The 2019 “Beer for a Butterfly” contest is over.
And the winner is…drum roll…
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology.
Shapiro, who has sponsored the annual contest since 1972 as part of his scientific research to determine the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, netted it--a male--at 1:12 p.m., Friday, Jan. 25 near the Suisun Yacht Club, Solano County.
Shapiro recorded it as the fourth earliest flight of a cabbage white butterfly in Suisun in 47 seasons.
The professor provides a pitcher of beer or its equivalent to the person who collects the first cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo.
He will have to drink his own beer.
“I was two days behind to do Suisun, due to various commitments on campus,” Shapiro related. “I kept Friday open because I had the overwhelming feeling yesterday that the first flight of Pieris rapae was due.”
So on the train ride to Suisun, he took a net with him. “That was silly insofar as rapae always starts later at Suisun than in, say, West Sacramento, so the odds of seeing the first one of 2019 there were minuscule,” Shapiro commented. “In fact, if I recall correctly, the first of the year was only recorded at Suisun once, Jan. 31, 2011. But I went prepared, if I saw one."
"And I did.”
Shapiro described the day as “the warmest Jan. 25 at Suisun since the Medieval Warm Period: 68F, wind E-5 mph, clear.” His notes read: “Very little in bloom: many dandelions, one Eucalyptus, three Hirschfeldia (mustard), two Raphanus (radish), many Malva (mallow) and a few Picris (sunflower family). Site still 30 percent flooded. I went to all the usual Vanessa (butterfly) places and found nothing. I searched more than 100 Malva plants for larvae and found nothing.”
“But near the Suisun Yacht Club (703 Civic Center Blvd., Suisun City) at 1:12 p.m. I saw a rapae. It didn't land and I had to take it in the air. It's a small and very heavily infuscated male.” It had just eclosed that day, he said.
Shapiro placed it in a glassine envelope and returned to Storer Hall, home of the Department of Evolution and Ecology,- where administrative staff “certified that it was alive and kicking.”
It was the only butterfly Shapiro saw in Suisun during the two-plus hours of record warmth. “I said rapae is usually later at Suisun than elsewhere near sea level. The year 2011 was the exception. It was out at Suisun on Jan. 31 but at Gates Canyon (Vacaville) not until Feb. 7; West Sacramento, Feb. 6; North Sacramento, Feb. 13; and Rancho Cordova, Feb. 23.”
However, something just as exciting awaited him when he returned to the Davis train station. When he exited the parking lot at 3:06 p.m., a “painted lady, Vanessa cardui, an immigrant from the desert, flew right in front of me in migratory mode. It was unambiguously old, worn, and ‘desertic,'not locally bred. That was more of a surprise than the rapae! In 47 years of data, I have two earlier cardui records—Jan. 18, 1987 and Jan. 23, 2014 and one tie, Jan. 25, 2009.”
“If anybody sees more, let me know,” he said. “This could be the start of something big...”
Since 1972, the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. In 2018, Shapiro collected the winner 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.
Shapiro, who maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, usually wins his own contest. He has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students.
Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California for 47 years and records the information on his research website. His 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. He visits his sites every two weeks "to record what's out" from spring to fall. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
Shapiro, a member of the UC Davis faculty since 1971 and author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley Regions, has studied a total of 163 species of butterflies in his transect.
And we have a winner!
Drum roll...Art Shapiro...
Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who sponsors the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest to collect scientific data, snagged the first cabbage white butterfly of the year at 12:30 p.m.. Monday, Jan. 26 in West Sacramento, Yolo County.
“The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) finally came out today (Jan. 26),” he said.
And, it's a boy!
Shapiro figured this would be the day. Sunshine filtered through the high clouds in the morning, so it was relatively warm when Shapiro set out at 11.15 a.m. for a mustard patch near the railroad tracks. In fact, he was so “sufficiently sure” that Monday would be the day that he took his net “and was prepared to sweep the vegetation with it to kick up any individuals that were sunbathing (“dorsal basking”) in the dilute sunlight in order to raise their body temperature to the level needed for flight.”
But that wasn't necessary. “The sun came out strongly at 12.11 and the butterfly, a male, took wing spontaneously 19 minutes later,“ he related. ““It was a very easy catch; I suspect he emerged this morning (Jan. 26) and that was his first flight.”
Shapiro has sponsored the contest since 1972 to determine when the cabbage white will first emerge in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano. It's all part of his 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter.”
Although the first flight of the cabbage white has been as late as Feb. 22, it is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, said Shapiro. “There have been only two occasions in the 21stcentury in which it has come out this late: Jan 26, 2006 and Jan 31, 2011.
“It's obvious that a dry January doesn't guarantee an early emergence!” Shapiro said. ”The very wet December of 2014 laid the groundwork for tule fog this month, which we hadn't really seen since the drought began. The cold, foggy weather certainly played a role in delaying emergence.”
Ten minutes after collecting the cabbage white, a second species, the mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) showed up. “It hibernates as an adult and is always an early flier, but this was its first record on the floor of the Sacramento Valley this year—it's been out about two weeks in the lower Coast Range,” Shapiro said.
Five minutes later, at 12.45, a third species showed up: a male fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) that landed momentarily literally at Shapiro's feet. It was the earliest he's ever recorded. “This is a much more significant record than the others,” he said, explaining that the fiery skipper “normally is first recorded around here in March or even April. Last year it set a new early record in the Valley—Feb. 21, in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County.—the only February Valley record in our 43-year database. It was last seen in 2014 on Dec. 1, also in Rancho Cordova. However, there are two January records at the Suisun Marsh, Solano County: Jan. 3, 1996 and Jan. 28, 2000.
Of the fiery skipper, Shapiro noted: “The first was certainly a late carryover of the fall 1995 brood, which was still flying on Dec. 14. “ The species wasn't seen again until the start of the spring brood on March 31, 1996. The 2000 record is more ambiguous. The last Suisun sighting in 1999 was on Dec. 11 and the first spring sighting was very late, May 24, 2000.
“The last fall-brood sighting of the fiery skipper was on Nov. 9, 2014, making it exceedingly unlikely that this was a late individual from that brood,” Shapiro said.
In 2014, Shapiro netted the winning cabbage white butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972.”
Shapiro has won the contest every year except three. Graduate student Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and graduate students Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
The contest rules specify that it be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae and that it be captured outdoors. It must be live when delivered to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis.
Shapiro has monitored central California's butterfly populations for 43 years and posts information on his website.
Don't go looking for the first-flight cabbage white butterfly of the year in Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties.
The beer-for-a-butterfly contest is over.
We have a winner!...drum roll...
Professor Arthur Shapiro!
Shapiro, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, again won his own three-county area contest by netting the first-flight cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of the year at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County.
Shapiro netted a male on the south slope of the railroad tracks where “I’ve caught at least half of the first-flight cabbage whites.” The temperature was 62 degrees, but soon rose to 70 degrees.
“I caught it in mid-air with a ballet leap!” Shapiro said, smiling.
“There was a little radish but hardly any vegetation there. It was about 40 or 50 feet from where I got the one last year, about one-fourth mile west of Harbor Boulevard. It was flying eastward along the edge of the service road.”
The annual contest, which Shapiro launched in 1972, seeks the first-flight cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano. He has won every year except for the three years claimed the championship title.
The contest is all part of Shapiro’s 43-year 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.”
“The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here,” Shapiro said. He estimated his 2014 find ranks as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972."
Shapiro delivered the butterfly to the Evolution and Ecology office, where it was verified by Sherri Mann and Joe Patrocinio. No one else has submitted an entry.
The professor, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society and the California Academy of Sciences, initially calculated he would find the butterfly either Jan. 17 or 18. “It may have been out Monday (Jan. 13), but I was in Chico delivering a talk to the Northern California Botanists on “What Did Sacramento Valley Butterflies Do Before There Was Yellow Starthistle?”
While searching for the cabbage white on Tuesday, Shapiro also spotted a small male buckeye butterfly, (Junonia coenia) along the trail, and a mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), perched on and flying around leafless willows. “That’s the fourth earliest antiopa in the valley ever,” he said.
Shapiro said he will be celebrating his victory by sharing a pitcher of beer with a friend at an undisclosed Davis venue. “It will be PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) because I get to choose.”
The cabbage white butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. Mustards, however, are late this year, he said, pointing out the drought. “The record for consecutive days without rainfall in the winter here is 44. We’re on the 38th day and I see no chance of rain in sight, so this record will be broken.” However, a "good Pineapple Express," he said, could easily erase the drought.
Now, with the first-flight butterfly caught and in the history/record books, “it is spring because I say so.”
Shapiro maintains a website on butterflies at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He and biologist/writer/photographer Tim Manolis co-authored A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published in 2007 by the University of California Press.