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.

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

Photos of the Week – May 7, 2021

The parade of spring wildflowers is still marching on, though it continues to be a fairly modest event featuring mostly small acts. The bigger, louder attractions are yet to make their appearance. Looking across our prairies, you might see a little color here and there, but most of the flowers are small and scattered enough you won’t see them unless/until you start walking around.

I did just that at our family prairie this week, trying to keep up with the progression of wildflowers, but also checking livestock fence and water and strategizing about upcoming work projects. Storms were moving out of the area, leaving behind some pretty great clouds, so I tried to capture wildflowers and clouds at the same time. A fisheye lens is a fun way to do that, but I didn’t get quite what I was envisioning. The effort wasn’t wasted, though – I came away with some decent photos and had a great time exploring.

Here are some photos from my Wednesday evening walk:

Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta). Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/20, 1/125 sec.
Prairie and sky. Helzer family prairie. Nikon 11-16mm lens @11mm. ISO 320, f/20, 1/125 sec.
Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida). Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/80 sec.
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre). Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/80 sec.
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre). Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/320 sec.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/200 sec.
Chokecherry blossoms (Prunus virginiana). Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/1000 sec.