- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
If you see a white cabbage butterfly fluttering by you, net it.
The Pieris Project wants it.
Entomology Today, a publication of the Entomological Society of America, today covered a story about how graduate students (including Sean Ryan of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and Anne Espeset, University of Nevada, Reno), are seeking a "global community of citizen scientists" to collect the white cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae, for their Pieris Project, launched last summer to study invasion biology and species responses to environmental change.
They've already received more than 600 species from "at least half of the United States," and eight other countries, Entomology Today reports. The butterfly, native to Europe, has spread throughout the world in the last 200 years and is thought to be one of the most widespread and abundant butterflies of them all. It is found on every continent except Antarctica. (Check out the most up-to-date collection map.)
The graduate students want to reconstruct the invasion history and "explore how environmental variation has been shaping the genome and phenotype of this butterfly," according to the article.
Anne Espeset is studying for her doctorate with major professor Matt Forister, whose major professor was Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. Forister received his doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2004.
Here are some of the specifics of the graduate student project:
1) Send them a couple of butterflies from your backyard. Include the date and latitude/longitude coordinates on the envelope. You can find more details at http://www.pierisproject.org. Even though fall is here, depending on where you live, you may be able to catch a few before winter arrives, they point out.
2) Help spread the word by either sharing the project with people you think might be interested in participating or by letting them know of organizations, schools, or any community that might be interested. Email them at pierisproject@ gmail.com.
3) Consider donating to their crowdfunding campaign. They say they have only a few days left to reach their goal, and it's all or nothing, "so we need all the help we can get! One incentive for donating is a 'Backyard Genomics Kit' — a great gift for a budding entomologist — and we also have awesome photographs by the amazing bugographer Alex Wild!" (Wild, a noted insect photographer, received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis.)
As an aside, the cabbage white butterfly gains notoriety every year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano, California. Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro sponsors an annual contest offering a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year collected in one of the three counties.
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.
Shapiro says the cabbage white "is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter." 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. And he usually wins his own contest because he knows where to find them. (See Bug Squad for results of this year's contest.)
Meanwhile, let's all catch some cabbage whites for the Pieris Project.