- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The winner of the 2018 Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest, sponsored by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, is…drumroll…Art Shapiro.
Shapiro collected the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, at 11:23 a.m. Friday, Jan. 19 in one of his frequented sites—a mustard patch by railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County. He caught it with his hands--no net.
“Today should not have been the day,” he said, noting the weather forecast of "a chance of rain" when he left his Davis home at 10 a.m. for West Sacramento.
“I spotted the male butterfly dorsal basking (sunbathing) on low vegetation shortly after the first cumulous formed at 11 a.m.,” Shapiro said. “As I approached to collect it, a small cumulus occluded the sun and it closed its wings over its back--allowing me to just pick it up without using my net at all, and drop it into a glassine envelope. It turned out that that was the ONLY cloud that crossed the sun in the next two and a half hours! It got up to about 60 degrees and was a gorgeous day with a trace of a west wind.”
Shapiro said that "It probably emerged an hour or so before I got there so this really is the start of the season! Let the rites of spring begin!”
He described the butterfly as quite yellow instead of white. “Cold weather promotes sepiapterin formation, so early ones are often quite yellow.”
Apparently the newly emerged butterfly had not yet flown. When he placed it in the glassine envelope, “it voided meconium, metabolic wastes of metamorphosis, normally ejected before the first flight.”
Shapiro, who maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, launched the contest in 1972 as part of his scientific research to record the first flight of the butterfly in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano. He offers a pitcher of the beer, or its equivalent, to the first person who collects the “first of the year” butterfly. It's a contest he usually wins. He has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students.
His former graduate student, Matt Forester, now a professor of biology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a research collaborator with Shapiro, accurately predicted the first butterfly would be found on Jan. 19.
“Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20,” Shapiro noted.
This is the seventh year the winning butterfly has been collected in Yolo County. Last year Shapiro found the winner on the UC Davis campus; in 2016, graduate student Jacob Montgomery netted the winner outside his home in west Davis, and Shapiro collected all five winners from 2012 to 2015 in West Sacramento.