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Student Beats Shapiro in Butterfly Contest

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on January 19, 2016 in University

For only the fourth time in as many decades, someone other than Art Shapiro has won his annual Beer for a Butterfly contest.

The contest awards a pitcher of beer — or its equivalent — to the person who finds the first cabbage white butterfly of the year. Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology, spends hundreds of days each year in the field — so he's hard to beat.

Jacob Montgomery toasts a beer with Art Shapiro.
Graduate student toasts a beer with Professor Art Shapiro at The Davis Graduate Tuesday (Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis).

But four students have done so, the latest being Jacob Montgomery, a graduate student in ecology, who spotted a cabbage white butterfly on a lavender plant in his west Davis garden last Saturday (Jan. 16) while on his way to the farmers market.

“It was cold and rainy and the butterfly's wings looked bent, like it had just hatched,” Montgomery said. “It was not difficult to catch. I picked it up by hand and put it in a jar in my house before heading to the market.”

Graph showing cabbage white butterflies' first flight each year.
Courtesy University of Nevada, Reno, Professor Matthew Forister.

Montgomery said he was aware of the contest but hadn’t been actively looking.

The butterfly requires a string of warm days before it can fly, and its average first flight date has been moving earlier as the region warms. The Jan. 16 capture date fits the trend almost perfectly, according to University of Nevada, Reno, Professor Matthew Forister, who has been graphing each year’s first flight. “Jacob should be commended, because he came very close to hitting it bang on the trend line,” Forister said.

Normally, a contestant must bring his or her catch — alive — to Shapiro for verification. But, in this case, he verified it online, by photo. He met Montgomery at The Davis Graduate for a celebratory drink Tuesday.

“I sort of consider this is a liberation because now I don’t have to look for it every time the sun comes out in January—now I can relax,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro also joked that a student winning “shows that the contest isn't rigged.”

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About the author(s)

Cody Kitaura Cody Kitaura is a content provider and strategist with Strategic Communications at UC Davis. He can be reached at 530-752-1932 or