Professor Shapiro Wins 40th Annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition
Jan. 31, 2011
Professor Art Shapiro with his newly collected cabbage white butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
DAVIS--Chalk up another win for butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
Shapiro caught the first cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of 2011 at 1:21 p.m., Monday, Jan. 31 in Suisun City, Solano County, to win the 40th Annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition. Every year he sponsors the contest and offers a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year collected in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento and delivered to the office of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, Storer Hall.
Shapiro has won the contest every year except for three years. Last year he collected the first cabbage white on Jan. 27 in West Sacramento.
Although Suisun City is his oldest sampling site, dating back to 1972, Shapiro does not recall ever finding the first-of-the-year cabbage white there before. Precisely because of that, Shapiro traveled to Suisun at midday Monday without a net.
He saw it, a male, at 1:09 p.m.
“It was taking nectar from flowers of field mustard (Brassica kaber) along a 6-foot- high fence facing the sun,” Shapiro said. “I tried twice to catch it by hand but failed, and it soared over the fence into someone's back yard.”
"But I knew it wasn't as warm on the other side, and there probably wasn't anything in bloom either. So I figured I'd just wait and see if it came back. It did--and I got it on my first try."
First cabbage white of 2011. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Asked how he could catch an active butterfly by hand, Shapiro smiled and said "Experience." A few years ago he caught a very rare all-black mutant of the orange sulphur butterfly the same way.
Shapiro, who maintains the website, http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. Why does he do this? "I am doing long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate," he said. "Such studies are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, enlists public involvement "because I have that much more confidence that I am tracking the actual seasonality of this common 'bug.'"
Following his find, Shapiro said he took his disappointed grad students out for beer at The Graduate, a local pub, after work Monday. “I usually buy the first pitcher anyway,” he said.
The first of his students to hear the news, Elizabeth Long, immediately asked him if he plans to go to South America next January.
That was in reference to his losing a contest in the late 1990s to graduate student Sherri Graves while he was in Argentina.
Shapiro has been defeated only three times in 40 years. Graduate student Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Graves and graduate student Rick VanBuskirk each claimed the title in the late 1990s.
Interestingly, people contact him as late as June asking if they’ve won.
“No,” he tells them. “Too late.”
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology