The 2022 FORBY Awards – Part 3

It’s time for the final installment of the 2023 FORBY awards! If you missed them, you can click these links to catch up with Part 1 and Part 2. As a reminder, the FORBYs (Featured Organisms Rated Best of the Year) allow us to celebrate prairie species photographed during the past year. Many award winners are chosen by our esteemed judges, but others are left to you.

Remember, if you get this post via email, you can click on the title to view it on the website, which gives you a better experience and will allow you to vote on the polls. Also, you can click each image to see a better, more clear version of it.

Our first award in this final installment is for ‘Best House Construction’. The FORBY this year goes to these two cliff swallows, photographed at The Nature Conservancy’s Cherry Ranch back in June. These birds not only constructed cozy next compartments on the side of a sandstone cliff, they placed them under a ledge for extra protection from rain. Most impressively of all, of course, they built the homes from hundreds of tiny loads of wonderful-looking mud carried in their bills. I mean, look at the quality of that mud! You don’t often see mud like that just lying around.

Anyway, it was a painstaking task, but their diligent construction efforts rewarded them with terrific places to raise their families – and with a FORBY award! Congratulations. We don’t know how good they are as fathers, but no one can say these swallows aren’t great mudders!

These cliff swallows were worthy recipients of the Best House Construction in 2022.


Next, we turn to a perennial favorite – the FORBY award for ‘Best Bee Duo that Spent the Night Clinging Upside Down to a Stem with their Mandibles’. It was a tight race this year, but in the end, our judges felt these two long-horned bees stood out in terms of style, grace, and fortitude. As everyone knows, male solitary bees don’t have nests, so they just sleep outdoors, wherever they can find a suitable spot. Many nestle up inside a flower or other semi-enclosed location. That’s a pretty smart tactic, but it doesn’t qualify them for the FORBY award for ‘Best Bee Duo that Spent the Night Clinging Upside Down to a Stem with their Mandibles’. This award is only available for male bees (or females, but they’re usually more productively occupied) that just grab a stem in their teeth and sleep upside down.

These two long-horned bees were awarded a FORBY for their gripping performance in 2023.


Now we move on to the FORBY for the ‘Best Low-Profile Rabbit’. We admit that this one was a little controversial this year since the cottontail that won spent the year growing up in the front yard of one of our judges. It had a favorite little depression in the grass where it would spend hours at a time resting and hiding while neighbors walked past, not seeing it, despite it being just a few feet from the sidewalk. As it grew larger, the rabbit’s ability to conceal itself in the grass was even more impressive. Though it kept itself hidden for most of the year, we’re now thrusting it into the spotlight as a FORBY winner. Congratulations, and keep a sharp eye out for that cat. You know the one.

The FORBY winner for best low-profile rabbit shows off its technique.


The ‘Best Spider Mom’ award has historically been dominated by wolf spiders, much to the chagrin of countless other candidates. It’s really not fair, since many spiders are wonderful mothers and go above and beyond to ensure the survival of their eggs, if not their recently-hatched spiderlings. We’d like to say the pattern was broken this year, but it’s not the case. Once again, the FORBY for ‘Best Spider Mom’ goes to a wolf spider. This particular spider was spotted along banks of the Niobrara River, carrying its entire collection of eggs in a sac attached to her abdomen. Despite the bulkiness of her cargo, she still managed to be quick and nimble, making it difficult for our photographer to his job.

This wolf spider mom was awarded a FORBY for her conscientious efforts to protect her eggs.


The last of our judge-awarded FORBYs this year is the ‘Best Poopy Tail Defense’ award, which – as it has since very inception of the FORBYs – is once again given to a cluster of tortoise beetle larvae. In this case, it is a group of sunflower tortoise beetle larvae feeding on stiff sunflower at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve. As they fed, they kept their tails held above them and tipped with copious amounts of their own excrement.

It’s a time-honored and effective strategy for repelling potential predators, though it is used surprisingly sparingly throughout the animal world. As a result, the number of nominees for this year’s ‘Best Poopy Tail Defense award’ was fairly limited. Regardless, these larvae were worthy recipients.

Also, we once again respectively suggest that a great nickname for tortoise beetle larvae would be ‘Turd-les’ but we understand that this will likely fall upon deaf ears again.

These stinkin’ cute tortoise beetle larvae were selected as 2022 FORBY winners!


Winners of our final three categories of 2022 will be decided by your vote. The first of those three is the ‘Best Pose in Front of A Black Background’. This phenomenon occurs when a plant or animal is photographed in light that is so much brighter than the shadows behind it that a camera’s sensor can’t pick up the full range of available light. The result is a well-exposed image of the subject and a completely black background.

Six nominees managed to be in the right place at the right time this year and became eligible for the FORBY in this category. It’s up to you to choose the winner. Again, you can click on the image to see a better version of it. If you don’t see the poll below, or can’t click to indicate your choice, click on the title of this post to open it on the website.

Choose your favorite for ‘Best Pose in Front of A Black Background’.

The next audience category came down to two worthy finalists. Both meet the basic criteria, but beyond that, present themselves in aesthetically-pleasing ways. It’s up to you to select the winner of the 2022 FORBY for ‘Best Predator in a Foxtail Barley Flower’.

Nominee #1 – A crab spider with its front legs spread wide to capture any prey that comes within range.
Nominee #2 – A damsel bug hunts among a patch of foxtail barley flowers and stops to pose coyly for a photo.

We end with what is perhaps the most popular award of the season – Best Eyes. While the title makes the award sound like it could be a broad category, it has perennially been dominated by invertebrates. Vertebrates have very nice eyes, but they are rarely impressive enough to warrant consideration for this award. This year, the judges narrowed the field to four finalists and it’s up to you to select which of these invertebrates has the ‘Best Eyes’.

Well, that brings this year’s FORBY award ceremony to a close. Thanks to all our judges for their time. Thanks also to our generous sponsors – especially Chuck’s Mud**, (“It’s Not Just Wet Dirt – It’s Wet SOIL!”) – for their support. If you’re looking to the best mud to build your cliff-side home with, choose Chuck’s Mud.

Mostly, thank you to everyone who reads this blog all year and puts up with all the goofiness and dumb attempts at humor. Have a terrific holiday season and go explore a prairie near you!



** While we acknowledge the coincidence and the numerous complaints we have received, our internal investigation has found no evidence that any of our FORBY award selections were influenced by sponsors or any bags of cash they allegedly left on the doorsteps of our judges. We will continue to be vigilant in our monitoring of this situation and appreciate the level of interest shown by our audience, our nominees, and law enforcement representatives.

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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.

6 thoughts on “The 2022 FORBY Awards – Part 3

  1. Another two thumbs up for your blog site. Thanks for so many visiual reminders of the diversity in our prairie and savanna environs. Wishing for the same in 2023.

  2. I love what you are doing Chris—our son is an entomologist—so my interest in all things bug has increased:) But, in general, I find your photography and your goofiness, just what the doctor ordered—gets me through the day! Thanks, keep up the good work, Rebecca in Omaha ________________________________


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