Blame the rain. Blame the cold.
As of today, Jan. 26, no one has won Art Shapiro's "Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest," aka Suds-for-a-Bug.
Not Art, not anyone.
Shapiro, a UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, has sponsored the Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest since 1972 in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano to determine the cabbage white butterfly's first flight of the year.
It's part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate change. He's been researching butterfly populations of central California since 1972 and posts information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
How does this contest work? He'll trade you a pitcher of beer or its equivalent if you collect the first cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, of the year.
But he usually wins because he knows where to look.
Shapiro went looking for the bug today, which he described as "a perfect rapae day."
Any results? "Nope."
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be brought in alive to the Department of Evolution and Ecology 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 the contact information of the collector (address, phone number and/or e-mail.) The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If it's collected on a weekend or holiday, it can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days--do not freeze it.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
P. rapae inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. The male is white. The female is often slightly buffy; the "underside of the hindwing and apex of the forewing may be distinctly yellow and normally have a gray cast,” Shapiro said. “The black dots and apical spot on the upperside tend to be faint or even to disappear really early in the season.” In its caterpillar stage, it is a pest commonly called "cabbageworm."
Shapiro, who is in the field 200 days of the year, has been defeated only four times and those were by UC Davis graduate students. Adam Porter won in 1983; Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s; and Jacob Montgomery in 2016. The first three were his own graduate students.
The search is on...Rumor has it that Ria de Grassi of Davis, who won the third annual Robbin Thorp First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest by photographing a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, in her yard, may try her hand (and her net) at collecting one. (See Bug Squad blog)
Shapiro loves the competition, all of it. "Let the best person win!"
The contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology memorializes Thorp (1933-2019), a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor and global expert on bumble bees who always looked forward to seeing the first bumble bee of the year.
De Grassi captured a video of a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging on a prized ceanothus plant on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 8 in her backyard in Davis.
She recorded the video on her cell phone at 12:32 p.m. to win the contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and memorializing global bee expert Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. (See her YouTube video)
De Grassi, a former director of federal policy, livestock, animal health and welfare for the California Farm Bureau Federation, credits the storm, the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, and her working relationships with bee scientists, including Thorp, as having a hand in either her find and/or her interest in plants and pollinators.
The three previous winners (2022 was a tie) each photographed a bumble bee in the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum. Ironically, de Grassi bought her prized ceanothus at an Arboretum plant sale.
“I was doing clean-up in my backyard after Saturday night's rain and a 50-plus mile-per-hour windstorm,” said de Grassi, now an agricultural policy consultant. “The wind had subsided to a breeze by then. As I walked past my Ray Hartman ceanothus—which I purchased from a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale years ago when I did a garden makeover to be pollinator-friendly—I noticed some extra-long ceanothus branches that needed to be pruned, including some with super-early blooming flowers.”
De Grassi returned with her pole trimmer and started cutting. It was then she noticed a bumble bee foraging on her ceanothus--and when she remembered the “friendly Bohart Museum contest” inviting folks to find and photograph the first bumble bee in the two-county area of Solano and Yolo.
“I fumbled to retrieve my cell phone from my pocket to record, just to get in on the fun,” said de Grassi. “These bumbles dart around a lot, they don't stay put for photo ops.”
De Grassi knew Thorp from her professional work with the California Farm Bureau Federation and from her friendship with bee scientists Timothy Lawrence and Susan Cobey, formerly of UC Davis. “Tim and Sue were active in the California Farm Bureau's statewide Bee Advisory Committee that I managed,” she said. Lawrence is now a Washington State University Extension county director (Island County) and Cobey, a WSU bee breeder geneticist.
“I love documenting nature's cool stuff and especially the surprises we uncover when we pause long enough to notice,” de Grassi commented. The caterpillars she discovered eating her coral fountain (aka “firecracker plant,” Russelia equisetiiformis) led to UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro documenting it as a butterfly larval host.
“Gardening for pollinators has become my passion pastime. I like to give native and managed bees pesticide-free forage.”
As her prizes, de Grassi received a Franklin's bumble bee coffee cup from the Bohart Museum and handmade bee gifts (including a zippered bee-motif bag and bee-motif soaps) from Teresa Hickman of Vacaville, owner of "Handmade by Teresa."
De Grassi holds two degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor's degree in agricultural science and management and a master's degree in animal science. She is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Animal Science Development Board, and a former member of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association Board and the UC Davis Foundation Board of Trustees.
The Davis resident is no stranger to the UC Davis Arboretum (site of the previous winners). “I've walked the Arboretum since the time I was an undergrad here. It's my favorite place on campus and was absolutely my inspiration for plant choices in my urban garden makeover.”
Postdoctoral researcher Charlie Casey Nicholson of the Neal Williams lab and the Elina Lastro Niño lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won the 2021 contest by photographing a B. melanopygus at 3:10 p.m., Jan. 14 in a manzanita patch in the Arboretum.
UC Davis doctoral candidate Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab and horticulturist Ellen Zagory, retired director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, tied for first in the 2022 contest by each photographing a bumble bee foraging on manzanita (Arctostaphylos) in the Arboretum at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 1.
Page, who now holds a doctorate in entomology, photographed a B. melanopygus, while Zagory captured an image of the yellow-faced bumble bee, B. vosnesenskii.
Thorp, a 30-year member of the UC Davis faculty, and a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, retired in 1994, but he continued working until several weeks before his death on June 7, 2019 at age 85. In 2014, he co-authored two books: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University,) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday).
He succumbed to a heart attack at a restaurant in his hometown of Winters. "He collapsed at the restaurant as he was arranging to buy meals for donation to needy families every week," Linda Delgado, his former executive assistant at USDA, told AgriPulse. “With great humility, humor and brilliance, he set the example of how to live a life of grace, generosity, kindness, and deep respect and care for fellow humans, food, agriculture and the planet."
In 2016, Rominger and his wife, Evelyne Rowe Rominger, both alumni of the University of California, Davis, received the UC Davis Medal, the university's highest honor. "Rich and Evelyne Rominger have given generously to UC Davis of their time, talents and resources,” said then acting chancellor Ralph Hexter. “Their loyalty and passion for seeing students flourish and their alma mater grow and prosper is an inspiration for all of us in the Aggie family.” The UC Davis Medal, first presented in 2002, singles out individuals for their extraordinary contributions to the university.
We remember when the couple visited the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus, on Picnic Day, April 17, 2015. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, greeted them and showed them around.
Kimsey recalls Rominger as "a big donor to the campus, super supportive and involved." He served as a Regent for the University of California, and was a member of both the UC Davis Foundation Board and the University of California President's Advisory Committee on Agriculture and the Environment.
We also remember seeing Rominger, circled by friends, at the 2015 California Agriculture Day at the State Capitol. His presence illuminated the event.
Accolades are pouring in. Ria de Grassi, former director of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation, remembers him well, especially as "a friend of the pollinators," including honey bees. Rominger received both the California Farm Bureau Foundation's Distinguished Service Award and the California State Fair's Agriculturalist of the Year Award. "Rich was not one for a fire and brimstone approach to leading the way," de Grassi told us. "He was a deliberative thinker who lent his name and reputation carefully to causes and innovations in agriculture. He wasn't hasty, but was quickly decisive with the intel he gleaned. And when Rich spoke, he punctuated his actions for others to take note. This is perhaps most evident in the fact Rominger Brothers Farms in the last 20 years installed several miles of native plants in field-border hedgerows to benefit pollinators and to enhance the riparian corridor."
Cong. John Garamendi, D-CA, a close friend of Rominger, posted a fitting tribute on his Facebook page on Dec. 21. "I called Rich's cell phone this morning. He did not answer. I've called that number hundreds of times seeking advice and counsel, and I have always come away from the conversation with a gem of wisdom, a better solution to a problem, encouragement, and a precious gift of friendship. Not this time. My call was answered by his son confirming Richard Rominger's death. I'll keep Rich's number. He won't answer, but just calling will encourage me to stay true to the lessons he taught me. I know that Rich treated everyone with the same respect and desire to help. Perhaps they will keep that number, too."
When Rominger served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S.Department of Agriculture, "he was always the bulwark of support for the American family farmer," Garamendi wrote. "He knew the challenges facing farm families and he knew how to use government to improve their lot. During the Clinton years the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior, where I was also Deputy, teamed up to produce seminal studies on the effects of Climate Change, create the first Tahoe Summit, address droughts, support land conservation efforts nationwide, attack invasive species, and protect America's great forest."
"Governor Jerry Brown recognized Richard's potential as a problem solver when he appointed Richard to serve as the Secretary of the California Department of Agriculture," Garamendi noted. "A problem-solver was necessary with Medflies, drought, water wars, and agricultural labor problems in abundance. Undaunted by these challenges, Rominger steered a wise course that yielded a bumper crop of solutions."
"He had an indelible positive impact on our state and nation, and he will be deeply missed," Garamendi wrote.
And as Linda Delgado, his former executive assistant at USDA, said: "With great humility, humor and brilliance, he set the example of how to live a life of grace, generosity, kindness, and deep respect and care for fellow humans, food, agriculture and the planet."
An agricultural icon...
He not only did--they were the larvae of the common buckeye, Junonia coenia--but this was exciting news--a first-of-its-kind discovery that led to a piece published today (Dec. 13) in the News of the Lepitopterists' Society.
The discovery: The plant is a larval host of the butterfly.
This is the first known case of buckeye larvae feeding on Russelia equisetiformis, an ornamental shrub with red tubular flowers that's widely favored by gardeners and pollinators, including hummingbirds.
The news article, authored by Shapiro and de Grassi, is titled "Buckeye, Junonia coenia, Uses the Garden Ornamental Russellia equisetiforis (Plantaginacease) ("Firecracker Plant") as a Larval Host in California."
Russelia equisetiformis produces a variety of iridoid glycosides, Shapiro says, but up until July 10, there were no previous records of the buckeye feeding on the plant. The colorful plant, native to Mexico and Guatemala, is especially popular in California and the southwestern United States. It is also known by such common names as "fountain bush" and "fountain plant" for its long arching branches. It can reach a height of 4 to 5 feet.
On his Art's Butterfly World website, Shapiro points out that the "buckeye breeds on plants containing bitter iridoid glycosides, including plantains (Plantago, especially P. lanceolata), various Scrophulariaceae (especially Fluellin, Kickxia), and Lippia (Lippia or Phyla nodiflora). The spiny, black-and-white caterpillar has a bright orange head. Its behavior suggests its diet makes it virtually immune to vertebrate predation, but the pupa and adult are quite edible."
Back in 2010, Shapiro and K. Biggs discovered another larval host of the buckeye--an emergent aquatic plant, Hippuris vulgaris, also known as mare's tail or common mare's tail.
As for Russelia equisetiformis, it draws its genus name from Scottish naturalist Alexander Russell (1715-1768). The species name refers to its resemblance to horsetail rushes (the Latin term equisetiformis means "like Equisteum.")
One was a firecracker plant. And along came the buckeyes!
Katie Hetrick, director of Marketing and Communications for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, wrote about the larval host discovery on the Arboretum website: "It goes to show you that observant home gardeners are important citizen scientists – you never know what discoveries are waiting to present themselves. Now there's yet another reason to love the firecracker plant; not only is it a low-water, long-blooming plant that hummingbirds love, it also appears to be larval host plant for buckeye butterflies!"
As for de Grassi, she continued to see the buckeye caterpillars on her firecracker plant through Aug. 26. And, later, after hearing of her find, Shapiro discovered a female buckeye laying eggs on a firecracker plant by the Sciences Lab Building on the UC Davis campus.
In the piece in News of the Lepitopterists Society, Shapiro wrote that the Russelia equisetiformis "is occasionally cited in horticultural sources as vulnerable to damage by unidentified caterpillars."
Unidentified caterpillars? Mystery solved?
Brady, a cultural entomologist, hosts the Insect News Network on KDRT 97.4 FM Radio, Davis, and every year he hosts a "Bee-a-Thon" to spotlight honey bees.
So, get ready for Bee-a-Thon 3!
The free multimedia event will begin online with a series of videos about honey bees and other members of the Microcosm, including videos created by Brady and clips from previous Bee-a-Thons.
UC Davis will be represented by Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and entomologist/artist Diane Ullman and artist Donna Billick, co-founders and co-directors of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. Mussen, a member of the department since 1976, is world-renowned for his honey bee expertise. Ullman is the associate dean of undergraduate academic programs in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a professor of entomology.
Among the others to be interviewed will be Kim Flottum, longtime editor of Bee Culture magazine; Ria de Grassi, director of federal policy, California Farm Bureau; Eddie Dunbar, founder of the Insect Sciences Museum of California; Celeste Ets-Hokin, creator of the Pollinator Gardens at Lake Merritt, Oakland; and Mike Somers, state director of Pesticide Watch and the Pesticide Watch Education Fund.
The schedule includes:
- a pollination fundraising luncheon, with a honey-inspired menu, from noon to 1 p.m. at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine, 630 G St. (not broadcast).
- fruit presentations from 1 to 1:30 p.m. at the Davis Food Co-Op, 620 G St.; (not broadcast)
- a live broadcast from 2 to 4 p.m. on Davis Community Television public access Channel 15
- a radio/video feed from KDRT, 95.7 FM, from 4 to 6 p.m.
- BATMAP (Bee-a-Thon Monster After Party) billed as the world’s first Pollinator Party from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Davis Media Access, 1623 Fifth St., and featuring music by Eminent Bee. Admission is free, but guests must come adorned as an insect, spider or flower.
- a lounge chat from 10 p.m. to midnight at deVere’s Irish Pub, 217 E St.
We've posted several photos and the schedule on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website. Be sure to check out the Insect News Network website for more information.
Brady says the art-science event is designed to ignite a community about the full story about honey bees and other pollinators — "not just the science, but the art, the anthropology, the technology and design, the pop culture."
“The interdependence we have with insects — especially bees — is profound and complex and most people are only discussing half the story," said Brady, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Hiram (Ohio) College. "The key word is biocomplexity — how human behavior fits into the global ecology. It’s also about how insects inspire and amaze our society. That will all be covered on the show.”
Brady described the Bee-a-Thon as timely; Time magazine just published a cover story on “beepocalpyse.”
We know Emmet Brady to be passionate about honey bees. And we know that the Bee-a-Thon will be educational, informative and entertaining.
When Brady talks about the "wonderful world of pollinators," he's thinking of the simple things we take for granted, the ABCs, if you will.
A honey bee on an Apple.
A honey bee on a Begonia.
A honey bee on a Cucumber.