- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
And the winner is…drumroll…Art Shapiro. Yes, he's won again!
We're not sure how many folks were out searching in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo, but the first butterfly of the year is now history.
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--no small feat.
Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. Shapiro acknowledged that he didn't think he'd find it Jan. 19 as the weather forecast included cloudy skies and a chance of rain.
“I spotted the male butterfly dorsal basking (sunbathing) on low vegetation shortly after the first cumulous formed at 11 a.m.,” the professor 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.”
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 Shapiro placed it in the glassine envelope, “it voided meconium, metabolic wastes of metamorphosis, normally ejected before the first flight.” (Note that in its immature form, the cabbageworm is a pest. See UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website.)
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.
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.
Shapiro mused that the 2018 winner "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!”
How many days 'til spring? Check out this handy "Days Left to Spring" website for the days, hours and minutes./span>