UC Davis butterfly contest

Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis

Professor Art Shapiro holds the first cabbage white butterfly of the year in 2015.

You can contribute to science and win a pitcher of beer by competing in Professor Art Shapiro’s “Beer for a Butterfly” contest, now in its 46th year. The object: Catch the first cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of the new year in Yolo, Sacramento or Solano counties.

Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, uses the data in his studies of butterfly life cycles and response to climate change. The cabbage white is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter, he said, noting that the emergence is coming a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here.

Since he started the contest in 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, happening, on average, on or about Jan. 20, he said.

Shapiro said the current weather means there is "virtually no hope of it emerging before the 15th, if not later." 

Whenever it happens this year, odds are high that Shapiro will make the catch. He’s lost his own contest only four times, including last year when graduate student Jacob Montgomery made the catch Jan. 16 right outside his front door in Davis.

Read more about the contest (and the rules), and what to look for and where to look.