A desert tortoise called "Mojave Maxine" came out of her burrow on March 2, and zookeepers in Palm Desert said Monday that means spring is here.
The folks at the Living Desert Zoo compared Maxine's seasonal forecasting to a groundhog back east, and poked fun at the rodent in an announcement.
"Never mind the East Coast's groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, the West Coast has the Living Desert Zoo's Mojave Maxine, the desert tortoise, and she's emerged from her burrow to make it official: Spring is here! Take that, Punxsutawney Phil!"
The groundhog's early spring prediction "is falling short for East Coasters smothered in snow," but Mojave Maxine "proved her natural born skill by emerging from her underground burrow" at 10:17 a.m. March 2, Living Desert officials said in a statement.
With valley temperatures hovering in the 70s and 80s, it seems Maxine is an excellent predictor of spring in the desert, the statement said.
More than 900 students from San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Ventura, Kern and Inyo counties entered a contest to guess when Maxine would make her first appearance, according to the Living Desert and the Desert Management Group.
Winning students from each of the nine counties will receive $50 gift certificates and their entire class will receive Mojave Maxine t-shirts, Living Desert officials said.
"Mojave Maxine creates a double thrill for us at the Living Desert," said Peter Siminski, director of education and conservation. "It's exciting to have so many young kids be enthusiastic about desert wildlife and participate in the contest, and it's always fun for us too, to see when Mojave Maxine will peak out of her burrow and slowly make her way onto the desert landscape in search of fresh flowers."
Mojave Maxine is a 35-year old desert tortoise who lives at the Living Desert. Each year, she winters in her underground burrow. She stays there in a state of "brumation" - reptilian hibernation - for several months. She emerges in early spring aswarm days begin to arrive in the desert, promising fresh flowers - a favorite meal for the desert tortoise.
The Living Desert's announcement coincides with a warm, dry spell this week. Daytime highs in Banning, Beaumont and Cabazon are expected to range from the mid 70s to mid 80s through Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
For more information, visit www.LivingDesert.org or call (760) 346-5694.