Palm Desert

California's Own ‘Groundhog' Just Predicted Spring's Start

Mojave Maxine isn't an actual groundhog, of course; she's a famous desert tortoise who has a sense about when winter is ready to wrap up.

The Living Desert

What to Know

  • Mojave Maxine lives at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert
  • The 44-year-old desert tortoise brumates each winter, finally emerging when she senses spring's approach
  • She trundled out of her burrow on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022 at 3:11 in the afternoon, her latest emergence in some years

CALIFORNIA? It has oodles of everythingness, from sky-sweeping peaks, to soft-of-sand beaches, to some of the tallest, and oldest, trees on the planet. You only need pause and ponder for a minute, and you could think up a dozen delightful Golden State attributes to adore. And yet? We don't have a Punxsutawney, nor a Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog that calls the world-famous Pennsylvania hamlet home. He's a mighty cute fellow, and we do truly anticipate Feb. 2 each year. But California has its own adorable prognosticator, an animal we look to when we want to know when spring will start, or at least when the season is arriving in our state's spectacular arid areas. And that incredible critter?

MEET MOJAVE MAXINE, a 44-year-old desert tortoise, one of the stars of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. Maxine brumates each winter, starting her reptilian hibernation in the neighborhood of Thanksgiving, give or take a few days. When that brumation reaches its natural conclusion a few months later— in other words, when the "shell"-ebrity decides her time in the burrow is done — she emerges. Those Mojave Maxine mavens who've been watching the burrow carefully, including the school kids who've entered a contest built around her possible emergence date, then know that California's own Punxsutawney Phil has determined that the start of spring has arrived, even if the equinox is a month or more away.

AND THE 2022 EVENT? Mojave Maxine emerged on Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 3:11 in the afternoon, wrapping up the contest for another year. An interesting fact? This is the latest date, in some years, that the tortoise has left her burrow. "Maxine has emerged increasingly early since 2015, reflecting a changing climate where our warm season lasts longer, and survival is more challenging for desert wildlife. In 2021, she had a record-breaking early emergence on January 18," said Dr. James Danoff-Burg, Director of Conservation. "Maxine is an indicator for wild tortoise behaviors as well, so we are glad to see her emerge at a more reasonable time this year."

YOU CAN VISIT... Mojave Maxine, and learn more about her fascinating life, and annual brumation, by calling upon The Living Desert in Palm Desert, which is home to an amazing array of desert-dwelling animals.

Contact Us