California doesn’t have the kind of weather-predicting groundhogs like Punxsutawney Phil – the closest thing you’ll find is probably an animatronic puppet in Quincy called Chuck Wood. What it does have is a desert tortoise named Mojave Maxine, who looks like a large, armored potato and during the winter is generally just as active.
Maxine, who lives at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, has given seasonal predictions for more than a decade via a rather simple process. Around Thanksgiving, she enters brumation, a body state in which reptiles become sluggish or inactive during cold weather. She takes a big, long chill period until right around now, when she finally shakes it off and crawls out of her burrow.
Today, Punxsutawney Phil supposedly saw its shadow, a not-very-scientific indicator that winter will last six more weeks. And what about Maxine? She’s still comfortably ensconced in her burrow, which according to lore is her way of saying we have plenty of frigid weather left. (It’s nice when different species can come to consensus!)
The zoo is taking guesses from K-12 students on when Maxine might emerge; most years, it usually happens in late January to early February. For those with an infinite amount of patience, there’s also a live webcam of Maxine’s burrow. Currently it just looks like a dark hole but wait – was that some movement? OK, it was just wind. Back to monitoring… monitoring….