The start of a new year can mean only one thing: no, not champagne and confetti — a hunt for butterflies.
For nearly five decades, professor Art Shapiro has sponsored a contest to find the first cabbage white butterfly of the new year in Sacramento, Solano or Yolo county, with a pitcher of beer up for grabs if anyone finds a Pieris rapae before he does (he’s been beaten only a handful of times).
You’ll have the best chance at finding one in “vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow,” according to the Department of Entomology and Nematology’s Bug Squad Blog.
The contest is an offshoot of Shapiro’s long-running study of butterflies across 10 sites in northern California, measuring their activity and abundance every two weeks as a look at biological responses to climate change.
The first flight of the butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22.
“The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here,” Shapiro said in 2017.
Data from the overall study is available on Shapiro’s website, and it has also been turned into three modules high school and college instructors can use to teach about species composition and climate change. Shapiro published a field guide to local butterfly species in 2007.
He still spends more than 250 days in the field each year, and has no plans to stop anytime soon, he told the LA Times last month.