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Capture A Butterfly, Get Some Beer

Kathy Keatley Garvey / Courtesy

A cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, sipping nectar.

Kathy Keatley Garvey / Courtesy

UPDATE: According to UC Davis, the winner of the annual contest to find the first cabbage white butterfly of the year is the professor who hosts the event.

The school says Dr. Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology found the butterfly at 1:56 p.m., Thursday, January 19 in the student gardens near the Solano Park Apartments.

Shapiro says it is the first time the winner has been found on the main campus. He was not expecting to find the cabbage white until early February, because of the cold, wet weather.

He has won the contest every year since 1972 except for four years.

He says he buys his graduate students a pitcher to share when he wins.


If you are the first person this year to successfully identify and capture a specific type of butterfly, a UC Davis professor will buy you a pitcher of beer.

Dr. Art Shapiro has spent many January days out looking for the European Cabbage Butterfly.

It's a very pale yellow with a white stripe. Each wing has a dark tip and a black spot.

It's also key to his research on how a warming planet affects insects.

Not being one to rely on himself to find the first one coming out of hibernation, he decided 40 years ago, or so, to ask for help, and thought beer might attract prospective volunteers.

"It's an incentive to get people out to look for the thing. It inspires competitive feelings," says Dr. Shapiro. "Usually, because I know the territory very well and I know the habits of the bug, I usually get the first one. But, not always. Last year, for example, I was beaten fair and square for example."

Dr. Shapiro also says, if he finds the insect first, he buys a round for his students.  

He says if you catch one, you must keep it alive in a mason jar in your refrigerator and then contact him by email.

Shapiro says the butterfly must be caught in Sacramento, Solano, or Yolo county.

The first one usually appears mid January. That's about two weeks earlier than the end of hibernation 40 years ago.

He says the Red Admiral has had a similar experience and the Field Skipper, which was usually found in southern California, has steadily moved north during the last 40 years and is now in Idaho and western Nevada.

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