Thursday, December 27, 2012

UC prof offers beer for catching butterfly

A professor at the University of California-Davis is offering a unique prize for the first person to find a certain butterfly in the Sacramento area.

From a UC-Davis Department of Entomology news release:
A butterfly for a beer, or a beer for a butterfly.

Collect the first cabbage white butterfly of 2013 in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano or Sacramento and collect a pitcher of beer (your brand) or its cash-prize equivalent from Professor Art Shapiro of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology.

Shapiro launched the annual “Catch-a-Cabbage-White-Butterfly-Win-a-Pitcher-of-Beer” contest in 1972 to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter,” he said. “Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.”

Shapiro, who usually wins his own contest, snagged the first cabbage white butterfly of 2012 at 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 8 in West Sacramento, Yolo County.

“This was usually early and was due to the prolonged midwinter dry spell in the winter of 2011-2012,” he said.

He caught the first cabbage white butterfly of 2011 at 1:21 p.m., Monday, Jan. 31 in Suisun City, Solano County.

The cabbage white butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow

The butterfly must be collected outdoors in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento counties and must be delivered live to the office of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, 2320 Storer Hall, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. All entries must list the exact time, date and location of the capture and the collector’s name, address, phone number and/or email.

“The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it,” Shapiro said. “If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, hold it your refrigerator but do not freeze it. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.”

Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, has been defeated only three times since 1972. And all were his graduate students, whom he calls “my fiercest competitors.” Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.

When he wins, he shares the reward with his graduate students and their significant others.

All in all, the cabbage white butterfly contest “helps us understand biological responses to climate change,” he said. “The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here.”

Shapiro maintains a website on butterflies at, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He has surveyed fixed routes at 10 sites since as early as 1972. They range from the Sacramento River Delta, through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, to the high desert of the western Great Basin. The sites, he said, represent the great biological, geological, and climatological diversity of central California.

Shapiro 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.

Shapiro, a distinguished professor, is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society, and the California Academy of Sciences.

For more information on the beer-for-a-butterfly contest, contact Art Shapiro at, (530) 752-2176.

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