Spring-Predicting Tortoise Emerges

Living Desert superstar: Mojave Maxine has ended her hibernation.

If we can count on the time of the sun's rise to be consistent, day by day, and the orbits of the planets, and the tick-tock of the clock, here is another element we can depend on, each and every year: Mojave Maxine will leave her burrow within a pretty tight window.

Or so it seems. The beloved desert tortoise, the Punxsutawney Phil of the California desert, has gained fame in recent years for predicting the start of springtime. And she made her professional prognostication for 2017 on Tuesday, Feb. 7, just a day (plus a few minutes) ahead of her prediction in 2016, which arrived midday on Feb. 8 last year.

How does shell-spectacular denizen of The Living Desert, the Palm Desert-based animal park, do it? Mojave Maxine's technique is pretty straightforward: The moment that she emerges from her burrow, at the end of her wintertime brumation — that's hibernation, for cold-blooded reptiles — we humans might accurately say, with some confidence, that spring is truly on its way.

At least 'round the desert, where the weather has been mighty temperate.

Of course, unlike Punxsutawney Phil, the beloved Pennsylvania-based groundhog, Mojave Maxine does not need to see her shadow to make her seasonal forecast.

Rather, all that is required of the desert tortoise is that she exit her burrow, a sure sign that her wintertime rest has wrapped. Which she did promptly at 12:06 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2017.

The only question now is this: Which students correctly guessed when the tortoise would leave her burrow? It's an annual contest held throughout nine regional counties.

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Maxine, by the way, has another big moment ahead this spring: She turns 40 in April, and The Living Desert plans on throwing her a real wingding, one fit for a famous tortoise.

If you want to see the instant she peeked out of her cozy subterranean sleep space, check out The Living Desert's Facebook page, which features Maxine's 2017 hello-spring debut.

That the tortoise gives a thorough glance around, after emerging, just ups the charm of this charming warm-climate tradition.

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