would give a rosy glow.

– Dan Best, Senior Naturalist

A: That’s true for the Quaker ladies I understand. Leaves were also stuffed into shoes with their irritating hairs increasing circulation – thus the first foot warmers. And dried leaves could be steeped as tea to ease sore throats. There’s lots of other uses for what farmers would consider a “weed." Of course the fact that the seeds are known to remain viable for 75 years tells you it has special adaptations beyond our current specimens.

– Diane Valen, Naturalist Services Director