Cranky Ecologist Quiz

I’m cranky today.

Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. It’s just one of those days when I have been focusing too much on the ignorance of others and the fact that people with loud voices (figuratively) become trusted sources just because they’re loud. No, I’m not going to give you examples. I’m sure you can come up with your own. It just drives me bonkers that people can be so easily misled.

To make myself feel better, I figured I’d impart some factual information and tip the scales just a tiny bit in the other direction. But I also decided to amuse myself at the same time. Hence, another goofy quiz. Enjoy. Or don’t, it’s all the same to me.

I feel better already.

Question 1: What species of bird is shown above?

A. Red-tailed Hawk

B. Common Nighthawk

C. Infrequent Morningdove

D. New York Post

E. Virginia Rail

F. Yellow-headed Blackbird (winter plumage)


Question 2: Assuming for the moment the bird in Question 1 is a nighthawk (because it is), which of the following are correct names for the family of birds nighthawks belong to?

A. Nightjars

B. Nightmares

C. Goatsuckers

D. Cowtippers

D. Chickenfingers

E. B

F. A and C


Question 3: Yes, I know it’s ‘mourning dove’ and not ‘morningdove’. I was doing a thing.


Question 4: How many species of birds laid their eggs in this nest? (The nest was on the ground in a Central Nebraska prairie.)

A. 1

B. 2

C. 5

D. Isn’t the Virginia Rail a kind of dance?


Bonus Question #1: Name one of the two species of birds that laid at least one egg in the above nest.

Bonus Question #2: Name the other species.

Bonus Question #3: Neither of those are questions, they are directives.

Bonus Question answers: 1. Brown-headed cowbird (light colored egg), 2. bobolink (other eggs), 3. ‘don’t be pedantic’.


The answer to Question #2 is F. Read more here


Question #6: What kind of insect is shown above? Hint: the inset photo shows one eating a cucumber beetle.

A. Mayfly

B. Damselfly

C. What happened to Question #5??

D. Dragonfly

E. None of the above.


Question #5: Why do adult antlions (pictured above) look so much like damselflies?

A. They are both compound words


Question #7: This Flodman’s thistle (Cirsium flodmanii) is a native wildflower in Nebraska and a terrific source of nectar and pollen for many invertebrates. What is the daddy longlegs (aka harvestman) doing below the flower?

A. Feeding on the nectar by biting through the bottom of the flower.

B. Pooping

C. Photosynthesizing

D. Dying

E. None of the above. It is dead. It got stuck to the very sticky underside of the flower and died.


Question #8: What is this picture-winged fly doing on this Illinois tickclover (Desmodium illinoense) plant?

A. Feeding on extrafloral nectar

B. Hunting for even smaller picture-winged flies

C. Performing an upside-down mating dance

D. Dying because, like the daddy longlegs in #7, it got stuck on a plant and couldn’t escape.


Question #9: This lightning bug (aka firefly) also died by getting stuck to the stem of an Illinois tickclover plant. This is ironic because…

A. It isn’t really a bug

B. It also isn’t really a fly

C. Its New Year’s resolution was to try to stick to one kind of plant

D. This quiz is getting dark

E. A and B


Question #10: Why are plants killing so many insects?

A. Life is hard and then you die?


The answer to #9 is E.

A. I don’t think you understand the meaning of irony.

B. How do you know it’s not C?

C. D is also correct.


Question #12: On a scale of 1 to 10, how adorable is this lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata)?

A. 15

B. You forgot Question #11

C. Sorry about that

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

35 thoughts on “Cranky Ecologist Quiz

  1. Thank you!

    And thanks for the suggestion, for next time I get in a bad ‘mood,’ whether cranky or otherwise.

  2. I think I like it when you get cranky. Love your sense of humor! 🤗

    On Tue, May 11, 2021 at 3:58 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” I’m cranky today. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. It’s > just one of those days when I have been focusing too much on the ignorance > of others and the fact that people with loud voices (figuratively) become > trusted sources just because they’re loud. No, I” >

  3. I am a Texas Master Naturalist, and am fortunate to be working on a project we have in a prison unit. The inmates grow American water willow and other native shoreline plants that we then plant along a lake shore for fish habitat, erosion control, etc. We also take them through our TMN curriculum. I have spent the last two days there presenting lessons on the land ethic, and they are attentive and engaged. I thought that hearing about these guys who are eager to listen and learn, might provide a little balance to the loud voices people that are discouraging you.
    Also, I have been driving all my friends crazy with my impression of the Woodhouse’s toad from your previous post. Hope that helps too! :)

    • Loved your story. I hope this kind of prison program becomes common. Well, fat chance but we can hope and get creative.

      • Thank you, we are doing our best to spread this aspect of the program. Another prison was interested last year but COVID stopped it — maybe this year it will take off. :)

        • When I first started volunteering, I thought inviting people ordered to do community service by courts would be a great way to get more work done. However, I later saw that the criminal justice system was often biased and unfair. I worried that having people ordered to do community service, or in your case actually being in prison, would be seen as using slave labor. Are you concerned about having people forced to work being involved in your program?

          • Hi, I am no expert on the Texas prison system, but we are doing our program as part of horticulture classes that the guys can sign up to take, all voluntarily. And a relative of mine who has been in the system (incarcerated, not employed) told me it was a good project and that I would be a good fit for it, so I took his word for it. But I think your concern is good and I will research about it!

          • This can’t be defined as slave labor as long as it’s voluntary.
            Otherwise, anyone working for a company etc. would have to be defined as a so-called slave. Which of course is a philosophical question.

          • When I first started volunteering, I had a walker come up and ask what we were doing. I explained we were cutting grey dogwood in a prairie reconstruction. He then gruffly said something about using a “chain gang” to do the work and walked off. None of the people volunteering were a part of any criminal justice program. They all were just people from the community who wanted the preserve to have a high-quality prairie reconstruction and the small amount of remnant to get managed well. Whenever I see a prison bus with a group picking up trash under the careful watch of an armed guard, I remember the criticism. I once stopped my car, rolled down my window, and yell, “Thank you for cleaning up…” The prisoners looked back at me like I was crazy. Maybe they were right.

    • I assume that you refer to lessons from the essay “The Land Ethic” written by Aldo Leopold; and I have to say that it’s the best and still most relevant text I’ve ever read. Pure gold and obviously the author’s whole lifetime of accumulated wisdom about the natural world vs humanity. Should be obligatory learning for absolutely everybody in this world.

  4. Your quiz is awesome and made me laugh out loud! I’m in the middle of revising my anatomy and physiology syllabus for next year, and I appreciated the quirky/snarky humor in your questions and answers.

    Cheers, Christina

    On Tue, May 11, 2021 at 4:00 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” I’m cranky today. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. It’s > just one of those days when I have been focusing too much on the ignorance > of others and the fact that people with loud voices (figuratively) become > trusted sources just because they’re loud. No, I” >

  5. Your quizzes make my day. And I always learn something. (and here I thought I was pretty good at this naturalist stuff, I mean I knew all about nightjars and goatsuckers…)

  6. Holy crap! I just got done jousting with a City Council, some of whose members seemed really intent on remaining willfully ignorant of the issues involved in a rezoning question. (I’m the chair of my small town’s Planning Commission.). Your introductory sentiments for this post couldn’t have rung more true for me at this moment!

    Thanks – I needed the laugh! And, I want you to know that I once dressed up as an antlion larva for Halloween. (They are so cool!)

    A fellow, grumpy prairie ecologist,


    On Tue, May 11, 2021 at 3:58 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” I’m cranky today. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. It’s > just one of those days when I have been focusing too much on the ignorance > of others and the fact that people with loud voices (figuratively) become > trusted sources just because they’re loud. No, I” >

  7. I know the feeling, Chris.
    Life would have been easier if people at least could have seen the world in the same light.
    But what surprised me the most in life is probably the fact that people can be as different as night and day.

  8. Reading this was the best part of my day! I know it’s only 8:13am.

    Allie Rath | Senior Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Covering Benton, Buchanan, Linn, and Tama Counties Pheasants Forever, Inc. and NRCS USDA Service Center 1705 W D St. Vinton, IA 52349 o. (319) 472-2161 | c. (319) 330-6015 |

    ~While the Benton, Buchanan, Linn, and Tama County Service Centers are currently closed to visitors because of the pandemic, we continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools. Contact us at the information below to make an appointment. Please visit for the latest information on Service Center status.~


  9. Might be my favorite quiz lately :D Thank you for this on a dark and sunny Wednesday morning (yes, I realized that you posted it on Tuesday, but sometimes I don’t read things until Wednesday!)

  10. It sounds like you’ve been talking to your mob grazing friends again. You manage your prairies to set a good example. However, this does not seem to be enough. Just because you build a temple does not mean anyone is going to visit it. You are a talented environmental educator and a scientist. It sounds like what is needed is more education about science. Skeptical people might not believe you. However, if you explain how the science works and people try it for themselves then it is going to be a rare person who won’t even believe their own results. To not believe their own results would require taking a real hit to their egos.

    • I suppose the real question is what the goal is.
      Is it to make as much money as possible from a prairie, or is it to preserve a prairie in as good a natural state as possible. These goals just can’t be combined.

  11. You made my day. I hope constructing your enjoyable quiz helped distract you from the nitwittedness of some of our fellow “citizens”. Keep up the good work.


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