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Victory once again for Shapiro in butterfly contest

By Dave Jones on January 14, 2014 in University News

“Watchful waiting” on Monday turned to evolutionary elation today (Jan. 14) when Art Shapiro once again won his own beer-for-a-butterfly contest.

“I got it in midair with a (purely lucky!) jump shot,” he wrote in an email describing how he netted the cabbage white butterfly that turned out to be the first one submitted in his 43rd annual contest. He's lost only three times in all those years.

The contest isn’t just about beer: The distinguished professor of evolution and ecology uses the emergence data in his research into biological responses to climate change.

The cabbage white, scientific name Pieris rapae, is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter, Shapiro said. Data from his beer-for-a-butterfly contest, covering Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties, show emergence dates ranging from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20 — a week or so earlier than the butterfly’s average emergence date 30 years ago.

He had estimated a first-flight date of Jan. 17 or 18, “so it's a trifle early,” he wrote in his email. “In terms of the overall first-flight date since 1972, it's the fifth or sixth earliest.” He'll know for sure when he reviews his records.

This year’s contest came to an “apparent” end (apparent because the cabbage white had not yet been officially verified) at 12:20 p.m. today when Shapiro captured the male Pieris rapae “at the usual ‘first bug’ venue”: on the south-facing slope of a railroad embankment in West Sacramento, about one-quarter-mile west of Harbor Boulevard. (The "jump shot" maneuver he first described became a "ballet leap" when he chatted later with Kathy Keatley Garvey, a senior writer in the Department of Entomology and Nematology; read her account here, on her "Bug Squad" blog.)

Following his own rules, Shapiro delivered the live specimen to the Department of Evolution and Ecology office in Storer Hall. Sherri Mann and Joe Patrocinio verified the catch.

As the contest organizer, Shapiro buys the beer. Under the rules, he gets to choose what kind. And, as he has done all the other many times he has won his own contest, he’ll share his prize — this year with a friend at an undisclosed venue.

Shapiro, who spends about 200 days a year in the field, ended his email today with this note for the media: “I am scheduled to be in the field near Vacaville tomorrow, Wednesday, hence unavailable for interviews.”

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Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,