PALM DESERT — Punxsutawney Phil has nothing on Mojave Maxine, a 41-year-old desert tortoise, who resides at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

Much like Punxsutawney Phil, Maxine determines the arrival of spring.

Each year, students in grades K-12 from nine counties throughout Southern California are invited to predict when Mojave Maxine,will emerge from her brumation (hibernation for reptiles) and make her first appearance of 2019, indicating longer, warmer days are on the way.

Maxine and her fellow desert tortoises typically enter brumation around Thanksgiving. Their bodies know when to go to sleep based on the outside temperatures and the change in daylight hours. Sometime in the coming months, she will awaken from her long winter’s slumber and emerge from her subterranean burrow at The Living Desert. The exact date of this annual occurrence, however, is anyone’s guess.

The first entry received from each county that is closest to the exact day and time wins a $50 gift certificate, a Federal Lands Pass, a visit from a desert tortoise, Mojave Maxine t-shirts for their entire class and a $100 gift certificate for their teacher. Students from Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties are invited to participate in the contest.

“With the desert tortoise population threatened by a number of human-caused factors, Mojave Maxine plays an important role in educating people about how to better live around her species,” Dr. James Danoff-Burg, Director of Conservation, said in a prepared statement. “This annual contest allows students to learn about desert tortoises, how to help protect them, and have some fun guessing when Mojave Maxine will emerge from her burrow. It is our desert version of Groundhog Day on the East Coast.”

In 2018, more than 1,800 students submitted predictions prior to Mojave Maxine’s star-studded arrival on January 31 at 12:28 p.m.

The guessing contest is currently open and will run until Maxine emerges from her burrow. A live video feed will be available online to watch for when Mojave Maxine appears. To enter visit here. 

Mojave Maxine photo courtesy of  The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.