UPDATED: ‘1st’ Bumblebee Is Actually 2

But There’s No First Butterfly After Contest Is Canceled

Black-tailed bumblebee on a yellow pansy
The black-tailed bumblebee, Bombus melanopygus, is the first bumblebee to appear each year in the Davis area. (Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Bohart Museum seeks photo of the 1st bumblebee of 2022
  • Annual event pays tribute to the late Professor Robbin Thorp
  • Professor Art Shapiro calls off Beer for a Butterfly for 2nd year

Updated 2 p.m. Jan. 3: We have a winner! Make that two winners, each of whom spotted and photographed the “first” bumblebee of 2022 in different parts of the Arboretum at the same time on New Year’s Day. Read the story and see the photos, plus a clip from today’s Good Day Sacramento television show.

It’s a “go” for the Bohart Museum of Entomology’s second annual bumblebee contest starting Jan. 1. Distinguished Professor Art Shapiro, though, has canceled his Beer for a Butterfly contest for a second consecutive year due to the pandemic.


Find a bumblebee in the wild in Yolo or Solano counties, take a photo and send it by email to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, with details of time, date and place. The image must be recognizable as a bumblebee, said Lynn Kimsey, distinguished professor of entomology, who serves as the museum director and contest coordinator.

The contests seek evidence of the “first” bumblebee or cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of the new calendar year, from the region in and around Davis.

Shapiro, of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, offers a pitcher of beer to the first person to turn in a live cabbage white. He started the contest in 1972 and held it for 49 years through 2020, collecting data for research on evolutionary response to climate change.

The Bohart Museums Robbin Thorp Memorial First Bumblebee of the Year Contest asks only for a photo of a bumblebee — any bumblebee — in the wild in Yolo or Solano counties. The first person to turn in a qualifying image (it must be recognizable as a bumblebee) will receive a coffee cup adorned with an image of a Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini), a species near and dear to the contest’s namesake, a distinguished professor of entomology who died in June 2019 at the age of 85.

Robbin Thorp poses next to computer screen showing a Franklin’s bumblebee.
Thorp and his research subject, Franklin’s bumblebee, shown on computer screen. (Kathy Keatly Garvey/UC Davis)

In 1998, Thorp, a global authority on bees, counted 94 Franklin’s bumblebees in the species narrow range — 13,300 square miles in the California-Oregon border region. The tally dropped to three by 2003. Thorp saw none in 2004 or 2005 and one in 2006. It was the last one he saw.

A tribute to Thorp

Thorp, who always looked forward to seeing the first bumblebee of the year in the area, had launched his own impromptu contest with a small group of bumblebee enthusiasts/photographers from Yolo and Solano counties.

Man drinks from coffee cup decorated with bumblebee image.
Nicholson drinks from his prize cup.

Continuing the contest in his memory, the Bohart Museum of Entomology crowned its first winner a year ago: Postdoctoral researcher Charlie Casey Nicholson, who studied bees with Thorp, made his winning find Jan. 14 in the UC Davis Arboretum, photographing a native black-tailed bumblebee, Bombus melanopygus, in a manzanita patch off Old Davis Road.

As Thorp would tell you, the black-tailed bumblebee is the first bumblebee to emerge in the area. It forages on manzanitas, wild lilacs, wild buckwheats, lupines, penstemons, clovers and sages, among other vegetation.

Up near the California-Oregon border, Thorp made his last sighting of a Franklin’s bumblebee near Mount Ashland, Oregon, in 2006. He is the last known person to have seen one in its native habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared Bombus franklini an endangered species in August 2021.

Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist, Department of Entomology and Nematology, contributed to this report.

Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556, dateline@ucdavis.edu; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932, kitaura@ucdavis.edu.

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