- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Me, being a cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae)?
No? No one else has, either.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, is looking and waiting. Every year he sponsors "A Beer for a Butterfly" contest, and the first person who finds and collects the first cabbage white of the new year--within the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano counties--receives a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, usually wins his own contest. He has been defeated only three times since he launched the contest in 1972. And all were his graduate students. Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
In 2014, Shapiro netted the winning butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972."
Well, Jan. 14, 2015 has come and gone, and no winner.
Shapiro was out looking for it today in the Gates Canyon area of Vacaville, one of the butterfly populations he regularly monitors. Apparently the butterfly was in a "no fly" zone.
A woman visiting the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house last Sunday reported seeing one in Davis but hadn't netted it. Yet.
"Do you like beer?" we asked her.
"I love beer," she said.
"Well, if you win, you'll get a pitcher of it," we told her.
To remind herself to net the cabbage white "on the way home or early in the morning," she inked "Cabbage White" on her hand.
Apparently she didn't net it, because Shapiro reported no winners today.
Shapiro sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. It's all part of his four-decade study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter. Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20."
Shapiro maintains a butterfly website, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. The cabbage white, he said, is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here. It inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow.
The contest rules?
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and must be captured outdoors.
- It must be brought in alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail. The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, keep it in a refrigerator; do not freeze. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
Shapiro initially predicted he'd net "the first of 2015" on Jan. 13, unless he were selected for jury duty.
Was he selected? "No. They filled the jury before I came up for voir dire," he said. "Just as well--I would have had some serious questions, given what I know about the case."
We don't imagine the lawyers would have excused him, anyway. "Chasing butterflies" does not seem like a valid excuse.
Meanwhile, Shapiro believes the contest will end sometime next week. "We should have a winner by then," he said.