Two Insect Contests: One Winner, One to Go

One down, one to go!

We have a winner in the 4th annual Robbin Thorp Memorial First-Bumble-Bee-of-the-Year Contest, sponsored by the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Details are being gathered, with the winner to be announced soon. Hint:it's a black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, and it was videoed on Jan. 1, the first day of the contest.

There's no winner yet, however, in the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest, sponsored by UC Davis distinguished professor emeritus Art Shapiro. This year it's in collaboration with the Bohart Museum, the drop-off point.

In the Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest, if you collect the first cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of the year anywhere in the three-county area of Yolo, Sacramento and Solano, you can trade the live specimen for a beer or its equivalent, compliments of the good professor.

Just call it "Suds for a Bug."

Shapiro launched the contest in 1972 as part of his scientific research to determine the first flight of the year in the three-county area. His research involves long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate change. 

What he's found: P. rapae is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, Shapiro says.  "Since 1972, the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20."

Shapiro, who has monitored butterfly populations in Central California since 1972, and maintains a research website at, says the point of the contest "is to get the earliest possible flight date for statistical purposes. The rules require that the animal be captured and brought in alive to be verified. That way no one can falsely claim to have seen one or misidentify something else as a cabbage white."

The contest rules include:

  • It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
  • It must be brought in alive to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124, Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus,  during work hours, from 8 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. It must include full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and the contact information of the collector (address, phone number and/or e-mail.) Brennen Dyer will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If it's collected on a weekend or holiday, it can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days--do not freeze it, Shapiro says.)
  • Shapiro is the sole judge.

Shapiro, who participates in his own contest, has been defeated only four times and those were by UC Davis graduate students. Adam Porter won in 1983; Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s; and Jacob Montgomery in 2016. The first three were his own graduate students.

Who won in 2023? Shapiro spotted the first butterfly of 2023 at 11:22 a.m., in West Sacramento, Yolo County. He did not collect the butterfly but recorded it as the first of the year. No one came forth with any other.

Shapiro is still looking for No. 1 in 2024.

"I tried this afternoon (Jan. 1 in West Sacramento)," Shapiro wrote in an email. No P. rapae.

But the good news, he recorded four species of another butterfly, the Nymphalids, in West Sacramento.  

  1. Vanessa cardui, the Painted Lady
  2. Vanessa atalana, the Red Admiral
  3. Vanessa annabella, the West Coast Lady
  4. Nymphalis antiopa, the Mourning Cloak

Shapiro spotted one of each species, and in this order: antiopa, atalanta, annabella, cardui. "I don't think I've ever had a 4-species day so early!" he related. "As for New Year's Day records: antiopa i.1.18; atalanta i.1.96,  i.1.12, i.1.13' annabella i.1.80. 92 and 96. Earliest cardui earliest is i.18.87. So it's the only free-and-clear record earliest. But a most extraordinary day!  No rapae, but it sure felt like a rapae day!"

Tomorrow may be a rapae day....