- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
There's something about the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) that makes folks foam at the mouth.
That's because butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, offers a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year that's brought into the department from the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento.
The contest is all part of Shapiro's 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. He monitors the many species of Central California butterflies and posts the information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
The cabbage white "is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter," he says. Since 1972--the year he launched the "beer-for-for-a-butterfly" contest--the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.
The good professor almost always wins his own beer-for-a-butterfly contest because he knows where to look.
This year Shapiro netted his prize winner at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. He collected the male on the south slope of the railroad tracks where “I've caught at least half of the first-flight cabbage whites.” The temperature hovered at 62 degrees, but soon rose to 70 degrees.
He caught it in mid-air with a self-described "ballet leap."
Contest over. All done. However, for months afterwards, would-be contestants, aka beer lovers, find a cabbage white and ask "Did I win?" Well, no...
Last weekend I followed a stunningly beautiful cabbage white in our bee garden as it nectared catmint. Usually these butterflies move so fast there's no chance of capturing them in mid-flight, but this one seemed to cooperate.
Pieris rapae! Pieris rapae! Pieris rapae! I almost executed a ballet leap. Hey, Art, did I win?
(Editor's Note: Read about the cabbageworm larvae on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management site.)