- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
As you know, Shapiro sponsors the annual Cabbage White Butterfly Contest--the first person who collects the first cabbage white of the year from the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo wins a pitcher of beer. It's a research project he's been working on since 1972 to determine the first flight of Pieris rapae. He's usually the winner because he knows where to look.
His email began suspenseful. Did he find it? Did he find it?
"The fog lifted to low stratus overcast, which very slowly broke up into stratocumulus, with a very light north wind aloft--it was calm at the surface," he wrote. "I had thought today might be a day to look for the first rapae, but by 11.30 a.m, the sun was still not visible and it was 53F in Davis. So I went to lunch."
"While I ate the sun broke through. When I went outside at 12.05 it was up to 57F and some blue sky was showing. I made a snap decision to go to West Sacramento even though there was no time to go get a net. I told myself that what I really needed was the first-flight date. Catching the bug was just for the contest. I would trust my own sight record! So off I went. I was in West Sacramento from 1 to 3 at the warmest part of the day. I had about 70% sunshine. The high was 63F but it was so humid that it actually felt warmer with the sun out. It was still dead calm. The vegetation is progressing now."
His email STILL kept us in suspense. Did he find it? Did he find it?
"The number of blooming Raphanus has doubled; there are thousands of Raphanus and Brassica nigra plants in vegetative condition; four Melilotus alba have come into bloom. One Avena is blooming--just one. The Conium rosettes are immense--as big as last year--and as is its allelopathic wont, its areal coverage has expanded greatly. I am very attentive to dorsal-basking rapae in the vegetation and looked constantly for them; no dice."
Did he find it? Did he find it?
"But it felt so like a rapae day... And then at 1.21 p.m. a butterfly flew by and nectared at Raphanus. It was a fresh (of course!) female Pyrgus communis--as it turned out, the only Lep (Lepidoptera) of the day. OK, now get this: in the entire project, i.e. since 1972, communis has never been recorded earlier than rapae in the Valley. But that's just for starters. Communis has never been recorded in January before, either. The earliest is ii.1.14, which happens to have been in West Sac; so today beat it by 10 days. Communis has been recorded in February at West Sacramento only 8 times--the usual first-flight date is in March!-and those were ii.16.01,ii.23.07,ii.17.12,ii.1.14,ii.12.15,ii.22.16 and ii.22.17. That is, of the 8 February records, 6 were during or adjacent to the drought. 2018 and 19 returned to the classic March start. Pyrgus scriptura almost always starts first, occasionally on the same day.
Did he find it? Did he find it?
"Not this year! Rapae still awaits. But this communis craziness is better than a beer! What next?"
What's next is the contest is still open. Beer for a butterfly. Suds for a bug. (For the rules, see the Bug Squad blog)
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
No winner yet.
The annual “Beer for a Butterfly" or "Suds for a Bug" contest has not produced a winner.
But somewhere out there, is a cabbage white butterfly taking its first flight.
As you may remember, Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis,sponsors the annual contest and the first person in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano who collects the first live cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, of the new year--outdoors--wins a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
The good professor was out looking again today. "It's another another gorgeous day," he reported to fellow scientists and others in an email this afternoon. "It FEELS like a 'rapae day,' but my schedule today is so convoluted (teaching, interviewing a job candidate, a meeting and two seminars) that I only had time to do a quick loop of community gardens...And I had just enough time to walk around Old East Davis for half an hour looking for Vanessas. I saw...nothing. But maybe somebody got a rapae today?".
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. It's a contest he usually wins. He has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students.
Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.
In 2018, he 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.
The butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow.
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be delivered 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 says.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
The list of winners, dates and locations since 2010:
- 2018: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento, Yolo County
- 2017: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner on the UC Davis campus
- 2016: Jan. 16: Jacob Montgomery, UC Davis graduate student, collected the winner in west Davis
- 2015: Jan. 26: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2014: Jan. 14: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2013: Jan. 21: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2012: Jan. 8: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2011: Jan. 31: Shapiro collected the winner in Suisun, Solano County
- 2010: Jan. 27: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California for 46 years and records the information on his research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/. 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. Shapiro 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.